Monday, September 6, 2010

Writers workshops... such interesting little events

First published in Wander; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2006 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.

WRITERS workshops are such interesting little events… quietly exuberant microcosm of human foibles, fancy/fantasy and fascination. Sometimes they kind of bombard the sanity like some sort of literary Normandys and Waterloos; sometimes they nag and irritate like in-laws Inquisition/Torture chambers. They devastate, they pulverize you into crappy smithereens; they tick you off like crazy, they ruin your day, yet you can’t really complain. You keep on coming back for more… But, most of the time, writers workshops are just fun hangout gigs where we could check in our egomaniac trips or check out smart girls who hid erotic fires between seductive cleavages of some oblique but sweet metaphors… You can also survey hot dudes who may be the same exact replica or clone of Lestat The Vampire—mysterious, dangerous but irresistible. Don’t you know that most often than not—writers workshops are disguised as singles convergences or Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club? While the “taken, attached and involved” are busy sipping super-sweet nectars of twogetherness some place more private, the “lonely” seek out writers workshops!
Seriously though, in workshops—we may be able to trip on a cool Dead Poets Society and reap some wisdom along the way, or a publishing agent who’s well-connected somewhere might sit in, that “guest” could be our bridge to fame and fortune. Apart from that, I “accidentally” tripped on a lot of writing/editing side-jobs – including babysitting, dogwalking, housecleaning sidelines — while immersed in writers workshops.
I must say that I learned a lot (of whatever I know about writing) in writers workshops—weekend gatherings and midweek drinking bouts (played up as “workshops”), summer creative writing camps, and literary conventions. For sure, most workshops that I joined in were fun, square room arenas of swashbuckling, duelling egos (masqueraded as “discussion”), unrequited perversions (clothed as “craft” or “art” or “freedom of expression”), super-trashy literary dalliances, and yes indeed, in many instances, I get to discover sparkling gems (that are a lot better and more engaging than what are usually peddled at Barnes & Noble or Borders as “Month’s Bestsellers”).
What’s so cool about writers workshops (at least those that I signed in) is the seductive element of surprise that lurks in there… you don’t know what you’re gonna get.
What I mostly got—during the early years of my own writers workshop saga? Hear these..
“It took me a good 15 precious minutes to ponder rhyme and reason—sanity and insanity—about your little piece of poetic intrusion into this beautiful world of ours. What I’m trying to say is, why don’t you just quit this writing silliness and just wait tables, and be of service to humanity?”
“I’d rather read a Chinatown menu or Wal-Mart catalogue than waste my time over this unrelenting exercise of drab shit stacked up like empty vials of cough syrup clothed with puke sitting beside a stinking downtown commode!”
“My advice – just forget it! Go jump over Verrazzano Bridge, bungee jump down Niagara Falls, eat roaches, wash your grandmother’s apron, buy your girl a wonder bra, whatever—but, please, don’t subject us to this atrocious poetry again, oh please!”
So, how do we deal with those? Well, we have to put up with those amazingly “upfront” comments or suggestions… Although there were moments, as well, when my ascetic patience hit bottom, so I climaxed one writers session too many with a mano-a-mano at a parking lot. (Those were my twentysomething years, I have mellowed considerably.) But then, among these insane piles and heaps of heartaches, bruised egos, and black eyes (c/o the brawl), you’d get one or two good, enticing invite.
“Hmmm, your poetry is very multi-layered, I need to dig deeper, very mysterious… would you have time on Friday night to discuss this? My apartment? Bring more of your poems, I’ll have wine…”

IN ASHEVILLE, I thought I only know of two regular, weekly writers workshops. The Tuesday group (with Robert Kelley) and the Wednesday group that included The Indie’s ever-prolific and diligent senior writer, Mike Hopping.
I was told that there are actually more specialized, exclusive writers groups in the city. Writers groups by astrologers, women-only, non-smokers/non-drinkers, lesbians and gays, Baptists/Catholics, fundamentalists, pagans, Deadheads, Goths (divided between those who dig Danzig and those who don’t), vampires and vampyrs (segregated between those who hang out at Waffle House every aftermidnight and those who simply stay home and chow down grits over diet Mountain Dew and watch “Dawg, The Bounty Hunter”), sadomasochists, Weightwatchers alumni, vegans/vegetarians, white supremacists, Hispanic/Latinos, ex-AA denizens, high schoolers, hip-hop homeboys/girls, anorexics anonymous, Crumb&Pekar Fans Club, divorcees and jilted lovers…
And more – writers workshop by men who were disapproved by their in-laws, women whose husbands are honorary members of Man Law sect, weekend lovers of autumn leaves, haters of dandelions, celebrators of the wind and snow, eaters of beef jerky and pickled pig ears… (believe it or not, there’s one like that).
MANY! Many writers workshops!
This is good, you know. Don’t get me wrong…
When I used to go around Filipino-American communities in the NY-NJ-CT tri-states seven years ago (while editing a mainstream Filipino newspaper), I chanced upon a million Pinoy writers groups denominations. All of these are rooted to the Filipino culture back home… but it seems people don’t simply agree the moment they sit down around a circle and open their mouths. So they form their own splinter, semi-splinter, pseudo-splinter, copy-splinter, splinter-splinter writers workshops.
Some of the list that I gathered – a group for writers with northern background (12 chapters scattered all over and around five New York City boroughs), writers with northern background whose parents are from the south, writers with northern background whose wives/hubbies are from the south, writers with northern background whose kids were born in the Philippines, writers with northern background whose kids were born in the US, writers with northern background who’ve been dumped by their wives/husbands, writers with northern background who are applying for American citizenship, writers with northern background who are undocumented illegals or with expired visas, writers with northern background who are actually from the south but don’t wanna say, writers with northern background who are… whatever.

IN ASHEVILLE, this cornucopia of writers groups certainly add spice and brew to what we all call (and brag) as diversity.
Well, diversity is good if these seemingly “different” people, or humanity with different points-of-view or “madnesses,” decide to coexist as one community and try to work or unite towards a collective end… diversity won’t work if these same groups of people simply create their own cliques and specialized groupings. Why do we drum up “diversity” and celebrate community while at the same time, we segregate ourselves from the heart of the collective?
Many times I observe that the gap that separates between a non-vegan/non-organic carnivore and a healthy-living, non-smoking, non-drinking person is wider than the space that sets apart a Republican from a Democrat… a lesbian group has their own place in the community, is their a Man Law group around here? How about the anarchists vs the moderates, the hippies and the yippies/yuppies, the babyboomers and the confused young?
It’s not like these people are going to co-exist on a daily basis or watch Glen Beck or “Desperate Housewives” on TV, seated on one couch under one roof. It’s just at least, once a week meeting in a public venue, you know…

IN THE LAST few weeks before this deadline, senseless killings and shootings painted our lives red. Is there a war in America? Why do our kids decide to grab that gun to articulate a point? Who are they listening to, what are they thinking?
It seems like we have more time to figure out the good nutrients in a hummus, ruminate over the dark spirits behind an SUV, hail and glorify the peaceful vibes of an unseen god up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, mused over gender sensitivity and political correctness, or debate whether Dan Brown is a heretic or not, or Oprah Winfrey really has right and authority to pick a good book, or does condoms bastardize the sanctity of Kama Sutra… than try to sit down with our children and, for once, listen to what they’re saying.
What do the children or the young want? Maybe they want to join our good-natured, holier-than-thou, “exclusively for adults” writers groups. Maybe they know better than us… maybe they have more beautiful ideas to share.
Maybe one of these kids are working on a novella that’s actually a blueprint to another Columbine tragedy? Or maybe these kids exude promising auras of future literary greats? Do they have to grab a gun again to let us, adults, listen? The writings on the wall scream like a giant cat’s blank stare. What are we gonna do with these signs? Muse, ruminate, discuss, debate, banter, ponder—over them—behind closed doors, closed to/from the outside world? Our doors that secure and protect our exclusive groupings from the others are so tight and sealed that we can no longer hear what’s going on out there, just a good ten yards away.
I wonder what we have been writing lately…

WRITERS WORKSHOPS are a gathering of people, I believe. People, who—besides a writing passion commonality—are also human beings who want to be heard, to connect, to bond. I don’t believe that most struggling writers—or even published ones—are in workshops simply to polish or break in a draft. They are there because they have a truth to share, no matter how risky or dangerous that may be.
We always mouth the words “community” and “diversity” – seemingly, to trumpet a global, no-walls/no-ceilings wisdom. But we seldom have the courage to open our doors to those who knock just because they don’t measure up to the word, “Writers” or “Part of the Group.”
We write about the world we live in, and the people in it—including us. Isn’t it boring to listen to just one “truth” every Monday or Friday or Wednesday night? Unless, we only want to listen to our own voices and cuddle our own stuffed toys of elitism and exclusivity, then it’s maybe cool to just stay locked up.
As for me, I just want to write… Whether you tear my poetry away and flush it down the toilet bowl, or hang it on your bedroom wall, beside a Van Gogh or three red roses. Whatever it is that you do with my little intrusion inside society’s four walls – the important thing is, I have extended my heart’s spirit. Quash it, burn it, step on it, no matter—no one frustrates, rejects, dumps, disappoints the spirit.
That’s the spirit of the writer that I want to hang out with in a writers workshop. I don’t care whether we do it at Waffle House, at Pritchard Park, or inside my humble abode, beside my fireplace, on 61 Dunwell Avenue.
Bring in the poetry, I’ll have wine and tea.

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