rounding off the sessions and looking to the future

Summer break is upon us and so I rounded off the writing sessions with a promise that we would return to them once the summer holidays are over and the new school year begins.

Right before the break, I invited a group of kids (the youngest was 8, the oldest was 14) for a short writing session. I had initially done this to accommodate a request to include an 11 year old in the writing sessions but considering the age gap, I thought it would be better to try and see if we could gather together a group of younger kids and see what happens.

We did a one hour orientation session on zoom and I found myself quite inspired and mind-blown by the work the kids did in that short hour. For this session, I decided to conduct the class in Dutch. My reasoning being this: while the children are all bilingual, English is not an automatic second language for everyone. Also, as I said to the kids: we live in The Netherlands, you go to school in The Netherlands, and so everyone in the session understands Dutch.

I did provide the children with the option of writing either in Dutch or in English (whichever feels most comfortable). It surprised me to observe how kids switched between both languages, although there were at least two who opted to go for Dutch. After the class, I asked the kids if this was something they’d like to do again and to my surprise, they all said yes. (A part of me wishes I could read one or two more languages, so this might be my next personal project.)

I’m taking time to think and reflect through the lessons learned during the period when we were having the sessions. I’ve also purchased a number of books which I hope will help me as I move forward. One of the books I’ve recommended to my older youngsters is Kiini Ibura Salaam’s “Finding your Voice”. It’s a collection of essays that I recommend no matter where you are on the journey.

As the busy season is coming to a close (I’m rounding up sessions with another student tomorrow), I find myself reaching for works I’ve had on my reading list. I’m reading Edouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation and find myself in wonder. I have been nudging a very dear friend with text messages of: you should read this because this is just wonderful. I’m grateful to people who’ve pointed me in the direction of work done by thinkers I otherwise would not have known of. I’m eyeing another Glissant book on amazon, but will finish this one first or I might find myself switching from one to another without ever finishing anything.

Another book I recently purchased is The Anti-Racist Writing Workshop: How to Decolonize the Creative Writing Classroom by Felicia Rose Chavez. This book was recommended by Vida Cruz and so I look forward to reading it and absorbing it in preparation for the next season.

Reflecting on the past few months, I’ve been thinking of how developing a workshop is also part of process. I’ve been richly rewarded by the interactions had with the youngsters and as we continued along on the journey, I thought of this as us developing a practice together. We move from one stage to the next, learning more and more about our own process of creativity.

For the last session with the youngsters, I asked them to create visual images depicting their process. I asked them to use pen and paper instead of the computer. The resulting sharing was really fun.

We recognise each other in our process, how we become enthusiastic about an idea, proceed to work it out, think we suck, go back to working on the idea, procrastinate, work on it some more, and then at the end wonder if we made the right choices. It’s a recognisable cycle and we had a good laugh about that.

After the summer, I am planning a longer and more outlined trajectory of how to proceed from the point where we stopped. I know the kids enjoy the meetings. They tell me that they enjoy the writing too. But for the next trajectory, I want to incorporate a number of practices–to encourage the kids to embrace and try other disciplines as well. I believe that being multidisciplinary enriches the work.

I also think that something has changed in my perception of myself and my work. I’ve stopped thinking of myself as just a writer. I can’t explain it. Somehow, it feels like stepping outside a box into an unknown space where anything and everything is possible and while there is this sense of ‘I don’t know yet’, it also makes me feel lighter and joyful. Less burdened with a certain expectation.

To those who journey into the world, exploring what is new and unknown, embracing the act of creation, may you always see beyond the leaf.

(image copyright by PvanderP, used with permission. Purple flowers with sun and shadow and a butterfly perched on the bloom.)

some ambitious dreaming

I’ve been working on our project proposal for the dreaming sessions which would lead to more writing sessions. This is a project that’s flowed forth from a dream I shared with one of my friends sometime before Covid sent us all into lockdown. At that time, I didn’t see how to make that dream become something real. I just didn’t know how to at that time because I was emerging from having retreated away from the world and was just moving tentatively towards engaging with the world again.

So I told this friend who is also a dreamer like me, about my desire to create something inviting for BIPOC writers, thinkers and creatives. I didn’t know what form it would take, but during the pandemic period, when I realised how dreaming was essential to youngsters, I started the writing sessions. When my fellow visionary got back in touch with me, I had already worked out some of the things I wanted to do with a face to face version of the writing sessions.

As I work on the draft for this project, I think about my own history with dreaming and the written word.

My love for writing started long ago, when I was little girl in the mountains who had run out of books to read. Before I thought of writing stories for myself, I remember lying in bed next to my sister long after lights out. I remember the stories we spun for each other in the dark. I remember holding hands when our stories got scary, and falling asleep when they got a bit boring, and dreaming on inside my mind long after my sister had fallen asleep.

Books were magical things created by people far far beyond my line of sight. When I was a child, I didn’t know it was possible for someone like me to one day have stories included in books.

I think of those whose names I don’t yet know–those who I will meet on this journey. I think of those who dream and who are scared to reach out for the pen, I think of the numerous stories, the numerous words, the recollections and the dreaming that are waiting to be brought into the world. I want to say: I can’t wait to meet you. I can’t wait to read your work.

Preparing for the next session

I’m doing very small forays onto twitter these days. Just very brief jumps in and out to see if there are interesting articles or links being shared. If friends have sent messages, I also want to at least send a quick reply.

This morning, I checked in and saw this link shared by Anna Sulan Masing. (Click on her name to visit her website) As I read the linked article, I realised that I’ve missed out on a lot of conversations in the years that I was off the internets. (It was needful for me and my boys and I didn’t have the spoons or the headspace for anything else other than survival for a while.) I found myself clicking and following some threads and so I now have lots to think about as I reflect on my workshop/dreaming practice.

The thing is, I’m less and less inclined to think of what we’re doing as workshopping. As I said to the kids, we are fellow travellers on a journey where I am simply an older person who might have more experience in a certain craft but it doesn’t mean I’m the authority. Because, as I tell the kids in the writing sessions, we are learning together. So, I hope I can inspire and encourage them to continue to dream on the page just as they inspire me to keep on doing the work that I do.

I like calling our meetings writing sessions instead of writing workshops because sessions reminds me of jam sessions where musicians meet and jam together. Maybe we riff off of each other’s work, maybe we borrow a note and improvise from there, but it’s still jamming.

Moving forward on that energy, I thought of how the language and the landscape around the writing sessions would ideally be shaped by the youngsters and the writers who create and share their art in those spaces. This is still a work in progress and so I am also eager to learn from others who are farther along and who have engaged different ways of doing or sharing craft with fellow artists.

There was a funny moment when my high school son (who refuses to leave the sessions even if he claims he can’t write) asked if it would be okay to use swear words in a story. This resulted in a lively discussion in which we agreed that profanity is allowed, but not if it offends or hurts anyone in the group. I love these kids. They’re kind and open with each other and they have clear sight. I’m honoured to be included and to accompany them on a part of their journey.

I’m thinking of what to do next as we move forward. Do we stay with the seeing practice for a while? What step do we take next? I’m still undecided, but I feel certain that further reflection on process will reveal that step to me. More importantly, I want to make sure that I don’t impose a voice on these young people. It’s important to me that they discover their own sound, that they learn to trust in that sound and be true to their selves when they are writing.