I write to give voice both to myself and others, encouraging them to find their truth as well. I write because if I don't, the dam will burst at the most inopportune time, and I have a history of losing my temper. When I was younger my writing revolved around exploring and creativity. As the assignments morphed into more serious forms of homework, the goal shifted from discovery to proficiency, and the fire in my belly slowly and steadily snuffed out. The pilot light never went out but it was never enough to keep me warm. After years of education, MLA, APA, care plans, and professional emails, there was barely a flicker.
Then in 2010 as I was wrapping up nursing school I saw it: a bulletin posted for a writing workshop called Green Windows whose sliding scale went down to a dollar. “You can't write wrong” it touted. I scoffed and took a picture. “We'll see about that! I have it on good authority that plenty of the writing I do is wrong.” My near total block and disgust with writing had been born from a world that made me so afraid to write wrong that often I wouldn't even try; I would pull my hair out trying to get it right for hours. I managed to get those coveted As & Bs but at what cost? Gradually, the workshops helped me to find a voice and regain confidence in writing as a form of expression. Because of this notable impact, I have introduced many friends to Green Windows and found even more connections and friendships through it.
I write because if what falls onto the page is the definition of peak cringe, I know that there's something for me to see. I get a chance to ask myself, “Why is this the definition of a sucker punch or one of those sour candies that turns your whole mouth inside out?” I know that no matter what, if I choose to share I'll always be coming away with something I liked about the piece; it gives me the opportunity to learn something about myself. My group is smart and talented. My friends are smart and talented. I gain so much from all of them. Thank you for allowing me to share my experience.
Jordan wrote the following intense piece in a Green Windows workshop on December 24, 2017 responding to the prompt, "Describe Cold Without Using the Word Cold." Thank you, Jordan!
by Jordan Blanks
Chattering, shivering, every hair standing at maximum papillary attention. Hard dagger-like wisps of air move about my head, in through gaping mouth, and down into my trachea and lungs. In the tiny sacks of pressure awaiting him, rounder softer carbon dioxide slips into his place for the journey back out, only to turn to bayonets once contact is made with the outside elements again. Nose is non-existent; run away with the knife and the spoon as well as all piggies just trying to race home. Just 1 more hour. Need to finish. Try to move away from the physical and focus on the task at hand. Pulling another hood up over my hat, drawing the tie strings together only allowing the whites of my eyes to shine through.
The only thing that can save me from this painful fate is bed or death. Trying desperately to hug myself with one arm while furiously writing with the other. The rent sure is the right price but the ambience, especially in winter, leaves so much to be desired. The single pane 14 foot windows, invariably surrounded by trees and vines, perpetually keeps out the sun. This Darkness(TM) always keeping a permanent dampness and murkiness that continues to be so hard to escape. In this frenzy and others like it in the past, I often find myself attempting to crawl under the covers and endeavor to hibernate like a bear until springtime (most often late spring).
My eyelids start to dip and sag and before I know it my right hand slaps the side of my face. Feeling anything is an insurmountable feat. Prickly pins and needles constantly surging from the bottoms of my pinky toes through my central nervous system and out to my pinky fingers. Even with multiple layers it feels as though there is an ever expanding hole perched at the vertex of my skull, turning my brain to mush with the swift sharp stampeding rapiers of wind. How in the world is there possibly this much wind inside a locked apartment? If only I could get rid of the persistent firey dry ice that moves at a snail's pace through my veins. This ooze being pumped around by my four-chambered muscle filled to the brim with bundles and branches. How much longer do I realistically have before the sludge with switchblades poking out of every direction becomes too much and the whole thing just ceases to work as one again?
What brought me to the Green Windows workshops?
For the most part, it was a desire to resuscitate my long-dormant creative writer identity. My partner Karen has been attending, and as she’s always liked the all-too-infrequent poems and prose I wrote for her, she thought that this workshop might be a good fit for me. As it turned out, she was absolutely correct.
The supportive atmosphere is a shining contrast to a creative writing class I once took back in college. I admit then when I took the class at age 20, I was hardly rife with real-world experiences, and I ultimately felt that my creative flow was stifled by a lack of good subject material and a middling imagination. Nevertheless, the stories I read to the class inevitably resulted in negative reactions from my classmates. My literary soul melted before their no-holds-barred approach to criticism disguised as critique.
The teacher was not much more supportive, spending most of her analyses discussing what did not work in my stories than what did – if anything. She happened to be a published novelist. One day, I obtained a copy of one of her novels. I have a vivid memory of settling down on my dormitory bed and opening her book with great anticipation. I couldn’t even finish it. The prose was clumsy, the characters shallow and underdeveloped, the dialogue stilted and dull. One-third of the way in, I had had enough and tossed it aside permanently. How, I asked myself, could any publisher even touch that manuscript without wearing rubber gloves?
But perhaps my standards were too high. During that same semester, I was enrolled in a class devoted to the 20th Century American novel. I was reading Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce Carol Oates, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow… Was I spoiled? No. Did my teacher’s book just seem poor at a time I was reading one literary giant after another every day? I’d have to say yes. Comparatively or not, sometimes bad writing is just bad writing.
Unfortunately, her class killed my desire to continue to develop as a writer. This is why I thank God for Green Windows. This is the place to go for writers trying to figure things out and expanding their creative frontiers. I'm grateful to everyone involved in making Green Windows happen.
The piece, below, was written in a Green Windows workshop, inspired by a piece of music.
by Chris Folger
A stag bows behind his front leg, then rises, stretching himself toward the clouds. He takes several steps in the direction of the rocky brook, his legs caressing the forest floor in beatific syncopation. His eyes shine with the intelligence of the cosmos. He is Nature’s highest form of evolution.
His stride seamlessly flows into a graceful gait; pebbles kick up out of his way with all due deference and gratitude. His head darts in multiple directions, keenly spying on his world; his instincts ever on the alert for the unexpected.
He arrives at the brook. He leans down toward the drink, then stops. Is he gazing at his reflection, as much in awe of his majesty as are all other creatures? Even the reeds piercing the surface of the water bend in his direction. Are they begging him to do them the honor of feasting on them?
Now he touches his lips to the brook and begins to drink. The reeds curl away, rejected. His antlers, spiraling high from his brow, scrape tracks in the water, as if they too are thirsty.
The stag rises, satisfied. He turns and sees his mate. She approaches and they touch shoulders. They inhale the commingled fragrance of their breath
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
I have some news. You don't need any more news today, especially non-joyous news. This is a moment that will be a reference point in our lives: before COVID-19 and after COVID-19. I hope you and yours are well, home, and safe. This is a moment when we are reaching out to each other. I was given roses at the grocery store today. It is also a moment to reach in. I hope you have moments of quiet and moments of creativity. I hope you are writing (drawing, dancing, singing...) so that this moment in time is as much as possible a time of growth and centering.
Two months ago, I made the decision to retire Green Windows later this year, after twelve years of incredible work. I've taken some time to have conversations and make some decisions, and can now make it public. (I didn’t call everyone I wanted to. I’m sorry if I didn’t get to you!) My timing is bad. I apologize. I like the word “retire.” After years of good work, Green Windows is not going away: it will stop working professionally, but its spirit and work can continue. Partly because they exist with you.
Thank you. Thank you for all your words: all the words you braved onto the page and all the words you found to tell other writers what you loved about their writing. Thank you for the community you created, with your openness, your belief in each other, your trust in your authentic self and your fidelity to creativity. Watching our community grow was a privilege. I have been deeply pleased to give you the space to create it.
We have done 125 monthly workshops! Many, many 4th Sundays, especially in the moments my life was hard, I spent the afternoon wondering how I would have the needed energy for the workshop that night. I wondered why I was doing this. Without fail, the very first lines of the very first piece of writing that was shared impressed, settled, warmed and inspired me so that I recalled, again, Oh, oh yeah, of course, this is why I’m doing this. Thank you.
Two years ago when my finances became more challenging, I had to ask Green Windows to pay more of its share of my livelihood. I had a clear choice: either Green Windows grew into something sustainable that could help me live in the Bay Area, or I’d have to close its doors (its shutters?). I gave it a last go, with a lot of help, especially from Yesenia Sanchez and Catherine Mencher, but also from everyone who donated money and/or showed up to a fundraiser. Thank you. We did this cool impact survey that enabled us to show others what we already knew: that Green Windows grows artists and develops cross-cultural community. And we met our financial goal for 2019! But that goal was just a step toward sustainability and I can’t imagine doing it again, much less ramping it up to be able to meet the next step’s goal.
I love the workshops. I love being in that space. I love the writing and the constant reminder of the brilliance of individuals when they are encouraged to be themselves. But I do not love all the work that has to happen to get folks in that space and to pay for it. Furthermore, I do not believe in the current (just pre-COVID-19) climate that it is possible to do the work - the work in the space plus the work to get in that space - part-time. I’m tired of the hustle. For these reasons, I need to retire Green Windows. But also, frankly, it’s time. Twelve years is a long time to do anything. I'm very, very proud of what we’ve done together for a dozen years. Proud of you. Grateful. And I’m ready for the next thing, though I don’t know what that is. (First order of business: get a full-time job).
And you all don’t need me. Or Green Windows. Your brilliant selves are still your brilliant selves. You can carry the spirit of community and creativity that we built with you, into everything you do. And I want to know how you will do that. Please let me know (in a comment on this post, ideally) what Green Windows and its community have given you that you will always have. Please let me know how you will carry it forward and share it.
Here is my plan, very much subject to fluctuations as we shelter-in-place and have to go through extreme measures to keep each other safe.
[Read May 20th update on the plan here.]
THANK YOU! All your words have always been welcome in Green Windows workshops. Your words remain welcome, and important, even just on the page, or just shared with one person. Please remember that I believe in you and your words. Trust yourselves: The page knows that with that trust, you can’t write wrong.
Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you for sharing.
I haven’t been writing consistently for months like I always plan to. Throughout the constant bustle of things to be done, things that didn’t get done, the things I want do, I often think about all the writing time I’ve “lost,” all the poems that never happened. This makes me feel bad, like a bad writer or someone who doesn’t care about what they claim to be their truest passion, or hobby. I constantly worry that in the time in-between, my writing flow will be difficult to revisit, that I’ll be “rusty” once I come back to it, or I’ll just have trouble writing anything at all.
However, the last few years have served as great testament to something someone shared with me once before: When you experience your life fully and grow on a personal level, that will translate to the work. This has become truer over time, and I’m so thankful to have had Green Windows as the space to begin some of my most exciting work to-date.
Here is a poem I wrote in the February Uniquely Yours workshop. I hope you enjoy it.
by Steph Yun
I know the distinct ring of a wrench falling to concrete,
the exasperated sighs of a man whose calloused
blistered bruised hands
heal slower with age; they’re clenched in a fist
around a cigarette
15 hours away from here
I don’t know how to speak of the dead who hurt me
and my family.
do they visit me my humble bowl of water each night, too?
My father isn’t a man of faith or prayer but now
I know that all these years
he’s burned tobacco smoke in the urn of his lungs
in reverence of his own father, halabugi
a joyous man with a penchant for peanuts, soy sauce
and pepper paste
When my body decomposes
I hope to first become first rain
and the air on the dirt and
When I become flower,
I hope water tastes as good
as I’ve always remembered
and when I bloom
I hope creatures find my sight nourishing.
if they choose to consume me
may it be just as well
If I become water, may it be well
let the mouths who sip from me taste the brick and stillness
and cast their dreams somewhere uplifting
In no one’s name, I pray.
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.
Read more from the survey in this blog post.
(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.
In September, we asked Green Windows participants to respond to a survey to gauge the impact of our work since we began Green Windows in 2008.
The respondents exemplified the diversity of participants in our workshops:
70% of respondents participated in more than 10 workshops, with 39% attending between 11 and 50 and 31% attending more than 50.
Here's what we learned from them: