Tonight I went to a writing workshop in Bryant Park. I almost didn’t: I was dropping from general exhaustion, I left work late with my new shoes giving me a blister. But I went. Oh, and Rain (definitely with a capital “R”.) Came up from the D train into a downpour that made sense of the flood watch we’ve been under all day. I just smiled, put up my umbrella and sloshed over to 44th Street (rainy weather alternative to Bryant Park).
I wasn’t sure if this workshop was a good idea for me. I’m a writer, after all. I don’t really need anyone to teach me how to get started writing … except that I do. I’ve been so busy, so unable to get much of anything on the page, so sucked dry. I hoped that sitting in a room with a bunch of people who wanted to write would push me a little, set my pen to paper, free me to say whatever.
I’m so glad I went. The young woman leading the workshops is wonderful. She has a lovely generous energy, and seems to really want to see the world writing. She has the fabulous ability to find something good and lovely in every piece, and she clearly enjoys her work.
Tonight was “creative non-fiction.” I missed the first part of the night, when she talked about the genre. I arrived as she led the group through readings and mini-discussions of three examples. Then it was time for us to write. Our assignment: take a ten-minute walk outside, then come back and write. Afterwards, volunteers read their pieces and she commented on the work. There were awkward pieces and pieces that were strange and difficult in unappealing ways. There were some pleasures, however. One woman wrote an excellent piece about a beautiful, tattooed Polish woman she’d talked to on the street.
That talking on the street had been our cue. Before we’d gone outside, we were encouraged to be brave, to talk to strangers. I had kind of laughed at that, felt as though I was cheating. If you’ve spent much time reading here, you’ll know that I need no directives to go talk to strangers. I am always and always talking to strangers. But I love the ‘take a walk and come back and write’ exercise. I used it often with my adult literacy classes, have used it with my teen GED students. I haven’t done it in a while, however, and I was excited to get outside and see what I found, see what would find its way onto the pages of my little purple notebook.
Here it is:
Considering how many people look at me and shy off in fear, it always charms me how many others approach, smile, talk, trust. I should not be fearsome to any. Yes: tall, big, black, kinky-haired. But look at me: open face, full smile, eyes looking right into yours, voice warm and kind. Still. This one clutches her bag a little tighter. That one gives me an extra foot of passing space, cutting her eyes at me as she scurries by.
But it’s a beautiful 7:55 July night after a crashing bucket-dump of rain. The air smells clean, feels gentle on my arms, the street glistens, the city ripples in puddles big enough to carry the Chrysler Building. I can’t be bothered with the ones who fear me.
A family — older couple, younger couple — is posing for pictures on the corner. I stop and ask if they’d like a shot with all of them together.
Not a moment’s hesitation, no quick eye-flinch of worry that I’ll take their gorgeous camera and run. The dad shows me how to work the controls. The mom explains that they’d made an impulsive decision to see New York for a day in the middle of a visit to see their daughter and son-in-law in Boston.
I take two photos. We smile our goodbyes and part with a double gift: all of us walk away knowing that I am nice.
Next week’s memoir. Guess who’ll be there, pen in hand?