I am the fortunate facilitator for a number of writing courses whose students include individuals with lifetimes of backgrounds in fields other than writing, and ranging in age from a ninth grade student to retirees who are genteel enough not to reveal their ages.
With a mere eight weeks to assist them in extracting their stories from their memories and sharing them both on paper and aloud with the class, we start writing on the very first day. I remind them that this isn’t a theory class, but a writing class, so having them listen to me speak does no good without putting what is discussed during the lecture into practice.
I warm them up with a white board full of notes. They furiously copy things into their notebooks: my name, the name of the course, my email address and phone number, as well as the topics for each of the eight weeks of study.
Then we do a little exercise that includes them providing a brief introduction: name, where they came from (because it’s rare in Georgia to find anyone who was born here), their family, career background, why they chose this course.
Finally, I announce it’s time to write, and I must admit that I get a little thrill seeing all those deer-in-the-headlights looks of terror.
I reassure them that they’ve already told us a story, when they shared their introductions, and that they are each more than capable of writing a brief story or essay.
Groans, eye-rolls, heavy sighs ensue, then I “soften” and say, “How about we answer some questions first?”
Nods. Smiles. Sighs of relief.
I ask eight or ten questions – sometimes more, depending on my mood – and ask for a volunteer to share what they’ve written, reading each question in the form of a statement. For example, if I asked the name of their elementary school, they would say, “I was in the first grade at Midwestern City Elementary School;” followed by my question about who their teacher was, and they would read, “My teacher was Mrs. Smith;” and so on.
By the time we’ve gone all the way around the room, they’ve shared a nice little eight- or ten-line story and I smile. “Congratulations,” I say. “You have just written your first memoir.”
We all write, but writing well takes commitment. I encourage my students to make their tools available at all times: a comfortable writing pen, a notebook or journal that appeals to them. Their task is to jot down thoughts as they come to mind, with a commitment to longer and longer “jot sessions” each day.
Writing your story is a commitment to the relationship you have with yourself, I remind them.
Without fail, they have each WED their writing (although sometimes it could be more of a “WaED”): they Write (almost) Every Day.
Sometimes luck is with you, and sometimes not, but the important thing is to take the dare. Those who climb mountains or raft rivers understand this. ~ David Browe
Let me preface this post by stating that I have a very cautious personality, so rafting was never high on my to-do list. I’ve ridden horses for decades, which struck some of my boat-mates as crazy, since horses have minds of their own… but I might argue that the river does as well. At least I can understand a horse, walk up to it, rub its nose, decide from its response whether it had a mind to cooperate or aim for the first low-growing tree limb.
A river has no psyche… or so I thought.
My palms began sweating profusely as we climbed the hill from the parking lot to the check-in counter, so when I settled into my helmet and life jacket and we learned about proper oar handling from one of the instructors, I felt certain that my sweaty palms meant one of my raft-mates (likely my husband) would lose a couple of teeth – or an eye!
Strapped into an impossibly tight life jacket and barely able to breathe, I felt claustrophobic and nearly chickened out. There was a play table in the lobby with a bunch of Lincoln Logs, and I thought I could have a pretty good fort assembled by the time my team returned from the river…
Having converted me from sometime-exerciser to someone addicted to daily workouts, my Boot Camp instructor, Stacy Ward, handed me a yellow wrist band etched with the words, “I Can Do This,” with the advice to glance at it each time I felt my resolve starting to melt. I put it on my left wrist, the side I’d be looking at as one of the left-side paddlers.
At the river’s edge, we were introduced to our guide, Jesse, who encouraged us to “get acquainted with our raft” by jumping into the chilly water while hanging onto the ropes. I informed Jesse that I was a “river virgin” and scared out of my mind, and he assured me I’d have a pleasant experience.
We boarded the raft, and I was told to sit with one “cheek” on the edge of the raft, and the other on the “seat” then wedge one foot under the side edge and the other under the “seat” in front of me. Jesse had me sit in the back – probably so he could grab my life vest if I passed out.
Like lemmings heading toward a cliff, the entrance to the river was filled with rubber rafts of five or six people and a guide, all headed down a 4.5-level rapid. Our raft went down sideways and I began to scream, resulting in a mouth and nose full of water. (It was the last time I screamed on the river).
After the butterflies (and probably a bunch of parasites I picked up from the gallons I swallowed in that first dip) settled down, I focused on the river ahead and Jesse’s instructions to “paddle forward” or “two strokes back” or – most important – “get down – paddles up!” (I was good at that one – even did it a few times without prompting!)
By the time we reached the calm water where the rest of my raft-mates ditched for a leisurely swim, I had bonded with the raft and decided to stay put. And I must say, even the last bit of rapids, where we hit our final 4.5-rated water, was exhilarating, even fun.
We climbed back on the bus and I removed my helmet, unfastened the straps to my impossibly tight life jacket and took my first deep breath in more than two hours. “I did it!” I smiled and handed the wrist band back to Stacy, thanking her for the reminder that boosted my confidence throughout the ride.
I don’t even like the log flume ride at Six Flags, so I was certain I would not like whitewater rafting – and I’m not saying I’ll volunteer to go on another trip anytime soon. But I’m grateful for the feeling of accomplishment, of doing something I feared, leaving the river with wobbly knees and a smile on my face.
Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet. ~ Carl Sagan
Though tempted by the Lincoln Logs in the lobby, I’m glad I didn’t sit this one out!
- The light turns red and we stop, but what if the brakes had failed?
- I pick up the package of frozen tilapia, but what if it mingled with shrimp, to which I’m highly allergic?
- My husband and I met in high school after our families moved to the town in the same year, but what if one of us had lived elsewhere?
- And so on…
- What if a one-legged sea captain were consumed by the need to slay the beast that maimed him?
- (Moby Dick, Herman Melville)
- What if a woman walked too near magical stones and awoke two hundred years in the past? (Outlander, Diana Gabaldon)
- What if people realized they possessed special gifts, and the keys to uncovering them were hidden in plain sight? (Awake, coming June 2012)
– my horse. You see, I couldn’t bear to turn on my computer and not see her photo on the desktop. That would mean moving on with my life – the life that doesn’t include her – for the first time in more than three decades.
Be sure to stop by J. King Artworks, at 48 South Park Square in Marietta – above the Australian Bakery – to visit Lisa Rosenthal and see the amazing works she has for sale.