Category Archives: Words

Writing with Joyce Sutphen

Yesterday I attended the Writer’s Fair at the Chanhassen Library. One of the presenters was Minnesota’s own Poet Laureate, Joyce Sutphen. She recited poetry to us. Near the end of her hour, she read “April” by Connie Wanek. We were to listen for a word, phrase or image that drew us in. Then we all wrote for 8 minutes. A room of writers wonderfully writing. Including Sutphen.

I loved the phrase “sleet…precipitation by committee”, but chose to write on “You are free to be water now.” Here’s what I wrote, raw and unedited:

Yes, please, snow, go be water, sink down into the ground, slowly, surely, softening, thawing the earth. But not too much at once, no floods please.

Don’t send all our water, our green-grass water, swooshing down the streets, pouring into the sewers, rushing into our streams, rivers, lakes, carrying too many nutrients, too much garbage, too much salt, sand, unraked leaves, soaked tree-cutting flyers and unpicked up dog poop.

Freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw, let the water seep inch by inch through the soil, down to the groundwater. The soil cleans the water, contains the water, filters the nasty out.

I cackle at the snow melting, melting away, free to be water, no more crystals, no more structure, just liquid and flow. Be gone snow. Where I shoveled is now clear by the radiance of the sun. But my neighbors have boycotted shoveling in April. I still have to put my boots on, but I will not retrieve my winter coat from the closet.

What isn’t necessary

What is community and how to build it are essential questions. So is asking what isn’t necessary for community to form. Sure, all the things I will mention can be helpful for building community, but I don’t consider them necessary.

Liking your neighbor is not necessary. Either the one who lives next door or the one on the other side of the world. Liking someone is a feeling, one that is deeply personal and subjective. It is difficult and a waste of time to try to wrangle ourselves into liking every person. Is it easier to act on behalf of someone we like? Of course. But to build a strong, thriving community, we must act on something deeper than our personal preferences.

Money is not necessary for community to form. A nod to a neighbor walking her dog, a kind word to a child, a smile at a barista brewing our coffee cost us nothing, but they go a long way toward building a sense of community. A lavish party or an evening at home playing board games with family? Community grows at both.

Proximity isn’t necessary. As I draw away from social media and focus on those around me, I’m inclined to say that being physically near someone is necessary, but I know it is not. A good friend of mine met her future husband online via blogs. I’ve participated in discussion boards with people from around the world and I felt more community there that at a dinner party. Reading books fosters a sense of community. Proximity is a huge part of community, but perhaps not necessary, at least not on the beginning.

Exhaustive details are not necessary for community. When did we start thinking that we have to know everything about everybody to consider them friends? If you asked me what I know about my Wednesday morning writing group, I would say I know their souls through their words, even though I don’t know their addresses, where they went to high school, or what they ate for supper.

If we don’t need any of the above to build strong, deep communities, what is essential?

One possibility: “…it is only kindness that makes sense anymore…” Naomi Shihab Nye, from her poem Kindness.

Online class

Have you ever taken an online class? Would you? Do you think it would be exciting, refreshing, frustrating, difficult, all of the above? How does a sense of community grow in an online class? Do you feel connected to the other students when you can’t see their expressions, hear their laughter, smell their coffee, or bump into them on the way to your seat? Does the subject matter matter? What’s it like for the teacher?

Seems that all I have are questions. Perhaps at the end of the next eight weeks, I’ll have a few answers. Tomorrow, I officially start my first online class, though I’ve already posted a pic, short intro and read others’ introductions. It’s a writing class with a teacher I’ve had before, which is probably what allowed me to take the leap to sign up for the class. I already know the sound of his voice and how he plots a story on the marker board. How does that help for an online class? Familiarity breeds comfort for me.

We have discussion boards, forums they’re called, and a weekly live chat. In a way, it makes a lot of sense to have an online writing class. We will be immersed in each other’s written words, not just the 10 pages we submit for critique, but in every post we write. We will be learning who we are almost solely through our writing. Will we pay closer attention to each other’s words when that’s all we see?

In one online discussion forum I used to frequent, several of the members had such strong (unique? clear? definite?) writing voices, that I would know their posts without needing to see their names or ever having seen their faces. At the time, that online community felt very close-knit. I’m sure that can happen in an online class also, but I’m at a loss to explain how it happens or how to make it happen.

I wonder what the next eight weeks will bring. Lots of reading and writing and maybe a even a little sense of community. I’m eager to find out. What are your experiences in online classes?

Community means…

com-mu-ni-ty

1. a. A group of people living in the same locality and under the same government. b. The district or locality in which such a group lives.
2. a. A group of people having common interests  b. A group viewed as forming a distinct segment of society
3. a. Similarity or identity: a community of interests. b. Sharing, participation, and fellowship: a sense of community.
4. Society as a whole; the public.
5. a. A group of organisms interacting with one another and with the environment in a specific region. b. The region occupied by a group of interacting organisms.

(according to the American Heritage Dictionary)

Ah, wonderful dictionaries! When I was younger, I looked up words. Then I looked up the words within those definitions ad infinitum. A circuitous adventure that could keep me busy for an afternoon, especially if I got a thesaurus involved. The reading was a little dry but filled with authority. A dictionary gave words meaning. The simultaneous ingestion of meaning and information was a rush. I now own a gigantic dictionary purchased for a whole three dollars at the library book sale. I couldn’t believe someone hadn’t snatched it up before me.

Dictionaries are reference books, starting points, foundations, but it is up to us to play with the words, discover what they mean to us, and imbue the words with meaning, extrapolating from denotation to connotation. Here’s my attempt to do so with the word community, just free writing from the phrase “Community means…”.

Community means those around us. It means support and encouragement and presence. Community means I help, assist, serve. It means knowing names and smiling and waving. Community means invitations to block parties, holiday parties, graduations. Community means I see you, I hear you. It means I know when you’re on vacation and I keep an eye on your house. It means I let you know when I’m on vacation and you keep an eye on my house. Community means I turn the pages of music while you play. Community means empathy, trust. Community means saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive”. It means “I didn’t care for that comment and I might take offense, but first I’ll ask you to clarify and I’ll try not to take it personally.” Community means togetherness. Community is a phone call after dark to let us know our garage door is still open. Community is a hug when needed and space when that’s needed. Community means I will not bring my phone to the table. It means cooperation and sharing. Community means…what?

What does community mean to you?

Writing on the Fly

I’m writing on the fly. Not on a fly, but on the fly. That would be a little hard to write on a fly, like those people that ink your name on a piece of rice that has to float in a capsule of water so you can even see it. I have my name on a piece of rice as a key chain. Received it from an uncle when we went to visit him or perhaps he was back in MN. I forget. Anyway, that’s writing on the fly, following where it leads, whatever direction the words take you.

You’d think writing on the fly would be easy, no planning required, no outline to follow, just one word and then the next. But actually, writing on the fly takes practice. A learning to remove or step quickly around all the roadblocks we throw in front of ourselves. Is that spelled right? Should it be you’re or your? Was that really how it happened? Maybe I opened the car door that day with my left hand instead of my right? Then you’re stopped. Done writing. At least that’s how it often worked for me. So then instead of writing about going to the zoo with my kids, I’m all obsessed about how I opened the car door. I’ll never get to the otters if I can’t even get myself in the car.

Back to writing on the fly. How does one practice this? Well, I took a class. It was called Intuitive Writing. How did Roxanne teach us to stop thinking so hard and get the words on the page? (I feel the need to add that, yes, clearly there are plenty of people who probably need to think harder most days, but starting to get the words on the page is not one of those days, at least for me.) By creating this nurturing, supportive environment and giving us lots and lots of practice.

We did prompt after prompt and shared and shared. And Roxanne allowed herself to be as vulnerable as the rest of us. One day we focused on sounds, nonsense words and phrases. Taking chandelier and saying, chande, chande, chande, lieeeer! and loving the rhythm and music of it. That’s how we let go of our censors, our monkey minds, all those voices that aren’t our voice of truth.

That’s what I do here. Write on the fly. On my other blog, I ponder a little more, add more structure, try to convey a certain event or story. There’s still writing on the fly there, but I usually reread the bugger a few times and revise and edit. On this blog, it just goes down, wherever I am led.

For instance, I initially titled this Mosaic because I was going to write about the dancing girl wearing a cup and saucer I have above my desk, but I got totally sidetracked by the writing on the fly.

With prompts and a wee bit of practice, anyone can write on the fly and be amazed at what bubbles up. That’s part of writing parties. The other part is sharing those gifts of words in a group. Being together and writing together. Powerful stuff. And buckets of fun.

One last thing: If I ever teach a writing class, I’m going to print off paper with a gigantic fly on it, so the writers can write on the fly.

What is Writing Together?

Writing Together is fun, heart-felt, spontaneous, no-spell-check-necessary writing. Writing Together fosters connections and community, memories and laughter, stories and listening. Writing Together acknowledges that our words are gifts. Writing Together is celebration and ceremony in the moment.

Your guides, your facilitators, your partners in writing together are Roxanne Sadovsky and Amber D. Stoner. We create a supportive, encouraging atmosphere for the flowing of your words and the sharing of your stories by providing simple, fun word prompts.

Let’s try one! Get out a piece of paper and a pencil, pen, crayon, or whatever writing implement you like and write down this phrase, “Today I heard”. Now complete the phrase. Don’t think too hard. Just keep writing.

At a Writing Together party, we would all write together silently, then we would have the opportunity to share. Oh, the stories that emerge!! We all hear different things: the coffee grinder, slippered footsteps, laughter, the rumbling garbage trucks, the swishing, swashing, clinking, clanking of the dishwasher.

If it’s a birthday party, we might warm up with a few more prompts and then each write a birthday letter to the guest of honor. These letters can be read aloud and, if wanted, ultimately gathered in a keepsake book.

Writing Together is an experience. Contact Roxanne (rox@superok.com) or Amber (amber.d.stoner@gmail.com) to schedule a writing party for your next special event (birthday, bridal or baby shower, book club, and more!)