Saturday, March 27, 2010

The writerly bond . . .

About a month ago, I held a two-part, personal essay-writing workshop at Lexington's Boxerwood Gardens. We got together on the theory that conversation among people who love and venerate good use of language stimulates and disciplines the writer in each of us.

I sat among a generous-sized circle of people; some of whom had already written a lot, others of whom had hardly written at all. All of us, I'm pretty sure, enjoyed ourselves mightily; those of us who'd hardly written gaining confidence; those of us who had written getting shaken out of our accustomed (and, perhaps, slightly jaded) approaches to the page -- getting a good smack upside the head about how good writing demands risk, not repetition..

If I "teach" anything at these workshops, it's that essay writing, first and foremost, involves clear thinking. What, exactly, am I trying to say? It seems to me that people often try to work out what they think by writing about it. And while the result may certainly sound impressive, it's a muddle rather than an essay.

This means that a personal essay-writing workshop is a mental work-out for the temporarily fearless. We are gathered to learn to write about things that matter to us.  And in order to do this, we have to know exactly why these things do matter -- not to the world in general, but to us as individuals. In order to write a really good personal essay, we must get beyond our mysterious reluctance to put who we are down on the page.

Whew! It's a bonding experience! But then risk-taking adventures always are.

When we were finished with the second session, we Boxerwood work-shoppers had no desire to let our group go. So, we decided not to. We're having a reunion this Sunday at Books & Co. in Lexington, at a book-signing for one of our members.

Lisa Tracy was one of the people who'd written a lot. Obviously, because here's her website biography:
Lisa Tracy is a journalist and author of a number of books, including Objects of Our Affection, Muddy Waters: The Legacy of Katrina and Rita, and The Gradual Vegetarian. She has served as Home and Design Editor and Sunday Magazine Managing Editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, worked in press relations for the ABC Television Network, and hosted a radio show on consumer affairs for the Federal Trade Commission. She also worked as an actress and stage technician before entering the field of journalism and is a member of Actors’ Equity. She has taught composition, creative nonfiction, literature and history.
Her latest book, just out, is called Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s Past, One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time (A Bantam Hardcover; March 23, 2010). Lisa's family has been around Lexington forever, intricately tied up with the area's history, busily amassing historically interesting possessions. Object is a book for anyone who's had to deal with family possessions that need upkeep, yet are not really useful anymore, or for anyone who watches Antiques Roadshow, or for anyone who likes a good memoir. Or, if none of this applies, Objects is, I can testify, simply fun to read

Lisa Tracy, in elegant mode, surrounded by family stuff 

I'll be at Lisa's book-signing tomorrow in Lexington.  Along with, it looks like, about half the Boxerwood essay workshop.

How about you?  If you're within striking distance of Lexington, please do stop by.

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