From the ferry: 4/15/09

Posted: April 16, 2009 in from the ferry
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My commute to and from the prison includes a twenty minute ferry crossing plus however long I get to sit in line to wait to board. It’s a good time to reflect on the night at Monroe, to record first impressions and document those moments that are resonating with me the most before I have a chance to filter them or make them academic. I’ll post these thoughts from the ferry each time I go to Monroe.

This was perhaps the first night that I didn’t want to go up to Monroe. I’m frustrated over the revision work to be done on one of my stories, feeling lost with it and all consumed by thinking about it. I’m tired. I felt as if I’d have nothing to give. How can I go up there and try to teach others how to write, even encourage them to write, when I am feeling inadequate and discouraged?

I went only because I said I’d be there. It’s important to the guys, to keeping their trust and their respect, that you are there when you say you’ll be there and I had said I’d be there.

One of the men started off the group by thanking us for coming. “It’s like a visit,” he said. “I really appreciate that you are here.” Visits mean everything to these guys. Brief hours of contact with family and friends. I know that when we are there it’s about so much more than the work on the page, but tonight it was particularly important that I be reminded.

And it turns out I can still teach even when I’m frustrated with my own writing. Perhaps I’m even a better teacher because at that moment I am one of them. I’m just a beginner all over again trying to figure it out. I have been humbled. I can teach, but I also know I have a long ways to go. I can speak about craft and at the same time try to hear my own words, try to teach myself along with them.

Tonight one of the other volunteers read two children’s stories. The guys loved it. I loved it. Like being back in first grade and having story time. We talked about the elements of the hero’s journey as they appeared in the stories, but truly, the best part was listening to the volunteer read and having her hold the book so that we could all see the pictures. Everyone needs a good story to be read to them every now and then. I’d forgotten that.

We’ve got a new guy. He can write.

It was different without M- there tonight. The guys don’t seem to want to talk about him much. Is it hard for them to think about those who are now on the outside? I imagine.

I’m still tired. I’m still weary from the difficulties with this story I have yet to get right. But I’m glad I went tonight. To be around other writers. To teach. To listen. To wonder. To get away from my desk and my computer and my brooding and just be present for a few hours with these men – exactly what I needed.

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