This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a writing workshop led by Rahla Xenopoulos and Maire Fisher, both of whom are authors who paint sentences into beautiful works of art that are framed in published books. It’s the dream of writers that have just begun to explore how it feels to have the liquid colour on our hands, taking tentative strokes with our hearts onto the page, to one day see our own work displayed in the gallery of a bookshop.
Rahla’s barn in Stanford would be the studio for 16 writers, some already published, others writing for the first time. I was kind of inbetween, searching for my voice among my piles and piles of unfinished books, scattered poems and abandoned ideas. I knew I would write my own story somehow, but I had no idea how to piece it together. Through a flood of heart mining exercises at the workshop, I managed to discover my buried sapphires.
Hearing a room of entirely different writing voices, and yet each brilliantly crafted, sparked a fire inside of me. I thought I would want to crouch in the shadows if I heard a piece far better than I perceived my own to be, and yet, when each of us read, it was simply a matter of being in the moment and taking in the beauty. There was no comparison, no judgement, only sheer awe. We cried, we gasped, we laughed, we felt our jaws land on the floor sometimes. I thought my tubes of printed paint would run dry, but they just kept flowing. And now I have the picture of my book’s heart on a canvas. It’s come alive.
There was also an unexpected invisible box given to me, wrapped in a magical ribbon in the form of a gift: Healing.
Through pages and pages of free writing, I dug deeper and deeper into my character’s story, which I always knew was mine. I wrote and wrote between the lines and found answers I didn’t even know I had questions for. In the last exercise I hit the core and I struck gold. Suddenly I saw how my story made complete sense and how life had given me a beginning, a middle and an end, and this full circle will form a book. Now I know why the painful parts of life needed to happen. I know how they ironically came about to heal the deeper pain from all those years before. It’s all connected. The separate cliffs of grief were linked by the words I was meant to find this weekend. And when I joined them with my paged bridge I found healing. When the sadness made sense and became a finished story I was set free.
There were no tears, only the relief of a burden growing wings.
And tremendous gratitude.
(Sidenote: There were, however, plenty of tears at the “crying table” – this is what we named the 5 writers in the corner who had a pile of tissues higher than their vase of flowers – and it was far more beautiful.)
I learned that writing holds more power than I ever imagined. I knew it was a gift, but I had no idea how much value it held. I’ve kept journals my entire life, filled with pictures and dancing words and all my private thoughts. Now I know how to go deeper still, and create not only books, but also records of my soul’s healing.
I don’t find it strange that in that one barn of writers there were stories of unimaginable grief, mental illness, abuse, and discrimination. I am not surprised that many of these are already artfully framed into books, shelved in homes of similar sadness, continuing the healing – from author to reader and back again.
There was also so much laughter and sunlit inspiration. We all left far happier and brighter and I know that there will also be books that smile in readers’ hands.
I’m blessed and grateful, and one day (really soon) I will be introducing you to Alice, one of the main characters in my framed canvas. She was born this weekend in a barn in Stanford.
She’s very much like me.