Virgin's Guide to Burning Man

A Virgin's Guide to Burning Man can be found here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bringing Nature into Writing

On Saturday, I went to a writer's workshop in Ojai and it was amazing. It was all about using the natural world as metaphor, or another language even, to express the self and life experiences. I've been wanting to find ways to slow down the pace of my manuscript in certain spots and to add an extra layer of depth and meaning to it, and I think what I learned in this workshop will really help with that.

The workshop just consisted of a series of writing exercises, to which we would do a free-response and then read aloud to the other participants. I really enjoyed this process, so I thought I would share a few of my responses.

We started with a meditation where we were to imagine our bodies as landscapes and then we wrote about what came in our meditations. Here's mine:

I am the rolling hills, golden and dotted with the lushness of deep greens. Golden and green like the strident colors of a battle flag. I am like the hills, gentle and sensuous, warm and inviting.

But a river runs through these hills, carving through the landscape, bringing with it life, vivacity, breath and energy. Where the hills would be soft and sleepy, the river awakens. Where the hills would be warm and glowing, the river brings coolness and slippery edges. While the whole of me is the gentle, sensual silence of the hills, a river strikes through my core.

In this river core, I am waiting, anticipatory. In this core, I am like the spark of electricity that lights a fire. In this core, I am vibrant.

Another assignment we had was to think of a person we love and describe them using clouds as imagery. Here is what I wrote:

My Asian grandmother was like a solitary storm cloud hovering on the south east horizon. She was silent and steady, heavy with the volition of ancestral spirits. But with her always loomed the potential of a sudden strike. Though diminutive in size, her presence was larger than life. She was hardened, tough, and weathered by the processes of time. But there was a depth to her. A depth so profound that one couldn't help but always keep her in the corner of one's eye, even when she was far away. She was the matriarch. It was foolish to make a move without first considering her. All of life moved below her, under her watchful eye.

When she passed, it was like the heavy storm cloud dissipating into the light. Though she is gone, the memory of her is an indelible imprint; like a footstep pressed into sand.

A different assignment was to take a character from one writing piece we did and place them in a landscape totally foreign. I chose India:

A world-weary traveler of the American heartland, I am overwhelmed by the discordant bustle of the streets of Bombay. Instead of floating through the wide open vistas of purple and gold, I am deluged in a sea of spices and curries, melodious car horns, loud voices and jostling vendor stalls. Bright orange wars with reds and greens and blues and pinks, the colors a riot on my fatigued eyes. Incense shocks the system, children clamor for money, cars screech to a halt and I can't see the sky. I am out of my element, tossed out of peaceful vistas into a brash landscape I can't comprehend. The heat and humidity are oppressive. Walking outside is like slamming into a wall of water.

And yet. And yet there is a happiness here. A joie de vivre unparalleled in the States. An endless extension of family and friends and neighbors who welcome you to a cup of chai. After the initial thunderstorm of shock, there is a pulse, a rhythm, the steady beating hear of India. And I find I am home.

The final assignment was to take a cumulative look over everything we covered in the workshop and write a poem as response to the whole experience. Here is mine:

Thick with history
Heavy with mood
They strum along the horizon
An ominous interlude

Wistful and transcendent
Dissipate in the light
Misty and ethereal
They slip through the night

So many magical shapes
So many wondrous forms
Whisking happy travelers away
Or comforting the widow, who mourns.

Where will they go?
Where shall they be?
Watch them flit whither and nigh
As they float by and by and by.

Definitely not Yeats or Whitman, but not bad, I think, for 10 minutes' work. :)

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