Write Here, Write Now: What I Learned at Wordplay

Author Dani Shapiro speaking onstage at the Loft Literary Center

I am partial to sitting front row center whenever I can, so I arrived at The Open Book more than an hour before my first class at The Loft Literary Center was scheduled to begin: The Stories We Carry: Meditation and Writing, taught by visiting Wordplay author Dani Shapiro. Soon after the doors to Target Performance Hall opened, I was in.

I texted Chris:

BTW, guess who is in the front row?

Chris texted back:

Hrm...my beautiful, nerdy wife-to-be.

My elementary school teachers always placed me front and center after the first shuffling of seat rearrangements. They were wise women who made me feel privileged about where I was placed.

Perhaps that’s why, when Dani Shapiro told us that for our first exercise we would each say one word that expressed how we felt at that moment, I chose privileged. Not only was I front row, center, I was about the tenth person to pick a word. That meant I could keep mine.

There wasn’t another word that I wanted. Sure, there are an assortment of supposed synonyms available, but each have less than enviable connotations: special, entitled, indulged, enviable. Privileged was just right. I played Goldilocks in a third grade play. I know "just right" when I feel it.   

Dani Shapiro repeated each person’s word into the microphone.

Anticipating. Grounded. Frenzied.

She pointed out that it was a good that Grounded and Frenzied were sitting next to each other.

Wandering, Breath, and Fortified sat in the row behind me.

Distracted. Confused.

“You guys should separate.”

Squirrely. Content. Fantastic. Splendiferous. Ready.

My Wordplay experience began in the most literal way it could: playing with words. It felt like reading work constructed with care, each word chosen with purpose. I couldn’t have been more delighted.

Before class, while drinking a beverage called a "Novelist" (vanilla milk latte macchiato with a drizzle of caramel) at Conexion, there was much I felt uncertain about. My shoes. I wanted to switch my shoes. My laptop. Should it be open to a piece I’ve been working on, or should I be more open and not attempt to direct my experience so much?

When I saw how close I would be to Dani Shapiro, I realized using the laptop wouldn’t work at all. Earlier that week a friend had pointed out that I type with purpose (loudly). I listen by writing, and I didn’t want to be "that distracting woman." 

Paper and pen felt risky. I misplace my calendars and notebooks all the time. My laptop has yet to go missing. I’d be loath to lose the information shared in class, so I decided to be vigilant (and to type up my notes ASAP).

I ran mugging scenarios through my mind. “Please just let me keep my notebook and my Wordplay wristband,” I told my imaginary attacker. The rest can be replaced.  

“Good work comes from a quiet mind,” Dani Shapiro said.

We meditated. In on the inhale. Out on the exhale. She led us into switching in, out to here, now.  

“To be a writer is to notice,” Shapiro said, explaining how this necessity of checking in has nothing to do with navel-gazing. After another meditative centering exercise, we wrote down seven things we did and saw before class, one thing we heard, and we doodled.

After class, I started a journal dedicated to this practice of noticing. It’s efficient, grounding, and fun to refer back to. One day I wrote that one of the things I did was argue with my fiancé. Then, I doodled a grumpy robot. I smile when I look at it. The doodle is abysmal.

The two-hour class was billed as a generative one with “writing prompts designed to explore the intersection of memory and imagination.” I wrote exactly 1200 words during the exercises we did between meditations, instruction, and Shapiro’s reflections on writing.

I came home with an abundant amount of material to unpack. When I sat down to decide what to unfold first, I centered myself. As I looked at a jotted down memory, I began what-iffing it into fiction. Then, I began to write. Soon after, I caught myself researching. Resisting.

“We get in our own way when we’re alone in our rooms,” Shapiro said. “Resistance shows up as we write by I’m just going to check my email. I need to do some research.”

It was just two hours. Yet, since class, I feel a quiet confidence. I’m more protective of my time. In fact, that’s what led to the grumpy robot doodle. Throughout Wordplay, I noticed authors talking about the time they needed to create their works, the quiet.

During morning meditation, I find my mind leaving breath-counting behind in favor of here, now.

I’m looking forward to what happens next.