This weekend, Margaret Simon read this excerpt from Elizabeth Strout’s book, My Name is Lucy Barton:
At times these days I think of the way the sun would set on the farmland around our small house in the autumn. A view of tne horizon, the whole entire circle of it, if you turned, the sun setting behind you, the sky in front becoming pink and soft, then slightly blue again, as though it could not stop going on in its beauty, then the land closest to the setting sun would get dark, almost black against the orange line of horizon, but if you turn around, the land is still available to the eye with such softness, the few trees, the quitet fields of cover crops already turned, and the sky lingering, lingering, then finally dark. As though the soul can be quiet for those moments.
Afterward, she said, “I’ve got a writing assignment for you. Take the first line, ‘At times these days I think of the way…’ and write your really long sentence. I think you can handle that.”
And then she said, “Here’s mine.”
She proceeded to read. Beautiful. Poetic. A reflection on her world inside and out, offering a vision I could see and feel.
Sure. I can handle that. One long sentence. I grabbed my notebook and wrote. And revised. Couldn’t read my writing. Tore out the page. Tried again. Interesting parts but still not what I wanted. The writing was clumsy, forced. I wanted my computer but wasn’t sure if that was ok. Was I cheating? I re-listened to the assignment. Nothing said about how I write, just that I write. I thought of asking, but knowing Margaret, I turned to what works for me.
My computer. Opened a doc and typed. It flowed. I could see it; hold on to some parts and let go of others. Revision (was that ok?) was possible. The keyboard is my writing space. I can’t compose or think in longhand. I’ve lost that ability.
After a few minutes, I looked at my sentence. Was it long enough? Good enough? I studied the mentors. Mine was less than, but it is me, now.
Sharing writing is scary. Always. Scary.
But, I felt I was in a caring space. Fear diminished just enough to get me to post this:
At times these days I think about the ways the ocean invites my attention, as the cliff rises up to meet the road, looking down I feel as if I could reach out and touch the blue stillness, and yet below the surface the cold Pacific digs and pulls showing an endless uncontrollable power calling me towards its vast space that was, is, and will be, long after I am gone.
After, I thought about my process.
I was worried. Was I following the assignment correctly?
I wasn’t good enough.
I was expected to try. I needed to show up.
But, now they’d know.
Still, my teacher believed in me.
I felt, whatever I offered would meet caring hearts.
It was just a sentence. Shared among friends. Still I was nervous. Exposed.
In the end, the rewards were huge. Shared writing brought us closer. It grew trust and opened the door for more. But it took a teacher who believed I could and other contributors who cared.
I wasn’t much of a prompt fan before this experience. Perhaps because I’ve never had the right prompt or the right teacher or the right community.
Now, I’m looking for prompts for my students, imagining how we can experience this work together. And build on it.
What fascinates me is not the result, but the process. The conditions necessary for meaningful writing work.
This is why teachers need to write. Together. For ourselves. For our students.
Thank you, Two Writing Teachers Blog Slice of Life Tuesdays. For providing and supporting a community of caring writers. Read more slices here.