Goodbye & Thank You!
Green Windows has retired, after twelve years!
Green Windows held a Retirement Celebration on June 28, 2020. The evening honored the community that we’ve built over the past twelve years and acknowledged Peggy’s creative guidance and nurturing of our space together.
Below are Peggy’s goodbye remarks, partly from her introduction to Book.Ends, and below that, reflections and goodbyes from members of Green Windows’ community.
Firstly, there are so many people to thank for the last twelve years!
My own last words are here are an excerpt from my introduction to Book.Ends:
After writing in workshops that use the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method since 2004, I realized, in 2006, that the AWA method was a perfect partner for my passion of bringing very different people together, safely and as equals, purposefully with care and intention. In 2007 I was certified as an AWA facilitator. In 2008, I started Green Windows and joined Intersection for the Arts as one of their incubator programs. And in the last twelve years, I’ve facilitated workshops in community colleges, youth centers, schools, community centers, affordable housing complexes, museums, libraries, juvenile halls, nonprofit retreats and for the general public. In these workshops I’ve had teens and seniors, students and teachers, homeless and housed, people with and without degrees and from different corners of Oakland. In 2009, I started a monthly drop-in workshop, sliding scale, finding a perfect host and partner in The Rock Paper Scissors Collective. And with this workshop, I drew my vast network together and people who would not otherwise cross paths wrote together, safely, as equals, each encouraged to be true to their own voice.
I’ve only skimmed the surface of what Green Windows has done. I haven’t mentioned the dozens of people who have supported the work in various ways (thank you), or the mentors and mentees who make the work not a paper but a circle. The books, blogs and articles. Twelve years of words given and received.
On March 24, 2020, we had the 127th and last monthly workshop. I am ready to shift my energies while deeply grateful for all this time with your words and seeing you listen to and affect each other. And deeply grateful that we made it, together, to this moment, sheltering in place from a pandemic and writing online. Twelve years brought us here, so profoundly needing each other and needing to write with each other that it feels fated. We wrote ourselves to this moment to have community while isolated and surrounded by tragedy and insecurity. Fate bewilders me; I would have never even known to ask for this blessing. And I am grateful.
Listen. When I write that I am grateful for this community, I am talking about you. You. Twelve years came to this moment with you all in a Zoom room. And I will leave the room, the moment, the dozen years, with an understanding of people and of words that I did not have before, that I need to navigate the gloomy foggy future. I thank you.
And I invite you. I invite you to continue the work. Each morning with your candle, over coffee six feet apart, while walking along the beach, in your dreams, in a secret notebook, I invite you to continue the work of being true to yourselves and of letting the choosing of words, the choosing of images, the choosing of characters, the choosing of plot, the respect of your own rhythms, your own voices, your own language, your own stepping stones into phrases, letting them help you to see what the truths are in yourselves, and by listening for what you like, on the beach, over coffee, in the zoom meeting, to see what the truths are that others’ offer you. I invite you to continue the work. You do not need me, or Green Windows to do it. I believe in you. I believe in your words and, when you let them, the truths they carry for you.
- Peggy Simmons
Green Windows: Art of Interchange
Below are participants’ answers to the following questions:
“How will Green Windows live on? How do you bring what you have learned, experienced and created with GW into your life and the world? Consider your artistic practice, sense of community, how we relate to each other, and how you see the world around you.”
My view of the world has expanded from what I consider a creative collaboration with other people, their writing styles, backgrounds, points of view. Careful, close listening skills, appreciation for words and phrasing, intended communication and subtle messages - all these attributes have been enhanced in myself and I dare say everyone else who has been part of Green Windows.
I've never talked to anyone who has been to a Green Windows workshop who didn't get some kind of deepened connection - to writing and or community and or poets... the world. I've been to many a writing workshop - Green Windows had an accessibility and a spaciousness I didn't get other places. Green Windows is the only AWA based writing facilitation I've participated in that never left poor folks behind.
Green windows has helped me be more authentically me and just show up as myself. It has also encouraged my writing voice. I'll be forever grateful to Peggy and Green Windows.
I will always keep writing and utilizing my listening skills to appreciate other people's writing and to develop my own. I really appreciate the openness of Green Windows and the ability to share anything and everything. It's like a makerspace, and this is the mindset I will carry with me.
I will continue to write with and be in community with the people I’ve met in Green windows. I will continue to use the AWA method when I write with others and incorporate everything I’ve learned into my writing practice. It’s hard to say how GW has influenced how I see and relate to people as it has been so fundamental in my growth but I’m sure it has opened my mind to different perspectives, seeing more of our shared humanity.
Compassionately listening. Seeing what we like about people's lawns instead of what we don't like. A sense of imagination. A web more vulnerable & real than most. Duh.
Green Windows has created bonds for me that I feel will never be broken! Immensely grateful that boundaries of space aren't keeping me from connecting and creating with others. I am much, much more daring in my creative practice.
In a real and lasting way, Green Windows has shifted how I approach writing and creativity. More and more, I'm learning that the act of making something has value in and of itself. Even if there's seemingly nothing salvageable (rare!), sometimes making the thing clears the way, primes the pump, and/or offers a foundation for something else. I feel such gratitude for the opportunity to write with many of the same people month after month, listening to their words and getting to know each person's unique voice and style has deepened my appreciation of "voice" in storytelling, including my own. I find myself more observant of everyday expressions of creativity: a hand-painted shop window, my neighbor's little garden, an auntie's colorful outfit, a friend's cooking, zines galore. Participating in Green Windows has amplified the gratitude I feel for other community spaces in my life, and it reaffirms my commitment to cultivating mutual trust and sharing my life with other people.
After writing with GW for so many years and being exposed to great writing, writing very different from my own, I have been able to try on new voices, explore the page, break all the rules I've learned. I've thoughtfully and carelessly put words and sentences and verses together always trusting that support would follow. It's precisely the support of the community that made me feel free to play in all those ways, and Peggy's voice always repeating, "trust your voice, trust your images, trust your words."
GOODBYE, Green Windows! You made a difference!!!.
Green Windows has been an opportunity to give my writing. For me the worst part and what turns me away from writing is the initial blank page. The prompts give me direction. They help me fill that white page. Through them I have been able to express emotion in a way I have never done before. I'll be honest though, I don't know if I have the motivation to keep writing like this on my own. But now I guess no choice but to try to fill that blank page on my own. Good thing I have great examples to take inspiration from.
I took a chance and went to write there with you, one evening, and it was a good experience. Though it felt odd, not knowing anyone, and I know I look mean when I am nervous, it was good for my mind and my writing to sit with people I did not know and didn't connect with to write. Made my brain work differently.
Peggy what you have done with Green Windows is so remarkable....You are very special...most of us don't find a way to 'make a difference.' You
The method of teaching and facilitating really stuck with me, and as I move on to become a teacher I know I will carry those principles with me!
Very grateful for the couple of times I was able to take part in Green Windows! The artistic spirit and positive environment inspired me and those vibes will live on in my life.
Thank you for all you’ve done as shared and thank you for always creating spaces that felt safe. GW definitely helped me come out of my shell.
I know GW will live on in my sister, all of the GW writers, and in the works they all made together!
I'd like to challenge myself more to generate prompts & really think outside of just written lines; how to make them multidimensional & invite the other senses. I loved the variety of prompts & have kept a few over the years. Perhaps I shall put them in a jar.
Goodbye, Peggy! What a wonderful thing Green Windows was!! You always
are so creative. Hurray!
Further spontaneous writing exercises, community writing opportunities, and MORE NANOWRIMO!
Peace and Love
I will definitely be bringing the confidence I've gained in my writing and ways of giving good feedback in Green Window's writing workshops with me. I will also try ways to connect with people creatively through Zoom just as Green Windows has done.
I have met people at the workshops who have become friends and mentors. I have heard points of view I would not otherwise have heard. I have written some of my favorite pieces there, pieces that would not have been written anywhere else--a couple of which are still getting published.
GW has changed my life forever. Not only does it live on in my artistic practice, but it has given me a place to belong in the greater community, and a greater sense of how I can contribute to community.
Now by Karen Gordon
Some writings tap into unconscious knowing. Such is the case with this one. It is a potent lesson that teaches us to listen to dreams, hunches, and our connection with the universe. I am ever grateful for the opportunity to write and share the pen's messages.
(The following beautiful piece was written in a Green Windows workshop on June 3, 2020. Thank you, Karen! )
by Karen Gordon
We walk down the path.
There are broken bottles everywhere.
You point out one spot to me that is clear,
A little stream gurgles by and
To our surprise
There are live frogs in it.
Thru the stark silence, one croak then just a few more.
Overhead a crow caws.
This is where the car wash used to be. Over there are
The empty bones of the mall.
I guess I really thought we would be somewhere else by now.
Yet the air has cleared and we can
now go outside without masks.
The sky is a harsh blue
Beating overhead with brutal passion.
It’s five years further
I can still walk a good long ways.
It’s sad to say that
I do this alone.
You wait in the old house and
will greet me as best you can when I return.
We didn’t know it would be like this.
Yet it is so.
Jenna wrote this beautiful piece in a Green Windows workshop on May 27, 2020, in response to the prompt "I write these words." Thank you, Jenna!
I Write These Words
by Jenna Frisch
Dive in. Mess the page up with ink.
i write these words to show myself to myself, first
to tease out the ideas / images / impulses & fixations that stir
& sometimes settle in the folds
of my soft tissue, sometimes
to take a chisel
to long held beliefs & feelings
calcified to bone
i write the way i run
one word, one step at a time
one ear to the body, one open to the world
with curiosity, care and abandon
i write i run
to lose myself
a seamless & sometimes labored act called
l o v e
i write i run
to get clear
to lose myself
on streets i know on streets i don’t know
on blank pages
on filled pages
i find myself
some version of myself i know or used to know
i find myself
in the swiftness of the pen & on hills i’ve run a hundred times
noticing new cracks, noticing old cracks
pieces of myself on concrete & centerfolds
i write i run
shades of experience
the Walpiri people don’t have a word for color, he said
they see textures & shades have felt sense like
fresh rose petal blossoms
feet that grip & a mind that floats
sometimes tugging insides in two directions
sometimes meeting gently in the middle
like a hot sun laying itself down
at the edge
of the pacific
across clear skies
fire meets water
& the Earth is held
in darkness & in light
setting sun reflecting heat off water & there is respite from cool before the air gets cold again
IT'S TIME TO CHANGE
by Hayden T. Renato
When things get so difficult to bear that we want to escape from our lives, our bodies, our pasts, and our futures, it's time to change. The present is purgatory. What we do now can make the difficult things in life easier to bear in the future.
When half of society endorses capitalism as their savior, it's time to change. There's a meme that says, "if capitalism is so great, then why does it need to be bailed out by socialism every 10 years?" Those of us who understand how the world works know that our unenforced "civil rights" came from a series of business deals and ulterior motives.
When your clothes get dirty, it's time to change. But when you mix the wrong colors of paint, they can't be unmixed. A cracked foundation will not support our revolution for social, political, and personal freedom.
It's easy to feel alone when there's nobody around you. It's time to change. It's easy to feel alone when you don't have a say in how shit gets done, even when it AFFECTS YOUR LIFE. It's time to change. It's easy to feel alone when numbers and papers and currency outweigh US. It's time to change.
I keep my riches in my notebook, and my notebook is free. This is how life should be. It's time to change.
Writing anything creative right now is not easy for me. Writing in community helps. Always. But especially now. I'm finding the community Green Windows built over the last 12 years to be vital - alive and necessary. Green Windows' retirement is still looming, but I'm grateful that it hasn't happened yet. That we still have each other and these relationships forged through believing in each other's creativity. We need us right now: to be in touch with each other and to help each other be in touch with the part of ourselves where our best, most powerful writing comes from.
We've done a couple experimental online writing workshops and are ready to do more, according to interest and capacity. Please sign up for our newsletter and indicate your interest in online workshops (or change your preferences), if you would like to join us.
Here are two poems I wrote recently. I haven't used my pen name "Meg Claudel" in years. Partly because I haven't been submitting work for publication. Partly because my writer identity is mixed with my identity as Peggy Simmons, Founding Director of Green Windows: Art of Interchange. But these two pieces have nothing to do with that role.
I hope you are writing and well. This is hard. And will end. But the world will not go back to how it was exactly. Meanwhile, I'm grateful for you and for your words.
This Is Not About…
By Meg Claudel
This is not about me.
It’s only me, here. A cat or two, spiders, oranges.
But this is not about me.
This is not about you.
Or you. Wherever you are. I will imagine you with cats and oranges.
Hopefully heat. Maybe someone to curl up on the couch with.
Hey babe, if you're sick, I’m sick.
This is not about your kids.
I miss your kids.
Adults are boring and there is only one here.
You wish we could trade. For an hour or two. Me too. We can’t.
This isn’t about us.
This isn’t about the planet either.
Because, frankly, the planet would be better off if several million of us were to leave.
So maybe this is about us
Even if this isn’t about you or about me or about your kids.
Maybe it’s about the kids, including yours.
It might well be about the oranges.
In the dream my cats pulled me out of the creek before they left.
This isn’t about the cats, they will be fine.
This is about my mother.
And maybe your mother too.
The white cat Mom inherited when my sister when to college already left.
This is about my dad who has survived everything
Though comparatively has survived nothing.
This is maybe about your dad, too, or your grandad.
And, yes, maybe your kids.
This is about your kids because this is a short chapter of humanity.
And our next chapter, in which your kids are the protagonists
Where it is about them
Has a completely different setting than our last.
This is about money.
It is, don’t lie.
This is about privilege.
It is, don’t lie.
The blinds on the window of who really has what are being lifted.
This is about us:
The ones who need groceries. Oranges and cat food.
And the ones who bring groceries. Fresh cut yellow roses.
This is about going hugless for weeks. Months.
And this is about kids clinging to you when you are at work.
This is about technology becoming a basic, as basic as oranges
(While reminding us this is about who has what).
This is about hoarding toilet paper
And this is about recognizing cashiers as essential
And grocery stores becoming supply depots in our battle with an invisible enemy.
This is about information and lies.
This is about power and vulnerability.
This is about us
But it’s not about us.
This is about today.
Tomorrow it will be about tomorrow.
There are oranges and there are cats
And there is a creek which does not stop flowing
And there are your cute faces on my screen
And there are words, there are always words.
This is not about words.
Thursday March 26th, 2020, NYWC online writIng workshop
“Visiting Your Lover” is not on the List of Essential Activities
When the State Orders Us to Stay at Home
by Meg Claudel
I could argue that you are coming over to “care for” me
18 months of sex and companionship do not, though, count as “family”
Yet you visit and for us the afternoon is stolen
Lunch is ready. The bed is sunlit. Wine has been delivered
Our skin is disinfected and we are touching
Two weeks of six feet apart and we are touching
All of me touching all of you
If you are sick, I am sick. (Isn’t this family?)
We don’t need much, my fingers on the side of you neck
Your thumbs under my shoulder blades
To go wholey into the moment, stolen and sunlit
A pandemic left on the doorstep
The news silenced by bird calls and “Dream a Little Dream of Me”
Covered in your list, then covered in mine, solidifying our dream
We create this bubble and walk into it together, alive and joyful
Grateful and surprised
No before or after, the after so unseen
Harmony written on your skin, there is where we stay
March 31, 2020
Pain by Karen Gordon
Green Windows gives me a forum in which to share personal experiences in a fictionalized way. It is not therapy, but it does give insight into feelings and motivations that can be expressed in powerful descriptions of life. Some of my best fiction and memoir has come from the opportunity to explore and reveal scenes to myself that lie just below the surface, untapped. I find this invaluable as a writer.
The piece below was written in the January Green Windows Uniquely Yours workshop. The prompt was Pain, specifically images of things that remind you of pain.
As is the magic of writing spontaneously from a prompt, you never know where your pen will lead you, if you let it. This is where it led me (unedited).
by Karen Gordon
Cutting. Cutting the skin, cutting off the blood. Cutting off the air. Blown to the ground, punched in the neck. Yes I saw stars. But the shock was the lack of breath. Then the shock of the violation, the violence. And the sense that I did something so extremely wrong as would cause this scenario.
Of course, I knew from the start that this was not a person that revered me, although he was all sweet words and smooth moves at the start. I imagined I had found a partner, a mate, dare I think a father of my child? But deep desires and fantasies die hard and I had to play this one out to the end. At the start, I believed in my own inadequacies, believed the lie that if I just lost 5 or 10 pounds that I would be desirable enough. That how he saw me was more accurate than how I saw myself. If I were stronger, more confident, I wouldn’t have followed him from place to place, wouldn’t have been more afraid of being alone than being emotionally and now physically abused. But I wasn’t strong then. And I was led by my lack.
Sometimes it’s best to be ignored, best to let things slide. It’s never been strong in my nature to “let it be.” I guess I need a sign of magnitude, to shout at me – STOP – let this one go. You don’t have to have the definitive straight-forward answer. And you can’t know what another person’s triggers are. Until you do.
I learned that night, that Xmas eve, about cornering a wild animal, one that looks calm on the outside but inside is so full of rage and angry remorse – that DANGER should flash from his eyes in red. And, of course, when I tried to make sense of it, to talk myself into a state of blame – I thought that gave me some control, some insight.
I was just wrong. I had to leave and never go back there.
Reflections by Catherine Mencher
(written November 11,2019)
In honor of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I returned to the notebooks, dusty under my nightstand, filled with the work I’d done with Peggy. In the spirit of honoring my writing, my self, and my sanity, I walked my 19 -month-old son, who had not napped for the day, a mile to the library. When his chirpy banter slowed, paces from our destination, I exhaled as I lowered his stroller seat, both of us reaching equilibrium. I wheeled us into the library and returned to pieces I’d scrawled in Uniquely Yours.
Magic to return to this piece, written 8 years from the experience and now 2 years past that.
Another type of magic, Green Windows’ workshops are and aren’t about the process. I know she tugged something from me with her prompt, the trust in the room and the timer. I don’t know the prompt, and it doesn’t matter. Written likely in 10 minutes, my piece sits complete.
As I reread Athens, GA 2009, I inhabit the smaller clothes and forgotten shoes of the narrator. I poke open the door and wander about.
It’s about the process and it’s not. I’m using a timer for this meta exercise in which I’m writing about what I wrote in Uniquely Yours, but I sit alone. As the timer slows, I’m not shifting to the new energy when we share and appreciate one another in Uniquely Yours. I’m grateful for this piece I wrote, a capsule, and for now knowing this process/not process. I know a hint of that community will see me, honor me by taking in this blog post.
Athens, GA 2009
by Catherine Mencher
(written March 9, 2017 in a Uniquely Yours monthly workshop)
Head out the laundry room door, and there’s a trampoline from Craigslist.
Notice the two trailers on the back right. One of them might hold a family. There’s a plastic trike on the dirt in front. There’s a rag over the window. The other one houses a glasses-wearing white man who comes by to collect Tom’s cigarette butts. Put them in a New York Times newspaper bag for him.
On your left of the trampoline is a two-story house. A new dad. Talk to him about how the weather in Athens, GA has changed since he was a young kid. Remember to reject Southern stereotypes. Curve around the trampoline, notice my half-hearted DIY project: wine bottles buried in the dirt all cockananied and inconsistent.
Be impressed by the strawberries Vanessa planted.
Talk to the very old widow who lives in the teeny brick house next door as she hangs her thin house dresses out to dry. When she says her and her husband lived here when it was just a hill, remember. Remember the sprawling apartment complexes just a few doors down, remember the shady house with the guys who shared their coke and dressed you up just one road down, remember the public housing two stories tall just at the corner, and feel sad for her. Give her a hug.
Our blogger this month, Roxanne Rocksteady Jones, first attended a Green Windows writing workshop in 2010 and has consistently written with us at every opportunity since. We asked her why she keeps coming back.
I keep coming back to Green Windows because I really got motivated when Peggy first invited me to the class to get over past things and express myself more.
While I was taking the class, I went to a women's group and we had incense and candles and meditated and were asked to take whatever was on our mind and bothering us, from childhood to early age to teen to young adult to adult, and write it on a piece of paper, then read it to ourselves, then ball it up. It made me get rid of what was bothering me. I had been feeling like I had been tortured since a little girl. But as I wrote, I released things through the tears in my eyes, from my stomach, my belly, to my lungs to my throat, releasing it, throwing it up, freeing myself. So my writing is more like a journal: Instead of using my voice, I'm using my writing, screaming so the world can hear me. Instead of marching in the streets with the 99 women's march, I'm the 100th woman, marching with words.
Young women, girls and teens are speaking up with their voices. You know, some people can't speak. Some people can't hear or talk. But they can read with their eyes. Reading, and other people reading your poetry or stories, is inspiring in either a happy way or sad way. They can learn to relieve what is bothering them, too.
Now I'll hand a person a pencil, ink pen, or crayon and say, "I would like to hear your story. Would you like to write it down?" People think homeless people want money or food. Some people just want people to hear their story, to sit and listen, or release something, or just be quiet together. So asking them to tell their story, what's bothering them, they are like. “Oh, I just wanted you to hear this." Sometimes it doesn't make sense, but I don't care. They just want someone to listen. Most people don’t have time.
For 2019 I would like for the city of Oakland or Green Windows to have an open mic where women, men too, but women, can say what's on their mind or what they went through, or what they want to release. Then we can give each other hugs after and let each other know we are loved no matter what gender, race, color or nationality.
When I think about the violence done to people of color and queer people, I want say, “No matter your gender, we are praying for you, be strong, keep your heads up, know that you are loved. I hope they catch the racist haters out there who try to torture you. We are going to kill them with love because love is what makes the world go around.”
Below is a piece of writing that I wrote in a Green Windows workshop. It was published in the 10-year anthology, Writing from Green Windows.
Who’s Your Daddy?
By Sister Roxanne Rocksteady Jones
Trick or Treats
Who’s your daddy?
Ok! Soul Sisters
Girls, here we go
Dancin’ to the beat of Aretha Franklin
and Lady of Soul, Diana Ross
and Lady Sings the Blues
Here near downtown Oakland
the block of 22nd, Telegraph and West Grand Ave
which is now called Uptown
Here on the sparklin’ psychedelic rainbow dance floor
in this ol’ ol’ ol’ red brick building
used to be the Pancake House
which is now called Disco City
Shakin’ our money maker
as the mens would say
Shakin’ what your Mama gave you
Shakin’ our bootays
Droppin’ it like it’s hot
Girls just wanna have fun
Actin’ like our Mamas’ drinkin’ brandy
Vodka with pineapple juice
Laughin’ havin’ fun
Cryin’ talkin’ about the good good ol’ days
about the no good men who almost stole our hearts
Rememberin’ the good good good ol’ ol’ ol’ days
When our Mamas was also on the dance floor
Partyin’ and shakin’ their old money makers
Their groove things
Their asses, as the ol’ men would say
Drinkin’ brandy with milk
7 Up with Courvoisier
Vodka with orange juice
Gin with apple juice
Dancin’ to the Temptations
Gladys Knight and the Pimps
Dancin’ til’ the funkadelics the freaks
Come out at night
Droppin’ it like it’s hot
and our Moms cryin’ about our no good daddies
on the dance floor
as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown
Sings the number one song
I like the girl with the hot pants on
She can do the boogie woogie all night long
Oh my God, he’s singin’ about my Mama
who’s your daddy?
James Brown, Father of Soul
Goin’ back to the good good good ol’ days
Trick or Treat
Who’s your daddy?
When I was a teenager, I was very ambitious. I was convinced that the stories coalescing in my head were so vivid and important that I would make a great working writer, sell enough copies to support myself, maybe have my works taught in English classes, and follow in three of my relatives’ footsteps. What I didn’t fully understand, however, is that being a working writer requires a day job—or in my case two—especially if you’re publishing books by yourself. The major traditional publishing companies were, and sadly still are, the gatekeepers of literature, and generally wary of investing too heavily in unproven writers, which is why I was so determined to do it myself.
In college, I intended to collect my rejection letters to remind myself not to give up. Unfortunately, some time after my sixth rejection, I had a serious health emergency, then life caught up with me, and I misplaced my collection. But at least I never stopped reading, or watching movies, or listening to music, and finding things in life that inspired me, because those experiences help maintain the vibrancy of my stories, and even to help ground them in reality, to make more sense of them. Even generative writing programs like Green Windows have been invaluable. As Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote, “The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.”
Nobody can really tell you how to write (no matter how much they might want to), because the creative process is an extension of your unique, individual thoughts, feelings and ideal method of expression. When we write, that process is the crystallization of concepts that we wish to transmit, however raw they might be at first. Editing is the process of cutting, refining and burnishing those ideas like gemstones. When we read, watch or experience other things, we are mining … looking for the things that resonate with our own experience.
In summation, we need to look for the things that inspire us, and we will know that they’ve inspired us when, all of a sudden, in spite of whatever obstacles that external forces throw in our way, our world-views and the stories connected to them begin to make sense again.
Below is a piece from a previous Green Windows workshop. Enjoy!
“THE HEARTSCAPE FACTS” THREADS ON WWW.MAPPINGTHEHEARTSCAPE.COM, DATED 07/29/2011
by Rachel Golden
It has long been believed that Atlas Galt, the keytarist for Heartscape, was named after the Greco-Roman god who supposedly held up the Earth on his shoulders. Whoever first started that bull-crap was clearly an Objectivist twat, because any fourth-grade textbook will tell you that Atlas was the Greco-Roman god who held up the SKY on his shoulders, which was no doubt an easier job because the sky is way lighter!
PantherHands: OMG LOL!
RocketSauce: FUCK OBJECTIVISM UP ITS FAT WRINKLY ASS!!!!!
Diogenes: LOL nice one, Rocket!
RighteousPath: Damn, that got political pretty fucking quick.
BigNo: Not even the internet is totally free of politics, sadly. Up north, we have a contemptuous asshat named Stephen Harper to thank for that. Part of me is tempted to go scale Mount Everest for that very reason.
Howitzer: Fuck Stephen Harper!
LunarRover: Wait a goddamn minute… I think I know the smart-ass piece of shit who wrote this post in the first place.
BigNo: Do you, now?
LunarRover: I’d accuse Biggie, but that’d be too easy, and frankly he’s not one with an affinity for Greco-Roman gods. Diogenes the dog, I accuse you! Do you hear me? J’accuse!
Diogenes: Ruh-roh! Guilty as charged.
LunarRover: More like “guilty as fuck”!
VMyson: Bad dog. No biscuit. LOL.
Howitzer: Holy shit, I love this fucking forum so much!
LunarRover: And the forum loves you, too, Howie.
SidPernicious: I don’t love Howie, gaymo.
VMyson: That’s because you’re an asshole, Sid.
Howitzer: LOL TRUE DAT!
SidPernicious: I’d rather be an asshole than a gaymo, like you gaymos!
Diogenes: Aw, sorry to hear you’re not comfortable with your sexuality, Sid. You might want to get in touch with someone at PFLAG, and maybe get some shit off of your chest.
SidPernicious: Why the fuck would I do that, when I have you chodes to get into bitch-fights with?
BigNo: I think what my associate meant is that you should do yourself a favor and “get some santorum off your chest,” Sid, because I’m pretty sure I can smell it from here.
RocketSauce: Yeah, Sid, it’s not our fault you’re so deep in the closet, you’re finding Christmas presents!
RighteousPath: Embrace your queerness, Sid! We believe in you!
VMyson: OMG I’M DYING!
SidPernicious: FUCK YOU PUSSIES!
SidPernicious has logged out.
VMyson: LOL what a dumb-ass!
Howitzer: Some motherfuckers just don’t have the introspection to be able to laugh at themselves.
LunarRover: Wait a sec, do kids these days still say “gaymo” when they want to insult people on the internet? Seriously?
Diogenes: I know, right? It’s so last decade…
BigNo: Kids are so unfashionable.
I heard about Green Windows on an aimless walk through downtown Oakland at dusk one Spring. I remember the sky was pink and I was climbing my way up from rock bottom and pure Hell. I think I was only a few months sober. Back then, Green Windows was hosted at the original Rock Paper Scissors Collective art workshop on Telegraph Ave. I opened my mouth for what seemed like the first time since I was a kid and spoke about what was really important to me. We sat on unassuming chairs in a paint-splattered room and people listened to me. I never did AA or any kind of structured help program. Green Windows was it for me. Every month I would join a friendly assortment of colorful people, I would write, I would share and I would listen. In this way, I built myself up from broken, devastated pieces into a positive member of a tangible community for the first time in my life.
In Green Windows, you always have the option to pass on sharing a piece of writing. I have never done this. I have written pieces of writing that scared me into shaking, pale-skinned jello in these workshops. Sharing them in a safe, confidential space with warm, loving people who all share their stories in turn has brought me healing that feels divine. Again, you don’t have to share if you don’t want to, and plenty of people choose not to, but I have made serious progress emotionally and spiritually just by saying what I need to say, even if I’m terrified.
After a while of coming to these workshops, you start to see the same people. You admire their writing and then get to admire them as people. None of us are big-shot prestigious writers (at least not yet). Almost everyone is available to talk or share a ride home or a slice of pizza after the workshop. The community of people I’ve met coming to Green Windows over the years is what keeps me rooted in the Bay Area. It brings me pride in my home and I feel like I’m releasing stagnant energy and rejuvenating by writing, reading and listening.
As long as I live in the Bay Area, I’m going to keep coming to Green Windows workshops. This community has played no small part in making me the person I am today. Peggy, her helpers, and all of us do a lot of work to keep the space open to truly anyone who wants to come through these doors and write. The participants in these workshops feel like a cross-section of Oakland and the greater Bay Area and I haven’t seen this diversity in one space anywhere else. Green Windows writers have the privilege of coming to awareness of what life is like for people different from us. This work is important for keeping myself humble and keeping myself engaged in the struggle for justice and in building community. Here, I have the space to dig into myself and find veins of painful, traumatized gold to bring into the light and inspire others. I am grateful to live in a time and place where this is possible.
Below is a piece of fiction I wrote in a Green Windows workshop. I hope you enjoy it.
Different Kitchens, Different Friends
by Alec West
The refrigerator makes a sound that most people don’t hear. My friend Charles grew up on a boat and said that when he had to live in a house he hated the refrigerator. It was so loud, it kept him up at night. He wasn’t used to it.
My friend J used to come over and raid my fridge. He showed me how to cook tortillas on the stovetop. Years later, he admitted that he’d had a gun on him in our house. Old friends were trying to kill him, and he had to protect himself.
My friend Basil also used my kitchen. He is dead now. I remember him standing in my kitchen, having a conversation with my Mom about yogurt-coated granola bars.
“These are actually sweeping the nation as one of the best new things!” he said. His wide eyes were shifty and unfocused, his blond, box-springed hair was like a brillo pad under a wool cap or a hoodie. We went on that afternoon to get drunk in an alleyway with fresh green grass growing. It was springtime, and we were enjoying being young and the bold, deep flavor of loneliness when you have someone to share it with. Then Basil bought a bottle of vodka from a homeless man with my money, and we blacked out in the bathroom of a drug store.
This kitchen, on Lake in Piedmont, by Beach Elementary, was the first place I discovered alcohol. I remember coming home in a nice button-down shirt from the freshman dance and finding the liquor cabinet open.
Vodka and Gin. I filled up two plastic water bottles full, one red and one blue. My friend Red covered the stairs at the Morcom Rose garden with orange, green, white, and yellow puddles from the paints in his stomach. They were inkblots spilled over a page. Somebody was holding their pen up too long thinking about what to write and splotches ran through. Back then there was less loneliness than hope and excitement. I felt like I could still be part of something here if I tried. Red was my first drinking buddy.
Years later, I find myself in my brother Gabre’s kitchen in Eugene, Oregon. He has liquor bottles displayed above the cabinets where he keeps plates and dishes. He was a teetotaller all through high school, and now that he is in college, he is drinking. He felt that he had earned the privilege with his success. My friends and I taught him all about top shelf bourbon and scotch. Now he is a connoisseur and a snob, and at six pm on a weeknight he is shaking the cocktail mixer, fixing a drink.
My friend Hombre’s Dad’s kitchen looks out over the whole of San Francisco. You can see the city shimmering with light and heat and fog and silver and gold during the day and shining with purple and orange at night. It was the perfect place to enjoy a blunt with some close friends. My friend Hombre had sixteen pot plants growing on that back deck in high school. At first, his Dad didn’t notice, then he didn’t care.
Tall, fragrant bushes, sticky flowers and phosphorescent leaves. Orange hairs, white hairs, purple hairs. Acid and mushrooms and looking at the clouds. Hardcore music. Drum and bass music. Dubstep. A State of Trance.
We found a vast, dark basement full of all flavors of people who did drugs in San Francisco, from hardened criminals to kids like us. Hombre wanted to wear sweat pants and a Nine Inch Nails T-shirt. We told him to go for it, but he didn’t do it. We were too young for ecstasy, we felt, so we took trucker speed, those pills you buy over the counter at the gas station for like five bucks. That and a lot of marijuana, and we didn’t sit down for six hours.
All this is what I remember of my childhood in the East Bay. What were we gonna do? We were making the best out of a teenage situation in suburban California. No, you’re too young to get into the club, but there’s this alleyway and this bag and this homeless guy who agrees to buy you alcohol. I’m not joking when I say that homeless guy became my best friend. His name was J, he was only a few years older than me, and he taught me a lot.
Alec West is a Bay Area native and has been writing and publishing since he was twelve, when a fierce middle-school teacher taught him that he was worth something. He has been published in Slingshot Magazine, The Anthology of Poetry By Young Americans, The Moon, and The Highlander. His first book, “What Happened When I Stopped Watching TV” will be available in print and e-book in December 2018. Follow Alec on Instagram.