A soft-spoken potter. A foreign-born artist who became a US citizen the same day Kennedy was assassinated. A court reporter who, in her normal life, works in a jail, but for this week goes around with blue jeans covered in fresh clay, dangly earrings, and a winning--some might even say giddy--smile. A cheerful and funny weaver who retells Garrison Keillor anecdotes and calls to me from the farm house living room, "Wine, Susan?"
To say nothing of my marvelous students: a teacher, weary from her many impossible tasks yet searching for a way to express her own hard-won lessons and dreams, a communications expert for Federal Express with a funny, Wild West novel half-completed, a French-born, English-raised visual artist committed to taking down the family stories her late sister had dreamed of writing but was never able to. I urge them on with passages from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, a number of free-writing exercises, and my own convictions about how good writing comes about: there is no straight line, no easy path from the confusing din of this, our story-telling impulse, the clutter of our lives, dreams, and memories and the actual story.
My artist-student helps me form the analogy: this story, whatever it is you wish to tell, is a painting trying to emerge from a blank canvas. If you set out to paint a tree, you will likely get a tree. No surprises. But, if you play with it a bit, close your eyes and draw a few squiggles, step back, look, add a bit of color, a little shading, you'll likely come away with a whole different tree--or an entire forest or a house or a girl or a bulldozer or a monkey or a pond--layered with nuance and light and, well, story.
When it's time to write, sometimes what we really must do is play. Cut our sentences up into words, rearrange them, start with the lyrics to an old Prince song or the first line to a Walt Whitman poem or the hint of a memory we've mostly forgotten. Just make a squiggle or two. Step back. Look.
The weather is perfect, which helps with the overall sensation that I've somehow stepped sideways, slipped a few inches outside the bounds of real life. Artists gather at the dining hall to sing Johnny Appleseed, pass the corn bread, and share: how's your project coming along?
Outside, on the path to the writing studio, there is a cherry tree heavy with blossoms, dripping with bees. It's all right, I have been told. Those are humble bees, the kind that don't sting.
And that's me, coming back from dinner. I'll keep the studio open late tonight. Feel free to stop by, plug in your laptop. The coffee's almost done perking.