Monday, July 09, 2012

"Writing to Learn" Seminar at Bard's Institute for Writing and Thinking: Day 1

"Quaker reading"... "focused free write"..."framing our inquiry..."big brain discussion". These are some of the terms that floated around the room last night at the first workshop of the Writing to Learn Session here at The Institute for Writing and Thinking at Bard College. We began with a five minute private free write, and then a focused private free write in response to a quote by Jeanette Winterson. I am not new to the ideas of free writing, but it was nice to sit around a seminar table and engage in it again as a student. Unsurprisingly, I surprised myself. ;-) I sense that there is going to be a lot of writing involved, which pleases me greatly.  I did bring my laptop, but I prefer to write by hand in the workshops (Bard has provided us with special wide-margined notebooks for this purpose). I find that it forces me to be slower and, in some ways, less of a perfectionist. This might even be because I don't like seeing strikeouts and other "messy" things on a page, so maybe the perfectionism issue is still there. Most of this blog post is actually a free write (part of my morning pages at, so I apologize to any readers I might have.

I guess that was my disclaimer.  We were told last night, by our excellent workshop leader Maureen Burgess, that we were allowed one disclaimer when we shared our writing. I thought, "Ha! She knows me!" Leaving off the editorializing preamble was more difficult than I thought--I managed to do it, but I had to squash the desire. I was actually quite surprised by my own reaction to the prompt: "Tell the story when a piece of writing moved you." I was moved by the act of telling that story. I finished with this:
"I loved being a puzzle piece that never quite fit, but could fake it if pushed hard enough."
I have no idea where that came from, except that I remembered I wrote a poem in junior high about the world as a jigsaw puzzle. I don't remember the words of the poem, except that I focused on the image of the cardboard stubs that sometimes make it difficult to fit the pieces together. I guess that image has traveled with me in my subconscious.

Before we checked in to the Institute, my colleague and I attended a wonderful dance performance by Compagnie FĂȘtes galantes (at Bard's Fisher Center). Set to music by Bach (2nd, 3rd and 6th Brandenburgs; "Wir eilen mit schwachen..." from Cantata 78), the company presented roughly an hour of some of the most interesting choreography I've ever witnessed.  Based heavily on Baroque dance, BĂ©atrice Massin's choreography incorporates all sorts of modern gestures, and even flamenco. The entire work, entitled Que ma joie demeure/Let my joy remain, featured "unmusical" interludes--dancing that had no musical accompaniment save for the sound of the dancers' feet. These interludes were fascinating as Bach's counterpoint seemed to remain in the room by proxy--you could see it in the dancer's moves and the patterns created on stage. It was captivating and the whole troupe gave new life to Baroque gesture and dance as a platform for creative expansion.

I don't know if I will blog every day of this seminar, and I don't want to reveal too many details. But even after Day 1, I get a very strong sense of writing to learn. It has always been part of my own writing experience in some sense...that is why I love to write. We finished our workshop last night with one of Paul Auster's essays in the New Yorker, "Why Write?" It is an amazingly powerful piece, especially when read collectively by a group of strangers. Auster says, "If nothing else, the years have taught me this: if there's a pencil in your pocket, there's a good chance that one day you'll feel tempted to start using it."


Mostly Musicology, Teaching, and a bit of Miscellanea