For the past several years, I’ve gotten the full colour brochure announcing the current “Womens Words” summer writing program line-up. I looked over the offerings; I looked at the calendar; I looked at the tuition fees; and then I put the dream of attending back on my ‘someday’ list. This spring, I even called to check on the availability of the two courses that I was interested in. Then I promptly mislaid the brochure for several weeks. I like to think it was serendipity that got me into one of the courses just one week prior to the start.
Sponsored by the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension, the website promises it is “a program for women with stories — all women, in other words, both established and new writers. Work in small, interactive groups with published writers and award-winning authors. Come for the weekend or the entire week to explore poetry, life-writing, fiction, creative non-fiction — or working with visual art and text.”
Visual artist Brenda Malkinson’s session titled, “Visualizing Your Story through Self-Portrait, Collage and Text” seemed custom-made for me. For five consecutive afternoons on June 5 to 9, 2006, ten women gathered in an art studio on campus and worked on self-discovery.
Brenda pulled out all the stops. We visited an exhibit of work similar to that produced in previous years. We worked with the likes of k. d. lang’s “Hymns of the 49th Parallel” and Carien Wijnen’s “Womyn with Wings” CDs playing in the background. We reflected on first impressions and how terribly wrong they can be. We took a leap of faith in believing the prompts Brenda doled out would in fact lead to insight. The prompts included both writing answers to provocative questions in our journals, as well as scouring dozens of magazines for images and text that spoke to us. She made it clear that there were no rules, no right way to do it, and no right answers to aim for. We had total freedom to interpret the assignment and make of it what we would.
As Friday afternoon drew to a close with some final tearful readings from the group, I was both amazed and dismayed that I really hadn’t gotten to know any of the other women. Aside from making our usual start-of-the-class introductions, wearing name-tags, and doing some group exercises, I hadn’t done my usual social butterfly ‘getting to know you’ routine. When I shared that revelation with some of the other women, including Brenda, the answer was the same. This had been billed as a journey of going in, in other words a journey of self-discovery.
There were extended periods of silence all week when everyone was intently cutting, pasting, writing, and pondering. Can you believe it? Ten silent women.
I enjoyed the escape from the cares of home and responsibilities. I knew I had given myself both the gift of time and of nurturance. How foreign the feeling is to take the time for a single-minded focus on the task at hand.
My advice, dear reader, is to beg, borrow or steal the time to do what nurtures your soul. There is no greater gift, from where I sit.
Women’s Words, Summer Writing Week 2006. June 2-9, 2006. University of Alberta, Faculty of Extension. Retrieved from http://www3.extension.ualberta.ca/womenswords/index.htm
Malkinson, B. Visualizing Your Story through Self-Portrait, Collage and Text. Women’s Words, Summer Writing Week 2006. Retrieved from http://www3.extension.ualberta.ca/womenswords/workshop12.htm
Lang, K.D. (2004). Hymns of the 49th Parallel [sound recording]. Nonesuch release.
Wijnen, C. (1998). Womyn with Wings [sound recording]. Self release.