Tuesday, February 3, 2015


Accidents happen, and they can be revelatory. I am heading home after four days of non-stop delight and insanity. I arrived in Columbus on Thursday evening and was greeted by a dear friend, playwright Jen Roberts, and a visionary Otterbein professor, Terry Hermsen, who put
together a festival on literary citizenship in which we were commissioned to speak on community and writing.

That first night we enjoyed a welcoming dinner. We spoke with students who said they were driven to write and create in order to understand, if a little better, the whys of life. I was so energized that I awoke the next morning at 3AM and tried to meditate in the exercise room. Some oatmeal and bananas later, I was sharing a panel with Jen, Ladan Osman, and Becca J.R. Lachman.

We spoke about the joys and challenges of being writers in the world. We spoke about balancing art and other work, family life, and the motivations that drive it. We then asked the students what they thought. I read two short pieces of fiction and our students presented their ideas. These were high school students from six different colleges, a few of whom identified themselves as writers. Most of whom, it seemed, did not. Nonetheless, they engaged and applied the concepts of literary citizenship to their own lives. 

Friday night I read again, after a dinner at a Thai restaurant during which I learned of a few students’ works and we engaged regarding those writers at the table who no longer read fiction and their reasoning. It was an odd conversation to have before a 20-minute fiction reading, but it seemed almost a challenge. I read a funny piece, something about two “Animal Control” agents who believed themselves as valuable to the city as any cop or firefighter.

The reading went well, and the packed house offered up a few laughs – welcomed and, therefore, I was thankful. The next day went largely the same, only we had a taped discussion with current English students at Otterbein, and at the end we came up with proactive solutions to strengthen the Otterbein Literary Community and that of surrounding areas. They came up with so many valuable ideas, and those that stood out included the cooperation with other departments, namely the sciences. 

They spoke of technology and how it can be both distracting and liberating. Some spoke of strategies for creating despite the distraction (only using social media on the library computers, for instance), which kept them on-track in class. That night, Jen’s play was to be performed, and when the character named “Mr. De La Cruz” didn’t show, I stepped in. I was Mr. de la Cruz in the black jacket. It was An Experience and though I’m sure I overreacted, Jen didn’t seem too embarrassed (also, I don’t think she envisioned Mr. de la Cruz with the dangly earrings I borrowed from my mother). Ladan read her powerful work and knocked everyone sideways. We were thanked and celebrated with sugary desserts. Otterbein is a special place, and the English faculty there model what they teach. They are the ultimate in literary citizens. Cue curtain.

Takeaways from the Literary Citizenship Festival at Otterbein College that I had to share:

"Find a way to be big in the world." -Ladan Osman

"Find a chosen family of artists and writers." -Becca JR Lachman

"What motivates me is when people say I can't." -Jen Roberts 

Cue family. We spent three meals with family on Saturday and saw an old friend. Made it through half the Super Bowl before near-passing out and shook our heads at the commercials, laughing together. We ate and ate. We went to see Birdman with my mom on Sunday and ate some more. I miss my family so much, and throughout the trip I felt both as though I never left and as though I didn’t know how to come back. 

Ohio is my home base, and I’m good with that. It’s a cold and rough place at times, and it always reminds me of struggle and love. There is pain here among one of my family members in particular, but nothing is that simple. Pain is always laced with joy just as struggle is laced with a sense of accomplishment that never comes without. As unbalanced as things seem, there is payoff in experience, and there can be balance.

Coming home reminded me that I worked so incredibly hard, living in tiny, concrete block-like apartments, working and drinking too much, trying to figure things out without the safety net I have now, and reading during freezing rides on COTA buses to try to put myself through school. It is not easy for everyone. It was not easy for me. But here I am. My family is filled with fighters, and I am proud to be one.

I think about these things. And I think about less emotional things. Such as the fact that I didn’t have the technological distraction as I made my way through school, and I wonder how that would have changed my experience. I wonder if it may have numbed things or enriched them. In other words, I realized my age on this trip. I realized my vulnerabilities on this trip. I remembered my struggle, and wow am I thankful for where I am. Sometimes I am tempted to deny my past, but Ohio is a reminder. The journey is the art.  

Without Further Ado, a Prompt:
Going home (the one I plan to use this week)

A reunion of friends: Two characters haven't seen each other in 10+ years. One character has changed dramatically (become more successful or squandered gifts), the other is in largely the same place and with largely the same view of the world. As they meet to reconnect, it quickly becomes clear that they can't easily pick up where they left off. Write their conversation over that first meeting after so many years and so many experiences. 

Write for 15 minutes, timed. See what happens. Let me know. 

Have a great week!

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