“How was your summer?” people ask, and I struggle to cut this too-big question down to bite-sized. Generalizations like “full but good” bore me before they even come out of my mouth. Stories about kids and camps sound more like a PSA when I add that payment wouldn’t be possible without government reimbursements. The only thing I can think to say is the thing that made me sing: “I died and went to writing camp.”
I loved everything about the ten-days I spent at the Collegeville Institute over the summer. The peace to write. The chats with friends in my field. And the feedback that’s helping me find my way to a more generous book. It was all pretty spectacular, made more so by afternoon tea ceremonies at the potters studio (where we learned you have to do it the same way a hundred times before you can improvise) and nighttime high jinks in the form of a murder mystery party (where we learned the best plot is not always the most logical plot.) Also, there were pickles in the lunch line everyday. And for some reason that felt like a luxury as sweet as an apartment all to myself.
The first day of the workshop we did what all plucky participants do: we shared why we were there, what we hoped to get out of it, and even–my favorite prompt–what we were most afraid of. That was an easy one for me. I was afraid of making something awkward, which I inevitably did when I told the program manager responsible for the pickles that pickles made me feel like I had a mom again. Not that she was my mom. Or that my mom wasn’t alive and well…
But by far the most common fear of my fellow participants, each of whom had brought a creative non-fiction manuscript to the workshop, was that they’d have to start over. That their work would be for naught. Their time trivialized. I didn’t share this particular fear, the possibility phase is what I live for, but I wondered if I should be a little more frightened after fourteen months revising my prologue alone.
Revision, our wise instructor soon reminded us, was not about making things better. In its truest sense it simply meant to see something again, from a different angle, in a new light. So the aim of our time together wouldn’t be perfecting our prose. It would be getting curious about the page.
With this revision of the word revision in place, we were off on an entirely new adventure, cutting up paragraphs and pasting them in new places, penning letters from minor characters and turning our plot into a three-act film. I can’t say much more about these prompts (proprietary reasons) other than to say that we were set free from our functional atheism and found something more like faithfulness.
There’s still time to revise is becoming my mantra for not just this slow book work, but this slow living work. So you already botched your back-to-school rhythm? There’s still time to revise. So you missed a deadline for that grant application?There’s still time to revise. So you stuck your foot in your mouth again talking about race?There’s still time to revise.
We can’t undo what’s been done but we can commit to doing something differently now. To seeing something again and asking others what they see. Maybe you’ll even have fun trying. Maybe, just once, you’ll answer the question “How was your summer?” from the perspective of your pinkie.
Remember practice, not progress, is the goal…
…if you’re into goals.
…which I’m obviously not.
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