Do you know who you really are? I wrote my “About” page for my blog last week. This is the place where an author concisely depicts who she is. This exercise grew into a question for me. Who am I? If I died today, what details would be included in my obituary? What would my epitaph be? Would the reality of these musings on my life be consistent with what I would desire my end notes to read? I recently wrote my bucket list, a laundry list of goals to complete before I die, including publications and novels to write, music exams to take, and a level of health and fitness I wish to achieve.
On Friday after Jennifer Still’s Carol Shields distinguished lecture, that all changed.
At the conclusion of the lecture, which served as the climax for Jennifer’s residency as the University of Winnipeg Carol Shields writer in residence, I realized that, at the end of the day, achievements don’t really matter. What matters is finding a voice and using it to sing, discovering, living a life of poetry, sharing friendship, humanity, and love with others, and awakening to who we really are. What matters at the end of the day is a beginning, as Jennifer emphasized in her lecture.
The creative writing workshop, led by poet Jennifer Still, began with a word. We all brought a word with us to explore. I brought the word “inflaton” which is the scalar field (or mechanism) theorized to be responsible for the early rapid expansion of the universe. I found within the word “inflaton” the word “flat”, which describes the current model for the shape of our universe. Jennifer noted that my word reflects on beginnings, on the beginning of the universe no less. So started the workshop for me: with a beginning.
The workshop, or “wordshop” as it was called, centered on words. I find words to expose my vulnerabilities, disrobing the electric cords of my naked thoughts in unedited fragments of consciousness. I feel naked and exposed in my writing which is counterpunctal to a primal need for self-expression, like a baby’s cries. Words are indeed fierce yet delicate and undress our defenses, leaving us shivering and naked.
During the second workshop we used words to encounter art. We used our internal sensors to explore artistic external works, including a Willow Rector exhibit. The Willow Rector exhibit contains a collection of purses embroidered with quotes from literature. On the outside, some of them look like generic women’s accessories, but within them lay concealed messages. One of the purses was entitled The Stone Diaries, named for the novel written by Carol Shields. This purse was constructed in part by barbed wire surrounding an embroidered bird, perhaps reflecting a cage imprisoning the image of the forsaken mermaid on the reverse side of the purse. I later investigated the story of The Stone Diaries, and it reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway served as a subject for another purse. Mrs. Dalloway is an externally perceived prosaic middle-aged woman throwing an every-day party, but internally she yearns to be connected with something special and unique. I think the exhibit centered on the deceptive extraordinary depth and fascinating narrative woven in a person’s innards, in contrast to outer appearances – the ordinary and the boring “old purses” that my friend saw. Even Mrs. Dalloway belies an extraordinary inner world and life. The purses centered on identity, the repression of women, and the secret words which might thrive dormant within. More words.
In the third workshop we erased and chopped words, playing with collages from the words of others. We were architects with words: words as structural elements. I chose the Lucky speech from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Words reeking of existentialism levitated above the page for me that I connected in new ways. The essence of the speech lies in its words such as the passage into nothingness with unfinished labors.
Will we live an unfinished life if we don’t complete that bucket list of achievements? My answer is no. Mozart never completed his Requiem, yet in its unfinished state lies a monument of beauty. We, like our words, might be transient as Beckett and Jennifer outline in their words, but perhaps that is, in itself, a monument to beauty which possesses meaning in itself, like Antoine Saint-Exupéry’s flower from Le Petit Prince.
In the final wordshop we edited a piece of work and discussed endings. We also played a poetry game in which one person wrote a word and passed it, concealed, to her neighbor. Then the neighbor wrote a question and passed it along to her right. The word I was passed was “hope”. The question passed to me was “How do we deal?” Poetry, it seems, is everywhere. From these workshops and meetings with Jennifer I discovered new words and new beginnings. I found new words that lie hibernating in crevices within myself. I still don’t know what my desired epitaph would be. I still don’t really know who I am. And I think I can live with the acceptance that I will never know. What I do know is that I do possess words in me and a voice which I long to use to sing. In the word “ending” is a resounding “I”. See it?
Do you know who you are? Will you ever know?