I'm home for just a few hours between trips and thought I'd touch base. My time at the Juniper Creek Writers Conference was amazing--such a generous and warm collection of wordsmiths (plus I got to spend time with my beloved Fruitflesh editor, Renee, which is always a sublime treat! And I got to go bathing suit-and-ice cream shopping with a bunch of very cool women, Renee included!)
It was funny--my trip to Carson City, Nevada was framed by two very jaded articles about teaching writing. On the plane there, I read "Doing Time: My Years in the Creative Writing Gulag" by Lynn Freed in Harper's Magazine, and on the plane back, I read an article by Rick Moody in The Atlantic which blasted the writing workshop environment. Both articles, especially Freed's, were funny and honest, and I admit I nodded my head in agreement at certain passages, but I also found both articles kind of sad. I guess I'm new enough to teaching that I still find it exciting, and hopeful, still find my students' ambitions and efforts touching and inspiring. Maybe someday I'll be jaded and bitter about all of it (although I kind of doubt that) but for now, I love watching people find their voices, stretch their imaginations, delve deeper and deeper into their potential. And not just in my own classes.
A lovely woman came up to me at the conference to tell me how she has used the strawberry exercise from Fruitflesh in her children's writing workshops. She described how she gave the kids magnifying glasses so they could explore the strawberry all the more closely. When it was time to eat the strawberry, she turned off the light and put on classical music. "I wish you could have seen their faces," she said, and she showed me how they chewed with their eyes closed, in revery. She shared some of the poems they had written--amazing poems by kids in 2nd and 4th grade, some of them non-native English speakers, full of fresh and wild metaphors. I love how the book has such a life beyond me now, how other teachers are using it to touch people's lives.
I recently visited my friend Donna's English class at San Bernardino Valley College. Donna decided to assign The Book of Dead Birds in her class; she taught it over several weeks, using it as a jumping off point for essays and dictionary explorations and research projects. Many of her students--a very international group--had never read a novel before. To see how they responded to the book, with such insight and passion and personal involvement, moved me so deeply.
It is moments like this that make teaching, that make writing, so gratifying.
On another writing-related note, my poetry group was recently profiled in an article about poetry in the Inland Empire. I was slightly embarrassed that the article states I was "ecstatic" about having three poems accepted to journals in one week, but then one of my former students wrote to me and said something along the lines of "I guess the reporter didn't know you are ecstatic about everything!" which made me laugh out loud. The reporter is actually a good friend of mine, who I'm sure is well aware of my tendency to bubble over; contrary to my student's sweet assessment, though, I'm not always ecstatic--I can get as dark and funky and broody as anyone--but I think that teaching does induce a kind of ecstasy in me at times. It makes me feel that anything is possible, and if that's not ecstasy, what is?