Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Belief in Bewilderment

Getting the chance to take Nick Flynn’s workshop was a welcome surprise for me. I haven’t been in a workshop (in a school setting anyway) since the spring of 2009.

2009. Four years. I worried that maybe I’d lost the knack, you know? The give and take of workshop. The furious scribbling and hand-raising required.

And the first day, yeah, I kind of did – I sat quietly and kept my mouth shut (like my most of my years as an undergrad, sigh).

But then something happened. And really I should’ve seen it coming. The second day of workshop, the day we brought our writing from the night before in, well, something clicked and workshop became natural to me again. Partly this was due to Flynn’s intelligence as a professor. His wit and his candor and his acumen. Partly it was due to the amazing students in class with me.

Partly a burgeoning understanding of my favorite take-away from his workshop: the idea of bewilderment. Of beholding. Describing. Getting thoroughly lost in language.

He had us read an essay by Tim Etchells titled “On Performance Wriitng.” Some prompts from this reading include writing a text: “to be whispered by the bedside of a sleeping child,” “which could be used as a weapon,” “written in binary,” “for people to find in their wallets, days later, when you are forgotten,” and “written at 3am in the middle of a war” among others.

These prompts allowed for an almost palpable kind of bewilderment – I began these exercises with something as close to faith as I could muster (otherwise there was no moving from brainstorming to writing – another wonderful aspect of Flynn’s workshop was his ability to get us moving, get us writing -  he pushed us over cliffs and then some). So you start the exercise with an image or description in mind, and then you allow yourself to fall into language.

Sometimes it worked, other times it didn’t, but regardless, the end results from our workshop were mesmerizing. And, listen, lest you think me melodramatic, we got to see everyone’s work (even Flynn's!) at the very end through a series of Pecha Kuchas (basically poetry/prose accompanied with images – a sort of slideshow we read along to). They were simply lovely – from repeating images of birds to lines about nuclear fission and families to sleeping children and superheroes – our work was, in a word, lush.

Nick Flynn showed us how to get lost – in the very best possible way – in the moment, in writing, in detail, in falling in love with language, and this sense of wonder has since been my helpmate.  

Mary Sheffield generally prefers to go by the nomme de guerre (guerre is, arguably, a more badass word than plume): M.R. Sheffield, and is an alumna of FAU's Creative Writing MFA program. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Pank, New World Writing, Monkey Bicycle, and The Florida Review among other publications. Read her blog here: Why is My Cat so Sad.

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