08 August 2014

Finding the Beauty Everyday - Reflections on our "Write Stuff!" Youth Writing Workshop

"I find it impossible to invent anything half so true or touching as the simple facts with which every day life supplies me," wrote Louisa May Alcott to Mary E. Channing Higginson on October 18, 1868.

Today, over a century later, I find myself feeling the same way as Louisa. This past week I had the privilege to lead "Write Stuff!", a summer writing workshop for kids, with the invaluable help of Lis Adams and Victoria Salemme, as well as all those associated with Orchard House, past and present.

Embarking on a weeklong journey of creative writing with a group of strangers struck me as a somewhat daunting task. I did not doubt that participants would be wonderful, but, still, I suspected that asking participants to compose, and sometimes share, writing with a group mere hours ago unknown to them might be exhilarating, yes, but also potentially terrifying, even unthinkable.

To be more fully equipped for this experience, workshop members were asked to select and bring in their own "scribbling suit." This idea was inspired by Louisa who often wore one while writing; hers included a black apron handy for wiping her pen as well as a black hat with a red bow.

On day one of our writing adventure, after touring Orchard House together, we played "get to know you" games. Participants were asked to write three facts about themselves, making one true and two invented using their imaginations. Next they each received three slips of paper and wrote a descriptive sentence on each, two in the first person and one in the third but all autobiographical in nature. Upon completion, they placed them in our "household" mailbox (a decorated box--inspired by Marmee's Household Post-Office for her daughters as a way, "to interchange thought and sentiment"), passing it around and guessing the writer.

The next day one girl eagerly asked something like, "When's the mail coming?! Maybe the mailman should come! I know, we can be the mailmen today, and you two can guess who wrote what!" They all seemed quick to like this idea, and with much excitement, took turns walking around pretending to be delivery people and bestowing their compositions on us readers. It seemed Marmee's idea withstood the test of time.

One morning we began in the Parlor, writing song lyrics. Then each took turns donning a costume and reading or singing his/her work. One girl was concerned about this activity; so, I wondered whether she might team up with someone to present. Another girl quickly volunteered to partner up, explaining that she felt nervous, too. Standing side by side, wearing old-fashioned lace gloves, one white and one black, on their outer right and left hands, the two presented. As they stood in the large doorway between the Parlor and Dining Room, with the open curtain, the Alcott sisters' productions (once held in that same spot) no longer seemed like they took place so very long ago.

Thursday morning we walked to the Emerson House Garden. We were very lucky, as Mrs. Gordinier greeted us and even explained a bit about the Emerson House. One participant exclaimed that he'd like to move here; that he loved this place! As luck would have it, he had a $20 bill along and began asking how much of the Garden his fellow participants thought he could buy with it. Ideas flew, but in the end, it was decided that he might like to work there someday--that that might do the trick.

These moments chronicle just a few workshop experiences. Part of a week during which, with enthusiasm and humor, our group "wrote" their own story, day by day. A story both touching and true.

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