after living in los angeles for nearly four months without building up much of a network beyond the one i already know, i decided it was time to try my most successful method of meeting people: taking a class. i have long been enamored of writing classes ever since i took the plunge and joined leslie kirk-campbell's greenhouse of the imagination at ripe fruit writing in san francisco several years ago.
there are several good reasons to take a writing class, as i see it, even beyond wanting to learn to write. i will share them below...
writing is a terrifying act, i don't care what anyone says. at least when there is a chance that the writing will one day be seen, let along read by others. i think this goes for most creative work as well. i was terrified for a good month or so before i showed one of my teachers any photographs at all in maine. if i could get away with it, i would hide my writing the same way. in many ways i have, keeping a journal i don't share ever since i was eleven. writing with the intention of putting it out there is totally different.
for this reason, writing classes are good to meet people in the same way skydiving with strangers is a good way to bond with people. you are risking total humiliation and disaster. but you are all risking this sudden death and so, it tends to work out quite well.
my teacher leslie in san francisco was good at taking the sting out of a blank page. she had clever little tricks to coax us into writing. starters and sort of forks-as-airplanes to get us to eat our vegetables. and she made us read out loud. there is nothing more horrifying than reading something and being forced to stand up and read something you just scratched out at a frantic pace based on an enigmatic prompt, like a stranger's line of poetry, and probably have no sense of arrival with. and you know what, these people in the class will sit and listen and they will clap when you finish. because they have to do the same thing. and they know what a naked and stark thing it is to read words you have put on a page. and in hearing what people connected to in the work, as usually there is time for people to say what they liked, the writer gets to hear what kind of impact they made by sharing this silly little fledgling piece. i think this moment is what writers hope for. and to get to hear a listener or reader say it out loud right to you is intoxicating, because most of us hope to write books, and books sit silently on shelves and most of us who enjoy picking them up and opening them remain silent about their impact and so the writer is left wondering.
a good class can dispell this isolation. i have found one, in los feliz, and i am really excited about it.
my current class, taught by edan lepucki, just begun this evening, is made up of book lovers. strangely, i had met two of them before while in book soup, the one bookstore in los angeles that i browse in for that soothing quality i seek in bookstores. it is the one i cannot leave empty handed. my classmates are booksoupers, and for them reading is sitting with a book. one of them even hosts a whiskey and ongoing out-loud reading of moby dick once a week. i am delighted, and enchanted.
those of us who have made books our friends and who find solace in books, stand to learn a lot from exploring where they came from; from trying to write some ourselves.
even trying to write a story is a good thing for a serious reader who has no aspersions towards success or publication as a writer. i enjoy books even more, if that is possible to do, now that i write also.
and a class is a way to make sure some real writing gets done. having to show up with work by a certain date that people are going to read and talk about is a serious wake-up call. something has to happen here. this is the part of transitioning out of the academic bubble and into life that has somehow escaped me: how to be prolific and still eat. how to live a life that is artful and that also functions like an adult's life.
take one night a week and give it to yourself like a gift. take a class in the artform you have longed to dive into. you won't believe how much can burst out. my roommate in san francisco took a painting class and was reminded of how much art needed to be in her life. she went on to make more art and loved it so much that she took time off from work and traveled around south america for a few months.
breaking a routine leaves the door open for new possibility.
i needed some new possibility in my life here, and giving myself to power to explore the story i have to tell right now gives me permission to rewrite the story of the life i thought i was going to have here. and in both cases i have no idea where the narrative will go. i'm just excited that it is going to start now.
so, a dare: think about when you were five and what you always dreamed you would do. search for it in your area. find a class or a group. sign up. show up, even if you are scared. i was so nervous tonight i had to pry myself out of the house after a pep talk with the cats. but i am glad i went. and i will write something this week. and i will go back.
terrifying. but necessary. i read somewhere the quotation, "do something that scares you every day." i filled that quota today. sitting down and writing will fit for tomorrow. but i think i have let being scared protect me from risking too much lately. freaking out a little feels good. try it...