What I Hate About Workshop – Part I

By Raina Lauren Fields, General Editor

I’m nosy.

I can’t help it.

When I was growing up, one of my household chores was to answer the phone. I’d pick up the receiver and politely greet whoever was on the line.

My grandmother would holler downstairs, “Who is it?” And I’d yell back a name. During our exchange, I’d have the phone cupped in my hand, the other hand over the receiver blocking out the shouting or the sound of my breathing.

It was sometime later that I discovered the mute button. Here, I could listen to more conversations without being noticed. I often laughed at my grandmother referring to the “weird clicking on the phone” that resulted from me un-muting the conversation and hanging up the phone when I got bored of that day’s gossip. To this day, I wonder if somehow contributed to her longtime phone paranoia.

My grandmother went through drawers, read diaries, rummaged through pockets, book bags, pencil cases, purses. I learned from this. Whenever I visited someone’s house, I suddenly had to go the bathroom. This was my only chance to be alone and immersed in someone else’s family life. I rarely used the bathroom, but smelled lotions and soaps, played with the toilet paper (2 ply!), and felt the patterns on towels.

I discover something about these people that they never would have shared with me. At least not right away.

In workshop, we pass around poems, mark them up with comments, discuss them and hand them back to the writer. We spend time reading into things, trying to demystify images that are confusing or even senseless to the reader. Many times, writers expect readers to just get it.

At the end of class, there is often time for the author to speak, to clarify issues, or to reveal the poem’s secrets to the workshop. Mostly, the writers in workshops I’ve been in quickly say, “Thank you” to the group and we move on to the next poem.

Damnit! There are so many what-ifs with writing. I want answers! I want to learn if that cat really died or if the uncle in my classmates’ poem was really a drug dealer. I want to know if her divorce was really that bad or if my classmate really enjoys masturbating in the shower that much.

And maybe it’s a combination of it all – nosiness and curiosity or the amount of work I put in to make images and anecdotes open up and make sense. And honestly, I don’t need to know everything, but can you help me out a little bit and solve some of this mystery?

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2 thoughts on “What I Hate About Workshop – Part I

  1. I never thought about workshop in this way before! I love the comparison you make. And it’s so true – I have always wanted to know the truth about my classmates’ stories. But I guess I’m a hypocrite, in a way, because I tell my students that the literal truth of a story or poem doesn’t matter. We are all so nosy.

  2. Laryssa,

    I think there’s a balance with this. Obviously, I don’t want to tell my classmates all of my secrets, but I do crave some closure when I’ve read about certain events in peoples’ lives. I think it also has something to do with the personal-ness of poetry. I think it’s easier for readers, myself included, to get the speaker and author confused and I’d like a clue every now and then to know what is true and what isn’t. But I guess the real question is if this even matters. I guess not. But I still want to know!

    You’re right, though. It sure is full of contradictions!

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