On Friday, October 7, Inprint is launching a new program, the Inprint Writing Cafe. From 9 am – 12 pm on the first Friday of every month, we will transform our workshop/meeting/readings space into a writing cafe, where all writers can come and spend the morning writing in the pleasant Menil neighborhood with the company of other writers.
We are proud to present this essay, which came our way a few weeks ago and celebrates the power of people coming together as writers, by Ernie Williams. Ernie Williams, who works in the HVAC industry, has taken a number of Inprint workshops, in several genres, but he has found his deepest connection with the personal essay.
A room in an old house. A well-worn wooden floor. In the center of the room stand two substantial wooden tables, surrounded by twelve chairs. The pale green walls are adorned with posters advertising literary events of long ago. The late afternoon sun peeks through the blinds, bathing this silent space in a harsh light. When this room sits empty, it is nothing, just four walls and a ceiling. But when people enter this space, it becomes something else entirely.
Five years ago I sat in this very room, and as a group of strangers slowly trickled in, I wondered just what I had gotten myself into. I pretended to be something I was not, and these people were sure to expose me as a fraud. But that didn’t happen. Over the course of ten weeks I fell in love. With writing. Everything changed. It didn’t matter if people found out I didn’t know what I was doing. I discovered I could mine my own life and create something worth reading.
That first evening a lady walked in, a few minutes after class had started, and sat down at the end of the table. The word that came to mind when I saw her was ‘eclectic.’ She was wearing a long skirt and contrasting blouse, matching earrings and necklace, and an assortment of bracelets on her tiny wrist. At the break she looked at me and said, “Hey, I know you.” I had never seen the woman before in my life. But she may have just been looking into the future, because today she knows me better than anyone else in my circle of writing friends.
As I think of my first entry into this sacred space, I look back at what I have written. The output from my writing sojourn fits between the covers of a one-inch notebook. The small quantity I have produced surprises me. I have written about bridges and realizations, natural death and the easy way out, libraries and edges, my love of music and my tangled tongue, cheese and the color orange, passing out and pumpkins, girlfriends (real and imagined), the moon landing and the turmoil in my soul, high end audio and hooker shoes, rubber bands and lentil soup, saxophone teachers and butterflies, swimming pools and bicycles, and wooden roller coasters.
From time to time people ask me if I have submitted anything to a magazine. I go back and forth on this. One part of me couldn’t care less about sharing my writing with the larger world. I am well aware that my writing will not lead to fame or fortune. I know that being published will not radically alter my life for the better. But another part of me wants to see my name on the cover of Paris Review. I want my ego stroked. I want a small amount of validation, my fifteen minutes of fame. That is the wrong reason to seek publication. A better reason to get my work out into the world would be to know that a particular piece is done. It would be encouraging to take an essay from the blurry shadow of an idea through to its conclusion, to know it is finished, complete.
A better reason to get my work out into the world would be to know that a particular piece is done. It would be encouraging to take an essay from the blurry shadow of an idea through to its conclusion, to know it is finished, complete.
As of today I have submitted a grand total of one piece of writing to a magazine. It was rejected, shot down, left for dead. I knew it would be. But it still felt like a kick in the teeth when some nameless, faceless schlub decided my sequence of words wasn’t worthy to be printed. I know that is the wrong attitude to have. Everything I have read about the craft of writing says that rejection is a part of the experience. Though I will never wholly embrace this truth, I should at least be willing to accept its validity.
So what has all my writing done for me? Writing has provided the means for me to peel away the layers of my life and circumstances. I have maneuvered around my defenses and gotten to the essence of who I am. For instance, I now understand what areas in my life I am hesitant to confront because they are the same areas I shy away from exploring in my writing. Writing has allowed me to articulate thoughts and feelings that before were nothing more than fuzzy generalizations. As I accessed my memories for writing material, I discovered when in my past my life went off track. I have determined the exact moment when it could have all gone in a completely different direction. This is a bittersweet realization, as there is nothing I can now do with that insight. Writing has allowed me to get to know myself like nothing else has. I figured out, through writing, who I am, and more importantly how I arrived at my current spot in the universe.
So what has all my writing done for me?
There is something both frightful and exhilarating about sharing my writing with a group of people I have only recently met. I know this room is a safe place, and these people are safe, much safer than the world outside these walls, but it still feels like I am taking my clothes off when I share parts of myself. My defenses are down, I lay it all out on those tables, and hope that I have been successful in communicating what often cannot be adequately expressed through something as clumsy as words. Sometimes my fellow writers understand at least a part of what I have written, and I am wired all the way home. Other times they don’t, and the thirty-three-mile trip home is a long one, filled with lots of second-guessing.
The reasons this old room is so important to me are two-fold. First, this is the space where I discovered I had access to the wonder of language. It was as if I was given permission to write. Prior to that, I played around with words, nothing more. Language was not real for me. I was always ‘getting ready’ to write. But in this space I found I could preserve passing events on the page, capture a single moment and examine it from all angles. Second, it is in this space that I discovered I can commune with others who share my passion. We have a connection, a shared admiration for language, and a hope that the words will come. They understand the agony of the blank page. They know the joy that comes from crafting a perfect sentence. And maybe, like me, they know the feelings of unworthiness that accompany the struggle to write.
Meeting a room full of strangers is a bit daunting for this introvert, but the knowledge that they want the same things I do makes the awkwardness bearable. And by the time the ten weeks are drawing to a close, I will know these people more intimately than I could have imagined possible.
On September 8th, I will once again enter this sacred space, and what moments before was nothing more than four walls and a ceiling, will be transformed into something otherworldly, as people gather around those tables with the sole intention of communing with language and with one another, and we will emerge on the other side, transformed.
what moments before was nothing more than four walls and a ceiling, will be transformed into something otherworldly, as people gather around those tables with the sole intention of communing with language and with one another, and we will emerge on the other side, transformed.