I’ve been to Key West many times. But I’ve never participated in a writing workshop.
So I didn’t know what to expect when I spent five days there this past week participating in a workshop titled “Personal Narrative in an Impersonal World”. (Also known as the memoir.)
We were instructed to bring multiple copies of a work in progress to share with the group.
I’ve been writing this blog for over five years now. And I’ve never had a problem sharing intimate details of my life. But sharing a chapter from my work-in-progress memoir? Face to face with other writers? So stressful.
And writing a whole chapter was so not easy. Not at all like blogging. My posts are usually 500-700 words. Easy compared to the almost 3,800 words I did for this.
The subject matter I chose? Dating after divorce and how I
hooked up with met my husband. So basically sex, uncircumcised penises and Gimlets.
I finished my edits the day before we left, because I work best under pressure, and went over to Office Depot to make my copies.
And Sunday afternoon, we headed on down the Turnpike.
The first two days of the workshop went fine. The 13 people in my group were from very different backgrounds. All interesting. And all smart. A nice camaraderie was growing.
My moment under the microscope was to be on Day 3.
The night before it was my turn to have my work discussed, I had a dream. A scary one actually.
I was underground trying to catch the subway. But this was like no subway station I had ever been in before. Even after living in Manhattan for 11 years. My husband was with me (just like he was in Key West) and we descended in to a very damp and rocky cavern. There were no train tracks. Just subway trains careening around, almost hitting us.
As sometimes happens to me, I woke up with a start realizing that I had to pee. Which was fine because I wasn’t happy in the dream. I got up, forgetting I was in our room at the Key Lime Inn, and turned to go in to the bathroom. But I had turned too soon and found myself face to face with myself in the full length mirror. My heart jumped. And I almost pissed myself.
I made it in to the bathroom mostly dry and took care of my business. Then crawled back in to bed thinking that you wouldn’t have to be Freud to analyze that dream.
I was petrified.
But I managed to calm myself down by listening to the rhythmic snoring of my husband and remembering a talk on vulnerability that I heard Brene Brown give last year. She spoke about doing what scares you the most. And that if it scares you, then you’re doing the right thing.
Okay. Then I was definitely doing the right thing by having my work read by 13 strangers and then sitting around the table with them while they discussed what I had written and critiqued it while I remained silent.
After they were done, I would then be able to respond and ask them questions about what they had said.
Walking in to our conference room, I felt like a lamb being led to slaughter. I had the feeling, which ended up being correct, that nobody else had written about sex. Yikes. I was especially nervous because there was a rabbi in the group. Why did I include the part where a boyfriend had called me a Dirty Little Jew while we were having sex?
It was too late to rip that page out. So I just took a deep breath. And I didn’t get slaughtered. Quite the opposite. I got a lot of really thoughtful feedback. Even the critiques were spot on. And instead of getting defensive of people’s criticism? I made myself really be in the moment and open up my mind to what they were saying. It was beyond helpful.
I also felt such validation. Yes, I am a writer. A good one. And I can do this memoir thing.
At the end of the session, I walked out of the room ecstatic. Victory was mine. My sweet husband was waiting for me and when I told him what had happened, he just looked at me and said, “I know.” Because his faith in me and my writing is unwavering.
Then he took me out to Louie’s Backyard for a fabulous wine glass clinking celebratory lunch overlooking the water.
And now that I’m back home, it’s time for me to get to work. Reading the notes from my classmates and my teacher, the absolutely amazing and talented Maddy Blais, I’m feeling so lucky that I got to spend those couple of days with such inspiring and insightful writers. I hope I was as helpful to them as they were to me.
So here I go.
NB: I would like to thank my mom for the birthday gift of the workshop. And yes, Poppi, you too.