I dreamed that it was possible to invite people into a space and invite them to dream the past, the present, and the future. I dreamed it was possible to bring people of color from migrant groups in The Netherlands into this space and it would be possible to see their dreams enter the world. When I shared this dream, I didn’t know how it would happen or even what it would look like. I only had a vague idea of how to create that kind of setting and that kind of space.
I think back to the final day of the workshop and I think of the work coming from the hands of the writers around the table, and I find myself completely blown away. On the morning of the final day, when I asked participants to think about a story connected with personal items they’d brought with them, I did not expect that they would all write. After all, throughout the workshop, we’d used all kinds of different methods of story making. But this third day, they were all writing.
Before we did the first exercise, we read the Bridge Poem together. Hearing it read in chorus was just so powerful. It was like a presence entered that space and made it possible for us to reach that place where stories were waiting to be told. I’d brought along that quote from Alberto Rios and shared it with the writers after the first exercise.
“What surprised you?” I asked. “What did you discover?”
We were all in a thoughtful mood because the stories from that first exercise were so personal and moving.
“I didn’t know I had this story inside me,” one of the participants said.
“I didn’t realise that I remembered so much,” another replied.
Writing is also about remembering. Writing is also about being surprised by what you remember.
“What is it that you worry about and that keeps you from making or sharing your stories,” I ask.
“I worry about grammar,” someone says. “Because I want to post my stories on Facebook but when I do, people tell me right away that my grammar is wrong or what’s with your punctuation.”
I think about this thing–this grammar thing–the way in which the world can be so hung up on using perfect language and perfect punctuation as if that were the heart of what makes story. I think of all the things we forget when we jump on someone who is trying to share their story but tells it in a way that doesn’t align with how we think it’s supposed to be told. I think of how we are quick to say: your characters are wrong, your theme is wrong, your story is too bloated, your words don’t match. You are just wrong.
When we do that, we forget the most important thing. Someone who has taken the courage to share their story is someone who’s taken a risk. To tell a story is to come out of the shadows. To put your voice out into the world is to become visible. We forget that story often comes from vulnerable places. That it takes courage to share what’s vulnerable and painful and for writers coming from the margins, becoming vulnerable is risk.
I think about this as I reflect on the workshop. I think about the final exercise of the day. There I was saying: “this final exercise is optional. If you don’t feel like doing it, then you don’t have to.”
I had a moment of doubt where I wondered if I should ask writers to share and so I left it there in the middle until one of the participants raised their hand.
“I want to read my work,” they said.
And after that another one did. And another. And another. Until the circle was round.
These amazing writers who’d never attempted fiction before this workshop, they blew my socks off.
We shape the space in which stories are told. How we receive another person’s story determines the world into which the stories take their place. If we’re really serious about wanting to see more voices coming from the margins, we also need to think seriously about how we receive those voices.
Stand still. Respect the courage it takes to be visible. Speak your story into the world. In your response to the work, tread lightly.