Somehow it’s already been almost a month since I arrived in Garden City for my residency at Surel’s Place! Wowowow byyyye 2018. I have so many thoughts to share about my time here, from planning to the day-to-day to all the grief that inevitably rises when you’re given unlimited time alone with your art and your own mind. For now, I thought I’d give a special focus to the two workshops I was able to teach to the community while I was here.
When I was applying for my residency with Surel’s Place, the application only asked for one pitch for a workshop. But because “Relic” is so expansive, and because I so rarely teach classes in literary arts, I pitched two: “I Am the Ghost: Writing Haunting Characters,” and “Introduction to Poetry Comics.” The folks here were ecstatic that I wanted to teach twice - being an Aries/Aries rising pays off! (No it doesn’t it’s the worst save me from myself…!!!!!)
I created “I Am The Ghost” specifically for Surel’s Place, keeping in mind that it would most likely pull an older audience. Structured around engaging with the somatic and a more holistic attitude towards writing, this was a generative class, and the exercises and writing I led us through prioritized emotions and body responses. Because of its nature, most of the participants were women - older artists, many retired, who had come to painting and writing in recent years and needed a shake-up in developing their work. We spent our hours looking at work by Claudia Rankine, Brian Evenson, Alejandra Pizarnick, and Bhanu Kapil and considering what “haunts” a text; what makes a text “haunted;” what we’re frightened of writing about; and how to give our characters ghosts of their own. There are things I would tighten, activities I might tweak in a future iteration that didn’t quite give our class-community the desired result (and some I might nix completely if there are male participants present; oh men, why must you always fight with a female instructor for control?), but overall we spent a lovely Saturday being thoughtful with ourselves and each other.
“Introduction to Poetry Comics” is a class I’ve taught before - the first iteration happened at Austin Bat Cave, and involved child participants between the ages of 9 and 13. This time, however, I got to witness something truly amazing: a large class of all ages, including 2 separate grandmothers who’d brought their granddaughters (ages 11 and 12) so that they could “learn something new together;” several older professional artists from Garden City and Boise; a professor with the local university; folks from the literary scene; and so many more… It struck me how truly beautiful and healing intergenerational classrooms can be. As we led a retired 60-year old painter through a discussion of preferred pronouns for the first time in her life, bridged the language between poetry and comics to create a new third language of possibility, sat with our discomfort when faced with not knowing the “right” or “good” way of being a poemic or looking at poetry comics, and challenged the white supremacist patriarchal capitalism that demands answers of artistic “products” and makes us evaluate each other in such toxic patterns - it felt incredibly powerful to watch all these generations of artists be present and engaged with one another, brave and holding fast to the beginner’s mind. The work created at the end of class was such a revelation, and so bold! True first drafts, where folks overcame their shame of not knowing “how” to draw or write and instead just surrendered to their own curiosity. This class is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine to teach. I’m considering starting a series back in Austin that’s sliding scale where we spend a couple weeks delving into this new language together, with the intention of creating an intergenerational space aimed at steering clear of domination-based critique tactics and instead embracing the questions that art can bring to the surface.
God I love teaching. Not because I love being in charge or dominating a group of people, or even lecturing - but because every time, I feel so grateful to witness the community that can form so easily and simply in the span of a couple hours as we all strive to listen and be heard and hold ourselves accountable in the name of kindness, empathy, and art. My cold, dead heart warms up in the classroom. I wonder what 2019 will bring…