Finding the Freedom to Be Me
When I agreed to do the warm-up exercises for the Workshop, I had no idea that it would take place on the same day as the one planned by the other woman I had thought was a friend. All I knew was that I was stepping out again, beyond my own known boundaries. Yes, I had tutored those at risk classes, but this was another ballgame althogether. Those were done with my fellow students, there were plans and directions to help the process. This was me, my ideas, how I played with words. Stepping to the front of this room meant changing my own definition of what I was about and doing. It leaned into a kissing cousin relationship with words like expert and leadership. Two things I had never really considered for myself.
I had about six weeks to prepare. Not only did I have to come up with the exercises and be prepared to explain them clearly, I had to also get a small collection of books prepared to take along with me, for showing and selling. I packed both old and new books about writing and poetry into storage boxes and then asked my middle daughter (a junior in high school) to man and take care of the Book Table we would set up that morning.
And I spent every single spare moment, writing and rewriting, not just the exercises, but my own presentation of the material. There were many times that I considered calling the Moderator of the group and telling her I just couldn’t do this thing. Then I’d take a deep breath and dive back into it. I had given my word. I would do it. And besides, she’d said there would only be about ten people at most, this was a Poetry Workshop, after all.
The morning of the Workshop finally arrived right along with the worse blizzard we had seen in over five years. My daughter and I discussed calling in to see if the event had been cancelled. But, I didn’t want to let the Moderator down. We’d packed all the books in the trunk of the car and left almost an hour earlier than planned to make sure we got there at all. I believe those boxes of books gave my vehicle the traction necessary for that to happen.
It took three times the normal to drive slowly there. We arrived and began unloading the boxes and got a lot of help from others who had already arrived. I had thought we might show up to a totally empty room. Why would anyone come out in this weather for a Poetry Workshop? I was so wrong. There were twenty-eight people in attendance. I looked around and kept chanting in my head, “I only have to be up there for an hour, maybe an hour and a half. Then the main speaker takes over and I can relax.”
Peggy, the Moderator, got up and introduced herself and said a bit about the group and thanked everyone for coming. Then introduced me, explaining that I would lead them through a few warm-up exercises before the main speaker would take over. I walked up to the front of the room, stepped behind the podium, and panicked. Opened my mouth and nothing came out. All those faces staring at me, expectantly.
I lowered my head, took a deep breath and did one of those instant self-talk things, “Listen up, kiddo. There is no one here to do this. You are it. Begin!” I did. I started out by telling them that we all own a Creativity Closet called imagination. Then took them through a guided imagery to that place that existed inside their own mind. Told them to explore it for a few minutes, then write down what they had found there.
Then stepped back and silently watched them do what I had asked. That was a bit of a mind blower. One of the gentlemen, raised his hand. I nodded to him and he asked, “What if there is nothing there? Just darkness? I mean, I followed your instructions, found the door, but when I opened it, there was nothing except blackness.”
But, I somehow knew what to say in answer to his question, “This is your imagination, you created the imagery. There is a light switch on the wall. Just reach out and flick it on.” He did that and his eyes widened in surprised response. He began to write furiously.
I carefully took them through two more exercises, one using Tarot card imagery, and another one using stream of consciousness writing. I looked up to realize that we had been working for two hours. I turned to the Moderator and she stepped forward.
“I have an announcement to make,” she said, “Our main speaker has been snowed in, in Chicago, and will not be able to make it here. We need to make a decision. We can stop for the day and you will all be refunded, at least half of the money you paid to attend.” She turned to me, “Or, we can ask Elizabeth to continue for the rest of the day. Would you have enough material to do that, Elizabeth?”
It took a moment to sink in, but I also realized that during those preceding weeks, I had put together several other exercises, discarding all but the main three I had already used.
“Yes,” I said hesitantly, “I think I could do that.”
The gentleman with the darkened Creativity Closet spoke up, “I’d really like to continue with Elizabeth. I’ve already written three poems this morning. I want more. Raise your hand if you agree.” Everyone, including my teen-aged daughter raised their hand. I looked to the Moderator and she grinned, explained the plans for lunch, and we continued. I had somehow become the main speaker. Whew!
At the lunch break, the same gentleman sought me out and told me what a wonderful job I was doing. He explained that he was a high school Chemistry teacher and that meant he had to take credit courses, each year, to keep his teaching certification. He told me that I needed to take my stuff to the University and start teaching there. I listened and laughed inside my head, thinking he’d be really surprised if he knew the truth.
At the mid-afternoon break, he again came up to me and said he and his friend were thoroughly enjoying their experience. Then asked me how long I’d been doing this sort of thing, because I seemed so comfortable and natural about it. I looked down at the floor, and said, “I’ve never done it before. This is the very first time.” At first, he didn’t believe me, but after a few minutes of explanation, he again suggested that I should try my hand over at the University.
The day was a rounding success. I walked away knowing that I had other possibilities to explore, new freedoms in which to learn new definitions of what I could do and become. On the drive back home, once again glad for the weight of those books in the trunk, I thanked my daughter for raising her hand when asked if I should continue. She turned to me and said,
“Mom, I didn’t sell any books today. But, I did listen. I even did the exercises. What else was there to do? I liked what happened and I even wrote a poem. You are good at this, whether you know it or not.”
Those few words, from my daughter, were the most treasured ones I took home with me.
(to be continued…)
Linked to Sunday Scribblings writing prompt: Free/Freedom