I find people endlessly fascinating, and enjoy connecting with them on multiple levels. Whether in-person or on-line, people’s views, personalities, and idiosyncrasies come through loud and clear in very short order. Some I gravitate toward easily, perhaps because of shared mind-sets and values, while others quickly become abrasive and offensive. The truth is, it doesn’t matter which. Of course I’ll seek out those whose ideas and opinions I share and enjoy, and will avoid those whose don’t mesh easily with my own. Still, I learn something from every single person I come into contact with.
For example, just this weekend I held a creative writing workshop at a local art centre, The Grand Bend Art Centre. It was a very small class, but that didn’t bother me. I believe in showing up for those who care to attend. I don’t like turning people away who might have an interest in learning, so when given the choice of going ahead with the small class or cancelling, I chose to go ahead. Why wouldn’t I? If even only one person shows up, then I feel I owe it to the Centre and to the attendees to do my part. The smaller classes just mean more one-on-one instruction and interaction, which can be great fun!
As we went through a series of small writing exercises, I began to see where each participant’s strengths and weaknesses lay, both in writing, and personally. One young girl was very shy and reluctant to share her written work aloud, even though she showed remarkable ability and promise. One woman had taught creative writing, but lacked the impetus to actually write the novel she’d always dreamed of. She too showed much promise and skill with words. What they both lacked was the ability to get themselves started on the path to writing and completing a full body of work. In short order, I knew my role; kick-starter. I was going to do what I could within the limits of four hours to ignite a spark of fire and encourage them to really start, and finish, a project.
One of the exercises I particularly enjoy during the workshop is what I refer to as a “walkabout”. This is where we go outside to explore the five senses and articulate what the participants see, feel, smell, touch. Writers must be able to bring forward these experiences while sitting in usually quite locations, away from the source of the experiences they are trying to write about. I wanted to remind them to be aware of the world around them on a daily basis. I wanted them to begin thinking in descriptive terms as they experienced where we were that day. Holding classes near a beach gave me excellent fodder for this type of experience and expression. We took the five minute walk down toward the lake. As we walked, I encouraged each person to describe what they saw around them. Then we stopped for a few moments, off the side of the road, and I asked them to close their eyes and describe what they heard and smelled. They talked about feeling the breeze on their skin, and hearing the cry of a gull as it swooped and dove overhead, or the sound of a squeaking bicycle gear as it passed by on the other side of the road. The scent of motor oil from boats moored nearby, and tang of fishy water assaulted their noses. By closing their eyes, they could focus on these elements one by one and experience them in a different way than they might normally. On reaching the dunes overlooking the long expanse of sand, water, and sky, they each described the tall grasses that graced the tops of the sand dunes, the leaden grey sky overhead that touched partially fog-shrouded land in the distance on one end, and cleared on the other to reveal the long pier and lighthouse close by. I reminded them that writing is about perception; their perception. The writer’s perception is everything, since it is always the writer who determines what the reader will see, hear, feel, scent, taste, and touch. Turn your head one way, and you experience one set of sensory input. Turn it the other, and you get a completely different angle. Turn your head too far, and you can’t see the other side at all, but it’s still there. Each person described the identical setting very differently, but with such passion and conviction. I loved it!
As I drove home from that class, I thought about how that little exercise is mirrored in our every day life and experiences. We can only perceive the world through our own senses, and we interpret those experiences in individual ways. No two people view themselves and the world around them in quite the same way. This is perfect. We aren’t meant to see and interpret the world around us exactly the same. It’s this variation that makes us unique and interesting. In that walk-about exercise, there was no right or wrong interpretation. Everything was valid and exciting. Putting words to the experiences helped us all see, for a quick span of time, through the other’s senses and mind. This is what the writer does. We share our views on the world, both real and imaginary, with others for a brief span of time. Close the book, magazine, or computer, and we all move back into our own lanes of thought, belief, and understanding. This is the magic, and joy, of writing, and life.