Teaching from My Own Work

Last week Jimmy Santiago Baca led some incredible workshops in the NCR about–well, about everything–but mostly about individual voice.  He asked us to imagine an audience of the people we are most comfortable with and then speak directly to them in our writing.  It was a gift, because I do think a lot of us consider of writing as very different from speaking and then posture from that position, questioning the validity of our authentic voices.  But I had a really hard time with it–because choosing one voice as my primary voice of truth seemed impossible.  I’m honest and comfortable with my children–to a point–there’s a perception I want them to have of me that I protect.  There are parts of myself that I keep hidden depending on the audience.  I looked for a piece that spoke to this idea of working with not-quite-integrated personal narratives and realized that the piece that I wanted them to hear was one of my my own.  Using my own writing in a group is not something that I typically do–I’ve done it maybe once before.  I toyed with giving it to them written and not naming the author, but that seemed dishonest.  In writing groups I ask first and foremost for honesty from everyone.  So to run sessions with that kind of opacity at their base felt wrong, and I know that my own behavior is always sent off-kilter and marred by the instability of a lie.  I didn’t want to bring that energy into any of my groups.  So I took the leap and performed a poem, which juxtaposes the “I am woman, hear me roar” Seema with the “I’m not good enough” Seema.  I did the workshop five times this past week, one of which was not with patients in the hospitals at all, but instead on my balcony over glasses of wine with a dear, courageous friend, who wrote by moonlight and was willing to face her demons and give writing a whirl.  The prompt was to host, on the page, a sort of dialog between the things we say to prop ourselves up, to propel us forward and the voice of the things we can’t help but say to ourselves that tear us down.  Both voices are valid, both voices are necessary, and independently each of them is a half-truth.  How lovely to be so vulnerable with the people who are vulnerable with me week after week.  How terrifying and freeing.

All in all, it was a good week.


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