Weekly Assignment: Grit in the Shoe

Abandoned Shoes

“Does anyone ever get to write without a bit of grit in one’s shoe?”

-Eleanor Hogan @ Goucher College 8/8/2007

It was a sweltering August morning at Goucher College, and we had just walked across  campus via a dusty path, which always resulted in pebbles and grit getting into people’s shoes. As we did every morning during residency, we sat down and wrote for the first few minutes of our workshop group, and this is what Eleanor had to say when it was all done. She was speaking literally, of course, about the annoyance of having pebbles stuck in your shoe, but everything is symbolic during a writing residency.

Does anyone ever get to write without a bit of grit in one’s shoe? Do we accomplish anything without at least some little annoyance getting under our skin? In my experience, the answer is no.

I do some of my best writing when I am annoyed, confused, depressed, anxious, or dissatisfied. But not because I want to glorify those negative feelings — far from it. Rather, writing is how I hash them out, lay out all the factors, pin them down with the right words, and as I do so, a solution begins to present itself. Writing is like performing surgery, using words to get down to the heart of the issue and see what’s causing this odd pain. It is a barbaric kind of experimental medicine in which practices like bloodletting are not only still in use but highly recommended.

What’s on your mind today? What grit is in your shoe? What is nagging at you and distracting you? Can you transform it from an annoyance into an asset? Sit with it, observe it, breathe with it. Then, from that place of calm awareness, decide what to do with it. Make some notes in your journal, write a poem about it, draw a picture of it, or take action elsewhere in your life.

Go.

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Monday Night Nonfiction: Monique

In my preschool class, there was a little black girl named Monique. She wore her hair in a lot of braids with colorful accessories. She was very cute and had a very cute laugh, and I liked her a lot. She was my friend. Concepts about race and our differences had not yet reached me. I just liked her. I liked her braids and her laugh. I tried to laugh like her, but I couldn’t pull it off. I ended up sounding silly, and it bothered my sister. My natural laugh has always been loud and raucous. Monique’s laugh was light like soapy bubbles blown through a plastic wand. When I remember it now, I am so glad that I was able to make her laugh. She laughed a lot. She was a happy girl. But one day, Monique moved away. I have a vague memory of our teacher telling the class Monique had to move and would no longer go to our school.

It was the first time I realized that people sometimes go away, and to this day, I wonder where she went and why.

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envy can spread herself so thinly, she slipped in before i could notice it

Well then, here’s a problem.

My mentor for this semester set what I thought was a firm limit of 15 pages for each student to submit for our workshop. I sent in 13 or 14, another classmate sent about 12. One person’s work I have not yet opened. But one person sent us a little note with her submission saying basically, “Sorry this is a little bit longer than the limit. Please bear with me.” I appreciated the note and would not mind reading a couple extra pages, but then I opened the file to find it was 28 pages long, nearly twice the limit. I was irritated, to say the least, but since no one else had complained and our teacher hadn’t commented on it, I decided to start reading.

But here’s the thing that really upsets me. This writing? It’s lovely. Beautiful. It flows perfectly. It’s funny without being crass. It’s sincere without being boring or mushy. It’s really pretty much great. In fact, of all the things a student can submit to workshop, I wonder if she missed the point of workshopping because she sent us something that needs very little work whereas I sent the second draft of a very new, very shaky little essay. Who does this person think she is, sending us something lovely and enjoyable and 28 pages long?

And to top it off, she is a 1st-year student. When I was a 1st-year, I struggled pathetically, much like I struggle now but without the indignation and weariness. Her writing betrays no sense of struggle or weariness, and where the indignation does show through, it’s pure hilarity. I’m furious to say this, but I love this goddamned essay/chapter we’ve been sent, and of course, I’m jealous as hell.

This should not be allowed.

(Note: The title is a line from Tori Amos’s song “Girl Disappearing.”)

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