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.

The writing sessions

I have been trying to keep a log of my daily activities and progress as I now have to allot separate times for different projects. A couple of months ago, I accidentally launched the munabol writing sessions with BIPOC youngsters (ages 14-25). The first group, which I called the ground zero group is made up of two youngsters based in NL and two based in the Philippines. We’ve recently expanded to add on three new members and soon we’ll be launching a kids group (ages 10-13).

Ground zero had a ten week trajectory and I’m putting together a small booklet which reports on their progress and includes work produced by the first four in those weeks. For the expanded sessions, we’ll be working on new stories and working from a programme I’m developing. I’ve been gathering together some of the pieces that I want to use as part of the first exercise session and am feeling quite excited about it.

I think about how seeing can start from such a simple thing as looking out onto the street outside your window and simply documenting what you see to something more complex like looking at a photograph of a scene in a museum and asking participants to write down what they see.

The idea behind this practice was born from another project I’m working on where the ask was to incorporate museum objects into the practice. I thought about the museum itself which is a colonial space and I thought about the objects in it. My thinking was that if we are able to see beyond the object and beyond the space, we might be able to find the space where we can move forward in conversations around certain museum pieces. This is something I’m still thinking on, but for the munabol sessions, I want to encourage young practitioners to open the inner eye which is so essential to creative artists. To see, to look, and to recognize that there is often something more to what you see than what appears on the surface.

When I was a child, someone once told me that to be an artist means that you see beyond the leaf. It took me a while to realise it, but I think that was the point where I decided I would embrace writing and become that kind of artist with the use of my pen.

In any case, it’s this kind of seeing that I want to share with the youngsters and as I said to the ground zero group, we may all be looking out at the same scene or on the same view, but we won’t all notice or see the same things because each of us looks at the world differently. I am eager to discover those different angles in the different works offered tomorrow.

Working with youngsters and kids is inspiring and the writing sessions give me energy to keep on writing, to keep on creating, to keep on pushing for projects that will encourage people to dream, to imagine, to make their playful and creative selves visible in the world.

Working on the writing sessions

Life is moving swiftly these days and it’s good to be working again and to be writing at a steady pace as well. I’ve decided to start a new trajectory for the kids who are joining in on the discord writing sessions, moving towards helping the kids think about projects they want to work on or stories they might want to write and how best to help them achieve that.

The project that a friend and I have pitched has been approved and we hope to start working on promoting and inviting participants soon. I think that one of the things we’ll have to do is specifically go and invite potential participants actively. My hope is that in actively inviting, we create a sense of welcome. Bringing potential participants across the threshold to where they say: Okay, I’ll give this a try, is a first step.

My primary focus in the upcoming sessions is the participant. What do participants want to achieve? What stories do they want to tell? To me, it’s important to meet participants where they are in their journey. To give them freedom to connect with the sound of their own voice and the strength of their own stories. In this, I feel it’s important to share the works of writers of colour, to reconnect with musical forms that come from personal history or culture, to think about the forms we use in our own settings and to make those the building blocks on which we tell our stories. To invite participants to play and just have fun in whatever language feels most connected to their inner self. I feel this is where I would like to start as I’ve discovered that often that reconnection with the inner voice brings about a sense of wonder, the realisation that a certain power and magic exists in letting that inner voice come out. To my mind, the technical details of craft, while being necessary are of lesser importance than that discovery.

More and more, I find that colouring inside the lines–adhering to imposed structure and imposed ways of telling story ‘correctly’ (what does that even mean?) limits imagination and sense of joy and wonder. When we move outside of those lines, when we explore and have fun, then magic unfolds.

I think it’s important to emphasise that BIPOC writers write and create because we enjoy it and because we are curious and playful. Imagining and creating our own worlds and spaces bring us joy and hope and helps us work through things we wrestle with. I translate this as freedom to explore structures and other forms of tellings that live outside of the west or the establishment’s experience. It’s also a journey of exploration for me and as with all journeys, there is an element of trepidation. More than that though, there’s excitement and joy.

Looking at where I started with this post, I find myself thinking about jam sessions and improvisation and how it’s when we aren’t worried about ‘what if I play the wrong note’ that the most wonderful things come into being. One of them being: the joy of shared laughter and then the excitement of seeing what we can do with unintended disharmony.

a fun update

I’m in the throes of writing again. I don’t think I’ve ever really stopped. I might have taken pauses in between, but as one great writer said to me: even when you’re not at your desk, you’re never not writing. I think this is true, because sometimes my work follows me into the dream world and I wake up trying to grab hold of words and images before they get chased away by the busy round that comes with being the mom of a high school kid and one college aged young man.

I am feeling joyful about my boys these days. I mean, there was a time when I wondered if we would ever be all right again and here we are–it’s 2021. We went through a pandemic and my boys are noisy and cheerful and active when we get together. I suppose it’s to be expected. I have one ADHD child and one ADD child on the spectrum, but together they can get pretty rambunctious. Add one ADHD mom into the mix, and well…you can imagine what dinnertime can be like. Anyway, both of my sons are inveterate gamers (when not studying) and I find myself turning into the pestering parent who tells her sons to: ‘please read this book I lent you, it’s really good.’

One of my conversation staples is: ‘did you read the book I lent you?’

If they tell me they’ve read a few chapters, that makes me happy.

Recently, I started leading a writing workshop for youngsters 14-21 years old. It was one of those accidental moments where you propose a thing, one thing leads to another and before you know it, you’re on discord doing voice chat workshops. I sort of dragged my boys into participating and it’s turning out to be a really fun ride. I’ve been given permission to share eldest son’s piece from one of the exercises we did which was set in a shared world setting where humans and nonhumans are experiencing the effects of being exposed to toxic waste.

The Assignment: Write a short piece from the perspective of an animal in this world that’s been affected by toxic waste

Boss! Boss nice! Nice boss. I like boss.

“Go on, fetch boy.”

Toy fly! Wow wow wow! Catch toy. Catch toy!

“Git it boy! Git it!”

Toy land. Get toy get toy.

Smell. Smell? Weird smell. Must get smell.

Weird thing. Taste thing? Weird taste. Not nice.

“Where you at, boy?”

Not nice. Angry. Hungry.

“What’s wrong, boy?”

Not angry. Wait. Angry. Very angry. Not happy. Must eat food.

“Where you goin’, boy?”

Need eat, must eat. Where food?

Field has food. Eat food.

“Stop boy! Farmer Johnson’ll put you down if you dig up his crops!”

Stop drag. Boss. Need food. Boss stop. Bite boss.

“Augh! What the hell, boy!”

Boss angry, not happy. Boss not nice. Bite boss more.

“HEY! HEY! Stop that BOY!”

Hungry. Must bite. Crop food? Food? Crop. . . Boss?

-published with permission, J.J. Loenen, 2021-

second update of the day

Two updates in a day! Isn’t that something after months of not updating at all.

If I had to share everything that’s happened in the past year, I would be updating on the hour. But this update is about a one-hour workshop that I’ll be doing for FIBER. As I understand there are still spots available and when you sign-up or apply, you’re not just applying for a day workshop, but for a series of multidisciplinary workshops. If that tickles your curiosity, do go and check out the link.

I’ll be doing Day #1 workshop on worldbuilding and I’m still working on how to fit as much as I possibly can into that one hour slot. I went and read Alice Bucknell’s essay Ecological World-Building:From Science Fiction to Virtual Reality and then I asked Rhian Morris if I could attend Alice’s lecture (I can. Yay!). I have the date blocked on my calendar and am looking forward to it.

Anyway, talking about worldbuilding, I had to share a project I’ve been doing with a handful of young people (14-21 years old) and how working with these youngsters has inspired me and helped me refine and adjust my approach towards teaching/sharing worldbuilding tools. Each workshop I’ve given has also taught me a lessons on how to refine my approach so that it fits better with the people I’m working with.

With Envisioning Other Futures, I had a balance of Dutch-speaking and English-speaking students. My discord youngsters are bilingual who choose to write in English, and I’ve had one day workshops with writers whose only common language is English. Each group teaches me how to adapt and adjust so that the approach will be most useful to those attending.

Regardless of what discipline or background people come from, I think it’s important to find that sweet spot where participants let go of the rigidity of expectation and embrace their playful self. I think we’re best able to create when we allow ourselves to play in the worlds that we create. It’s also then, in that sense of joy that comes from creating together that we find surprising solutions to what might seem like insurmountable problems.

**I am also sharing a link to Rhian Morris’ site as I found myself quite fascinated by her immersive work. Do check it out and be inspired.

a very delayed update on Envisioning Other Futures

When I updated this blog in June 2020, I was fairly sure I would have lots of time to come back and update more regularly. But here I am, one day short of June, one year later. It’s odd to look back at that last entry and wonder if time stood still.

We held a culminating activity for the Envisioning Other Futures workshop sometime in March of this year. For many of us who were part of the workshop, it was the first time we were meeting anyone in person since the lockdown kicked in. It was a rather curious and surreal feeling. Festive, true. But also surreal.

It was lovely to see the workshop participants again and to be able to see a physical compilation of the work they’d done through the workshop. For the interested, an online copy of the book is available through this The Other Futures link.

The collection is bilingual with work written in English and work written in Dutch. Considering how some of these writers had not written any fiction (let alone science fiction) before, I’m quite pleased with the work we included in this collection. I want to mention the tireless efforts of Brigitte van der Sande who made the workshop possible through Stichting Mouflon and The Other Futures Festival. Brigitte is a powerhouse, an inspiring person and someone who’s encouraged me to move forward in the work that I do. I can’t begin to thank her for her untiring effort as well as the way in which she kept nudging me gently forward.

Here’s the cover for the print and online version. You can also find the book by clicking on the image.

Some thoughts on rounding off the workshop

Saturday marked the true final day of our group workshop sessions. I still have a number of individual consultations to do–not that it was part of the package, but that’s just how I roll and I think it can help young writers to figure out exactly what they want to write about when they are able to talk it through with someone.

I’ve learned through observation and experience that the subject or the story a writer feels most passionately about is the one where their eyes light up when they talk about it. And so, the face to face is helpful to me being helpful to them.

Conversing with my students reminds me of lines I told myself–lines that are probably familiar to many a young writer.

“I’m not sure I can do it.”

“Maybe I should write something else, what do you think?”

“But it’s not ambitious enough.”

“No one will want to read my work.”

“I haven’t written science fiction before.”

“I’ve never written fiction before.”

“Does my voice really matter?”

One of the things I tell my students is this: if you feel passionate about this subject, then you must write that story. You may not feel up to it right now, but put down a first draft. It’s okay if it’s spaghetti. It’s fine if it doesn’t make sense. If you think it’s not perfect enough or rightly told, that’s not important right now. Get it down. Just write.

Some first drafts surprise me. Some first drafts are messy ( first drafts often are) but I can clearly see the promise of a story waiting for the rough edges to be peeled away. Some stories show me exactly how much the writer has struggled with the work and some tell me this story has lived so long in the writer’s head, that except for a few minor tweaks, that story is already there.

I believe that it often helps to talk things through in person or face to face rather than on text or on message because even though the world is in constant communication through text or tweet or app, a lot of nuance is lost when we don’t do face to face.

Where written words may sometimes come across as: I think you did this wrong, when we talk face to face, you’ll hear me saying: I see you did this and I want to understand why. I will ask you to stretch your imagination and challenge yourself harder and my tone of voice, my facial expression and my body language will tell you it’s meant as an encouragement.

Most of my students are first time writers of science fiction and I know it’s not easy for all of them. I also know that while some of my students will continue to write science fiction, some of them might not. Some will probably incorporate techniques they’ve learned into their existing art practices and some will probably go on to create works that are a blend of everything.

Still, it has been a joyful and interesting journey and it’s made me quite enthusiastic and hopeful for the future of Dutch science fiction.

Personal post: my son’s investment

After Jan’s passing, eldest son gifted me with a set of weights and an exercise mat. I’d been contemplating a gym subscription but I just couldn’t seem to take that first step. So, when eldest son asked me what was on my birthday wishlist, I thought I’d ask for stuff for exercising at home. I thought: a mat would do or a pair of dumbbells. I remember expressly pointing out some things that I thought were student-level price. (He was also saving up for his own computer, so I didn’t want him to spend a lot.)

I was rather flabbergasted when the packages arrived. Apparently, he’d done some research and opted for his own (more expensive) choices instead of what I had pointed out to him.

In the first year, I shed a couple of pounds and started to feel stronger. When I flexed my arm, I could feel something that felt like muscle. So I took the plunge and signed up at our local gym. My goal: more muscle definition please and make me stronger.

In times when I’ve wrestled with anxiety, I’ve found that a good workout tends to keep the worst of it bay. I’m able to clear my mind for a while as I focus on just making it through a set number of reps and sets.

Today, I thought back to that time after he got his first job at a local supermarket. I think of the late nights and long hours that he pulled and how that was the year he told me that he didn’t need pocket money anymore. I remember how flabbergasted I was when I realised just how much he’d spent on my birthday present and I remember him saying that I should think of it as him investing in me.

The returns on Joel’s investment have come in as we now use that set each time we workout during the week. It’s fun, it gives some sort of structure to days where hours seem to blend into each other, and I guess I’m vain enough to be pleased that the muscle I’ve gained won’t fade during the lockdown.

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( The 3 kilo dumbbells are a recent addition, and these shoes have been with me since I started working out 5 years ago. I have a 5 kilo disk on my birthday wishlist. I’ve read that weight training is important for women as we grow older as it helps maintain bone density and keeps our joints supple. What I can say is this: five years ago, I couldn’t run up and down the stairs, these days I can.)

writing progress

Funny how the brain works. Maybe it’s because I put away the first draft of Waypoints during a dark period–maybe it’s because I decided that writing wasn’t working at all, but I had this idea that I had never gotten around to finishing first draft on it. So, I was quite surprised when I opened scrivener to find that I had indeed managed to finish first draft on that novel. True, it wasn’t a clean first draft; true, it was filled with open and close parenthesis that looked like this: (fill this information in later on) and (what does this person want anyway and why is this character here? Justify that.); but, it was a first draft.

I know it needs quite a bit of work before I can even show it to anyone else, so I’ve decided to discipline myself and focus on working on this story for at least a couple of hours each day for the duration of the stay at home rule.

When I started working on Waypoints, I had no clear plan of where I wanted this story to go. What I had was an image and an idea and a very strong feeling. I followed those things and just put words on the page without stopping to consider whether each event was helping the story or moving the story forward or doing anything useful in the story.

At one of the first workshop meetings, I told my students that when we write, what we put on the page must serve the purpose of the story we want to tell.  I find it amusing to discover that these were the exact words I needed to hear as well because I quite forgot about that point while writing the first draft for Waypoints. I was just indulging myself and having fun.

I do remember going back to visit this first draft sometime ago and feeling a sense of overwhelm. It felt like this incredible mess and I had no idea how to make sense of the mess. So I shut the file up again and shelved it.

The interesting thing about some stories is how they will nag at you and refuse to let you go. You put them away determined to forget about them, but they keep coming back to haunt you. They nag and nag and remind you that you haven’t really given them their due. I have two stories on file that keep doing that to me and Waypoints is one of them.

Today, I’ve identified my main problem with this novel and why I’ve found it more challenging to organise as compared to when I make sense out of the chaos of a first draft short story. 

First of all, I have lots of characters on the page who want all kinds of different things. Second, my viewpoint keeps shifting and right now it feels like I have more than three threads vying for dominance. 

It also suffers from a thing one of my instructors pointed out to me when I was at Clarion West–I’ve tried to stuff so many things into this draft that it’s hard for the reader to identify what’s most important. (Considering how I am reading this draft after a year and having trouble identifying what’s what already says a lot.)

So today, I’m asking myself questions as I look at my draft. What do my characters want? Where do their wants coincide? Where do their wants diverge? Who has got the most lose? Who gets hurt the most? How much are they prepared to sacrifice in order to achieve their wants?

It’s small progress but I am working at this one step at a time.

In which we are inspired by Ann VanderMeer’s “The Bestiary”

In 2015, Centipede Press released Ann VanderMeer’s “The Bestiary”, for which I wrote an entry. One of the things I enjoyed about this project was creating a small biography of myself as a strange creature. Today, I thought I would ask the kids to write their own strange biography. It was a fun exercise and the kids have given me their permission to post their work here. I hope those who read it will enjoy it too.

The Loenen

The Loenen is a creature that likes to sit behind people’s computers and play videogames. It is very nerdy and ita lso likes model building.

The Loenen is very kind and isn’t aggresive at all; it is naieve which makes it an easy target for hunters. Because of that, it is an endangered species.

It believes that no one would ever do anything bad and always sees the good in people.

The Loenen is very lazy; but it can also be very hyperactive.

Most of the time this creature just stays in other people’s homes and eats their food. It uses technology to do fun things like gaming.

During childhood and adolescence, the Loenen latches onto the back of it’s parents.

However, the Loenen is known to leave the family group earlier than other creatures. Because of it’s adventurous behaviour, it doesn’t like to  stay in the same space for long unless if it has a child or something else.

At death it likes to return to it’s home to die there and to become one with the earth from which he came.

-by Samuel Hendrik Loenen, youngest son-

 

Segnis Joellum

An uncommon, and rarely seen inhabitant of the sprawling suburban ecosystem of Gouda. Segnis Joellum mainly subsists on a diet of information. Segnis Joellum specimen are frequently observed near a computer. This is so that it may access the World Wide Web in search of what it considers “interesting information.” This information usually falls in the categories of aerospace, history and random trivia.

Segnis Joellum usually stores this information, so that it may use this in the defense of its territory. This is done by starting conversations with invading creatures. These conversations will usually start out normal, but when the Segnis Joellum sees its chance. It will try to shift the conversation to one of the many pieces of random information which it may have accrued that day. This will usually result in the opposing creature dying of boredom.

-by Joel Jan Loenen, eldest son-

 

(The Loenen and Segnis Joellum at work.)

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