The Benefit of the Group

SKLessons from my first writing workshop

In a group, there is little room for doubt. The supportive atmosphere, the excitement of hearing something new, and the opportunity for growth are all contagious parts of the writers group dynamic. I experienced this on Saturday.

Kim Echlin (The Disappeared, nominated for the 2009 Giller Prize), the current Writer-in-Residence at McMaster University, hosted a writers workshop at the Hamiltion Public Library’s Central location. Local writers in association with Kim were asked to read scenes from their writing.  Many who attended were also aspiring writers curious about the craft itself.

For me, I have always been a “closeted writer.” I love to write, and I’ve worked at it for as long as I can remember. However, I’ve never shared my writing with a group of people. Only this year have I finally allowed someone in the writing community to read my work and offer commentary. From this authentic experience, I have gained confidence as a writer and improved my writing skills.

Kim has been an excellent shepherd in the writing community through her support in helping new writers emerge and take pride in their work. With a kind spirit and sweet disposition, Kim’s comments are always open-minded and thoughtful. She has reminded me that writing doesn’t always have to be a lonely or solitary struggle.

 

The following are some tips from Kim and the seven writers present at the event, in response to questions asked by audience members:

 

Some tips about “Writer’s Block”

  • Everyone experiences writer’s block at some point in their writing journey.
  • This usually stems from fear, the feeling of inadequacy or an unknown twist in the plot
  • Writing is the best medicine for writer’s block. Whatever you do, get your butt in the chair and WRITE
  • Try writing some “jibber jabber” or “free writing.” The process of allowing your mind to wander and allowing your characters to take you on a journey may help you reach the next part in your writing
  • JUST WRITE

 

Some tips on “Self-Doubt”

  • Your writing just is. It exists, it is there, it is open for judgement. No one person will think about your writing in the same way as another.
  • Surround yourself with a supportive group that will help you grow, not push you down
  • Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. You are entitled to write.
  • Criticism can help you grow as a writer, but negativity is not necessary
  • Keep an open mind
  • Oftentimes, we write because we can’t not write.
  • Write for yourself. Keep in mind the personal reason you have for writing and never let anyone change that.

One humid evening, a boy went to war…

Traveling is my favourite release from reality. You can wear a façade like it’s your new best friend and break it down in ways no friend or foe at home would believe. You can become closer to your true self, using the mask to unveil a truth you were afraid of before. When I travel, I experience the lie and the truth, and back and forth I go. I always find myself again.

One humid evening in the Dominican Republic, I met a boy from the East Coast of Canada. He seemed ordinary, his voice fading into the roar of his friends’ laughter and stories. When I turned to talk to him, I found out that his tribulation and his passions were so much more intense than his buzzed friends who held no cares in the world.

I started with the most basic of questions, one of which was about his future plans. This boy had a fire in his eyes when he spoke about his future, a sort of resolution in which he knew his path as if it were laid out in front of his feet, clear and concise. Life is usually unpredictable, but he exhaled confidence in every dream. The boy was an avid hockey player, but he severed himself from the dream he once had to play professionally, and told me that his friends who thought they would make it were fools.  He knew that his footprint was not guided by an ice skate, and so he saw himself perhaps teaching hockey one day, if only to hold on to nostalgia.

For now, he looked towards the ominous task of paying for college.  As the next words escaped from his lips, he oozed positivity and the fear in decision making fell away right then and there. It was just between him and the truth now. He told me that he decided to join the army. I wanted to cry for him. Was he sealing his fate here? I had a million questions, and yet could utter not one single sound. All I could do was listen as he explained to me in impeccable detail how his dreams moulded his future, his fate. A boy who played hockey would melt into a man designed for violence. Sure, army doesn’t necessarily equal killing. But the innocence would soon be gone.

I asked him if he realized that life would never be the same. He smiled- he didn’t want it to be.

He talked about fate and destiny. There was a secret passion that he held onto, and he told me he wasn’t sure how to explain. He had never been to New Zealand before, but he could picture himself being happy there. He would be a farmer, and live with his family off of the land they tended. Perhaps he had seen it once in a movie? Captivated, he placed his heart in the hands of snowy mountain tops.  That was enough for him. The pure confidence in which he spoke these ideas made me think that fate might grant him his wish. With a kiss of determination, I felt this boy seal his dreams.

Who’s to say it won’t happen this way?

When your store closes and you don’t know what to do…

Usually I do not use real names or places in my stories; I tend to keep things as anonymous as possible. However, when I showed this post to my wonderful boss Christine a few months ago, her happiness and excitement was so overwhelming that she showed this story to everyone she could. I am proud to share this story once again, giving her ownership to the wonderful experiences she has lent me over the last five years of working with her.

Furthermore, the store that Christine was manager of closed as of January 31, 2015. I am not sad to leave the concrete floored building- I am sad to leave the wonderful woman whom I got to grow up with over the past years. I am sad that Christine and many other women have lost their jobs, and I am sad I will not be spending my weekends gossiping, laughing, and dancing with those women. To those who have experienced something similar, I hope the new places you go and the new people you meet will bring a smile to your face. Nothing can replace a past feeling, not even a new routine. But there is always hope in something new.

Without further ado, a few memories from a five year engagement: 

Christine was, without a doubt, the best boss I have ever had. By now I’ve been under the rule of quite a few stern hands. Power over people, even the slightest bit, can be exhausting to handle. But somehow, no matter how tired or frustrated she got, Christine never let her temper get the best of her. She always remained cool, honest, and even when a little tired, content.

When I first started working for Christine, I was standoffish. I thought that there were strict rules when it came to boss-employee relationships, and in my naivety, I strove to be the best at maintaining such boundaries. Within my first week at work, the staff had a Christmas party, and although I tried to make excuses not to go (I wasn’t really into talking to people I didn’t know at the time), Christine persuaded me to join her. After our long Saturday shift, we drove to the party.

Before I go any further, may I just say that Christine makes the most amazing Swedish meatballs I have ever had? I just don’t want that fact to get lost in the story. Meatballs. AMAZING.

The staff had a potluck that night, my first experience with Christine’s Swedish meatballs. It would not be my last. But this isn’t about me. So I won’t explain to you my shock at seeing my boss chug a beer (I was underage and this was my first time seeing anybody, let along my boss, chug a beer), or the host (I had just met her that night) down at least 40 jello shots. The more I think about it, the funnier it is. For me, this was the beginning, but for these girls who had been working with each other for years, this was yet another Christmas party together, another chance to laugh and blow off steam. I felt as though I had been let into a secret world of stories I had never imagined existed, of behaviours I knew couldn’t possibly be allowed on those concrete floors. After that night, I became more and more interested in my bosses story. How did she get to where she is? Did she ever try anything different? Why did she tell me of her dream to be a fitness guru instead of quitting her job and becoming one? These are the kinds of questions I have long stopped asking. They are problematic, and they do not offer empathy to the millions of answers that lay before us in the struggle to obtain money to live. They were naïve. And now I know why.

Lesson number one in life: money is everything.

I will share with you one story in particular that helped define her life and impact my ideas of reality. It is a tiny snippet of Christine’s life. She told me once that she married her high school sweetheart, and she even brought in a picture to show us at work. It was so adorable; they reminded me of Ellen DeGeneres’ prom picture! Christine had a big pouffe dress and they posed romantically under a starry night background. She told me that her husband used to write letters to her, used to chase her for her adoration. They stayed together in part due to the devotion he showed her, and the result of their marriage was a beautiful baby boy. Flash forward to today with all the expenses of a house, car, kid and single income, and I realized how impossible it would be to pick up and switch careers amidst all the baggage (albeit good baggage) of life. This was the answer to my question from before: she and her family needed money, and they needed it now. Hearing her say that was always unsettling to me. But now I know that perhaps I didn’t like to hear it because I lived in a fantasy world where passion overrode money. It is true that passion is an essential part of a person’s life and work, and that it can bring happiness. But even though Christine, a University educated mom, does not have the job she dreamed of, she finds happiness in the job she has and she makes it work every single day. Christine’s perseverance is inspirational to me.

You don’t always get what you want. But hopefully, if life is kind to you, you will have enough good fortune to get what you need.

~Nichole

LS2010

Spot the meatballs! 😉

My Corner of the Universe

Welcome to my corner of the universe!

I love to write, I love to travel, and I love to inspire. When I travel (even around my home-grown city of Hamilton, Ontario) I love to listen in on the tales and tidings of the people around me. Everybody has a story, a vision, something to say. Why not share these lively adventures? The stories we encounter on our travels make our days brighter, or sometimes cast a gloomy shadow. It is the stories that we encounter that put our own stories into perspective. And it is these stories I wish to tell. Anonymously, I wish to tell your story.

I am also a teacher! Or rather, an aspiring teacher. I was originally unsure about using my real name in my blog because as a public figure, I can and will be scrutinized for my work. As much as I respect this, I also know that I want to take ownership for my writing, and in using my own name I can do that.

I hope you find stories here that you can relate to, that you find interesting or that may inspire you in your own life. I  encourage your insights, I wish to read your comments, I dream of a community that recognizes the importance of each of our stories no matter where we are in the world.

It’s a big big world with a million decisions plummeting towards you every day. Wouldn’t you like to know?

I can’t wait to begin. I hope you can join me!

~Nichole