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Post-Humber Summer Workshop: Culture Shock & The Gift of Reflection

One week ago, I was gathering around a table with my fellow classmates and teacher in the ‘E’ building on the Humber College Lakeshore campus for our final workshop. Time is doing that thing it does – you know, playing with your mind? Tricking you into feeling like weeks have gone by instead of only one…and that one just barely. I will never understand how easily it is for me to slide back into life after a life-changing event has occurred. Yesterday evening as I wrapped myself in the domestic duties of ‘family’ (namely, doing dishes and folding laundry), I quickly realized that part of this slipping back into is a funny type of procrastination. It’s a trap we can fall into that tricky Time sets up for us to be captured by. Once in the trap, we tell ourselves too much time has past and we’re too busy to reflect on all that we worked so hard to achieve during said life-changing experience.

Well, I say no, thank you Time. I got this. I want this reflection. I need this reflection. My writing and my dedication to the words needs this reflection. So here it goes.

The last day was a whirlwind. We had our final workshop and it was very emotional. I felt like a straight jacket was thrown over me and my chest felt tight. I was a little scared. (Funny that I thought of a straight jacket for this analogy. The Humber campus used to be an asylum of sorts…ghosts are rumoured to haunt the underground tunnels, and empty hallways of the red brick buildings.) The workshop is six days. That’s a very small amount of time in the grand scheme of life, but because the days are packed and the work we’re all doing is so intimate and challenging, it feels like Time spreads out so we can fill it in more.

Workshops were every morning from 9:30am to 12:30pm – sometimes longer if you had a meeting with your teacher or if you worked through lunch. The afternoons were packed with panels and talks from industry professionals. We also had a student reading where 30 folks read, some of them for the first time, which was really exciting to be a part of. I read some poetry. It had been a long time since I did any reading so I was pretty nervous. It felt good to be up there though. Especially in such a supportive room.

Most days, after the workshops and panels, we finished between 5pm – 6pm. Then it was time for dinner. It was different not having a kitchen to cook in…and not having to worry about feeding anyone but myself! I loved not doing any dishes! Golly! But my body was a little confused with all the different meals, and by Wednesday my guts were a bit upset. Nothing an Imodium couldn’t handle (TMI?). Certainly by Wednesday, I felt like I was at camp for grown-ups. Especially because I was sharing a dorm suite, and doing my work in the ‘student lounge’ where the WiFi was. I spent hours on a faux leather two-seater sofa with my legs stretched out and my laptop on my lap. Yes, I was wearing my pyjamas!

I also had many, many conversations with other writers. Conversations in food lines. Conversations in hallways. Conversations in the bathroom. Conversations on elevators. These added a layer of intensity to the course. We were writers – all the time. Which was uncommon for most of us. It was especially important though – as I believe this was one of the major points of this week. To indulge in each other. To learn from each other. To question and challenge each other. To laugh with each other. To be writers as fully and completely as we could possibly gift ourselves to be. At least, that’s how it was for me. A complete immersion.

Yes, I felt awestruck being around some of the writers, and I was shy to ask them to sign their books for me. But, on the other hand, I mustered the guts to talk to some of the industry people, which felt like an important step. The thing is: we’re all people with different jobs who need each other for our jobs to exist. I had to keep telling myself that. Reminding myself that one role/job is not better or more important. What I loved the most was when the writers/panelists got truthful and transparent about the industry and how/why/where they fit in. I think we all want to ‘fit in’, to make our marks on readers by getting our books published so people (lots of) can read them. There were stories that were head-hanging hard to hear, and there were stories that were chin-lifting hopeful. Much of the ride of this workshop was up and down. Hopeful then intimidating. Exciting then depleting. Alas, I think we all came out of it with our heads held high.

It was sad saying goodbye. We weren’t just saying goodbye to the friends we’d made (some for life, I hope!), but to the week itself. To the space and possibilities. To the parallel universe we created for ourselves where we were writers first.

I was able to spend my last night at a dear friend’s house. She took me for a walk along the lake.

Looking out at the lake made me feel small, but not insignificant. The serenity of the calm water flowing gently into the shore reminded me to bring that feeling into my body as I transitioned away from this week of learning and writing. Perspective and reflection was needed.

My friend’s hubby read us John Waters’ commencement speech ‘Make Trouble’ (in book form) after breakfast.

It really was the perfect take-away for the outstanding week I had. It was honest and clever, powerful and daring, and very, very funny. I recommend this book to everyone – for a great laugh and an important life lessons from a life-long trouble maker. This speech perfectly solidified one major lesson I learned during the workshop: break the rules, play with form, think beyond your comfort zone.

I took a train home to Windsor from Oakville on Saturday afternoon. As soon as my body hit the chair, exhaustion poured over me like a blanket. I couldn’t write in my journal or on the computer until I had a nap. I read a bit. I sighed heavily too many times to count. I started a short story for a writing contest…but lost steam after about 20 minutes of writing. My reality was shifting and I had to prepare mentally and physically.

I arrived home around 5:30pm, and dropped my bags and books in a heap. After hugs and kisses, there were bags to unpack then pack again, groceries to be purchased, and laundry to start. Just. Like. That. The extreme switch in brain use, actions and work changed.

The Culture Shock of Coming Home & the Gift of Reflection

It was hard on my heart and brain to shift from thinking about writing every day to thinking about everything else that happens in a day. I missed my family when I was away, but I never felt lonely. I always felt filled up and supported – like I feel when I’m home. At Humber, we gathered in special, creative, vulnerable, challenging yet supportive spaces that we agreed as group we would creating. We were responsible for our work and the work we chose to do with our classmates. It was camp and school and play all wrapped into a parallel universe.

I was grateful for the uninterrupted-ness of each day. I was grateful for a break in domestic duties. I was grateful for the people and the conversations. I was grateful for realizing that YES – I’m going to write this story from my heart in a way that pushes what I know about form and rules. I was inspired every day to write. Typically, inspiration isn’t a part of the process in such a consistent way. When one fits writing into the smalls of the day, one can’t wait for inspiration to motivate the work. But at Humber, inspiration was constant, and the writing came first. I fit the eating and sleeping into the smalls of the day. And thus, the culture of my writing life was changed.

Yes, it was just six days. But six days is enough to motivate for many, many days to come. It was just six days, but so much happened in those six days – big things – that it truly felt like a major event in my writing life.

So what is one to do when she returns ‘home’? To the people and places she loves, to the dogs and the dishes and the daily culture of being a writer in a busy life?

Sleep. I sleep a lot. Trying to ease my body back into the system of home-life. I read a lot; a book by my teacher Kyo Maclear…to be near her still, wrapped in her words and wisdom. The people in my group have been emailing and we started an on-line chatroom-esque place for us to communicate and stay connected with updates on our writing lives. We are doing our best to stay accountable with each other.

I am being gentle on my brain that wants to always be writing. I’m writing in my journal and getting out my thoughts on shifting back into real life (!). I’m using the notebook I filled at Humber with information and quotes and ideas as a beacon of constant inspiration. I open her up and there is the week laid out for me. There are the ideas and the motivational quotes.

“…when we are anxious…we become less generous…”

“bumping against narrations we already know…”

“explore the edge of safety…:

“the weight of words landing differently…”

“allowing your dream brain to exist in the background…”

Reflection must happen after your week at Humber School for Writers Summer Workshop. Because when you’re there, what you’re learning is landing on you like fat rain. It takes time away for it to soak in. But you have to let it soak in. You have to talk about it with the writers in your home life. You have to keep the connections with your classmates, and especially with your work. Because really, the power of what you learned at the workshop finds its strength in taking-it-home. It grows the more you talk about it and the more you put what you’ve learned into practice. It becomes a part of your writing practice when you continue to write every day.

I started sketching during my week at Humber. I’m not a visual artist by any means. In fact, I’ve always felt silly drawing…and frustrated with my lack of ability. But that shifted during the workshop. Something opened up in my brain and told me ‘it’s okay to draw how you draw – just draw if that’s what you need to do’. So I’m doing that. And it’s feeling really good and really necessary.

It was twenty years ago when I was walking the halls of the English department at the University of Windsor that I first learned about the Humber School for Writers. Something deep inside me told me to remember to apply to the summer workshop. Over the years, friends got accepted, friends were teachers…and the want to attend stayed flickering. This year, I knew it was time to apply. I did. And I got accepted. I went and that gentle flicker for writing turned into a brilliant show of fireworks.

Thank you Kyo. Thank you friends (classmates, teachers). Thank you Humber School for Writers. We did it!

Here’s a link to photos taken during the week. (Thank you Marco and team for the excellent tech support!)

One day, I’ll be a teacher for this workshop. It’s a goal. 🙂

3 thoughts on “Post-Humber Summer Workshop: Culture Shock & The Gift of Reflection

  1. Vanessa, your post is an astonishingly apt and gorgeous description of the week at Humber. I can’t imagine anyone saying it better. Thank you! ❤


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