Monday, August 10, 2009

What's in a word?

Months ago I signed up for a writing workshop at The Loft - the name of the workshop "What's in a Word? Making Our Personal Stories Matter." Two reasons drew me to take the class: a) the teacher, Laura Flynn, whom I previously had taken a 6-week course at The Loft titled "Writing of Witness" where she combines her two passions of writing along with social activism, b) the topic of the course ... The description of the course provided was: "You know that you have a personal story you want to tell. The question is how can you make your story resonant with others? How do you begin to reach beyond the personal, toward the universal? One answer is by bringing the outer world—history, culture, myth, science, etc.—to bear on your personal story. In this writing intensive two-day workshop students will draft an essay that weaves outside or researched material into memoir or personal material. We will begin by identifying a word that has deep resonance or meaning in our lives. During our first meeting students will write scenes from their lives in which the word figures prominently. Between meetings they will conduct some basic research on the meaning, origin, and history of their word, and then will work on weaving the various pieces together into an essay. During the second day of workshop we will focus on revising and shaping the essays. There will be ample time for sharing our writing and discussion along the way."

Going into the class, I thought my word was going to be "roots", thinking I would explore what home really means to me, my cultural heritage, how being raised Catholic by a Filipina mom impacted me, while growing up in a Buddhist country, etc, etc.. There have been some very difficult painful memories in my childhood -- many of which I have tried to bury. As I participated in the class, I realized that this was my opportunity to not only share my story, but to put on paper, a secret I have carried for so long ... being sexually molested at the age of nine by a deacon in the Catholic church. This was a secret I finally revealed to my finally before my father's 40th death anniversary this past December. A secret that has set me free. The word I chose for my essay was Rosary. Three scenes made up my essay: a) the afternoon my father died and the cross of the rosary falls to the hospital floor, b) the abuse and betrayal of a trusted family friend, masked behind a cassock and a rosary, c) my conversation with my mom on my last trip to the Philippines this past June.

My story is one shared by many. I learned that in class on Saturday as so many of my classmates approached me and shared very personal stories. I learned how wounds from our childhood don't just disappear - they remain with us until we are willing to face them. I learned in this class how to utilize one word, the rosary, research the meaning and origin of the word and weave it into the threads of my own life and make it more universal. One classmate even asked me to consider publishing my essay. As I continue to rework my essay, I am considering a new path that may be opening up for me.

The photo of the water lily above was taken a few weeks ago at Wilderness Resort, a cabin that my partner and I are buying into - we close on Monday, 8/24. I was mesmerized taking photos of the water lily. The water lily, or lotus, is symbolic of rebirth. Maybe that will be my next word ... my next essay ... one that explores how the word Water Lily and Lotus are a thread in my life's story.

What word resonates deeply with you?

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