Some of the greatest gifts in my world are my students. I almost always fall in love with them the moment I meet them, and they often stay in my life long after their time in my classes comes to an end.
Beginning writers are fragile creatures. They are like baby birds learning to fly. I love working with them. I love finding the kernel of genius that lives inside them and nursing it until it sprouts.
I remember sharing parts of my heart in early writing classes and having them crushed. I still cringe to think of a girl who went on and on about how terrible and unreadable my work was, throwing it down in disgust at the end of her tirade. The teacher sat by and nodded his assent to her assault. I almost never wrote again.
I never want to replicate that experience in my students’ lives. Most student writing isn’t publishable, but that doesn’t mean it’s not precious. Great writing comes with time, but people stop writing if you crush them. I often say I want my students to learn to write well, but I need them to learn that they are loved.
Anyone who’s ever taken one of my classes knows that somehow, they always end up being about people’s hearts as much as they are about art. My students at Estrella Mountain College used to jokingly call my classes “Tawni’s unofficial group therapy sessions.” I didn’t mean for this to happen, but so many times, people show you their hearts when they write. It is my impulse to respond to that gift of honesty by honoring it and protecting it.
I obviously taught my students as much as I could about the craft of writing, but I tried to do it in a way that was careful with the pieces of their hearts they were baring in my classes. I hate it when art is used as an excuse to elevate artist/teacher over audience/students. I hate when art classes become viscous and competitive. Isn’t art supposed to be joyful? Isn’t it supposed to give way to freedom? Isn’t it supposed to help people to tap into their truths and express them in a way that is meaningful to others, thereby creating a connection between human beings? So often I feel like my students teach me more than I teach them. I want to be open to what they teach instead of shutting down their innate wisdom.
Working for the Elizabeth Ayres Center for Creative Writing has enabled me to do this purposefully. I’m often amazed at the way my Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self online classes seem to magically fill with like-minded people. Sometimes, I’ll have a group of people who are all recovering from childhood abuse. Sometimes, I’ll have a group of people who have just left bad relationships. This is never on purpose. Random people just sign up for the class, and then, during the first week, I find out what they want to explore during the class.
This time, many of my students are cancer survivors, or are recovering from the death of a loved one from cancer. It’s amazing to me the way this magic happens again and again, and I always feel honored when the themes emerge because it feels like something larger than me is guiding the classes.
Last night, my dear friend Martine told me she could see me being an art therapist. I’m obviously not a licensed therapist, but I do feel like I already am blessed enough to be able to use art to heal people’s hearts in at least a small way. My boss tells me that my Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self classes draw the most students, and get the most positive feedback, of any of the courses that she offers.
And now, we are talking about starting to offer in-person Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self retreats. This is so thrilling to me. A few years ago, I couldn’t imagine being able to make a living doing only things I love, but now, somehow, the universe has made a way for me to live a life based on some of my heart’s greatest passions–travel, spirituality, writing, and healing people’s hearts.
That makes me feel very lucky, punk.
P.S. I always show this video on the first day of the classes I teach, Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self or otherwise, because my first goal is to make my students feel safe enough to explore and speak their truths. Come on up to the house.
P.S.S. Jeremiah Stone (https://www.facebook.com/TheJeremiahStone/?fref=ts) singing his song inspired by Beauty of the Broken. It’s called “Handful of Dust,” which was the novel’s original title. The chorus goes, “Fear makes us brave. Brave makes us free. Light begets dark. Dark helps me see.” Can you see why I say my students teach me more than I teach them?
P.S.S.S. If you’re interested in taking a class with me, here are some options. ❤
In addition to Writing to Reclaim Your Sacred Self, which is almost always in session, I’m teaching a bunch of classes at various universities this summer. The info below was lifted from my Facebook page:
East Coast home slices, come learn with me this summer! (You know why I called you home slices? Because I’m hip with the jive. Totally. Ok, I’m not. I wasn’t even hip with the jive when it was hip to be hip with the jive.)
After I return from France, where I will be devoting several months to editing my novel, The Long Ride Home, (to be released by Sourcebooks Fire in 2017), I’m going to be doing a series of workshops on the East Coast. If you’d like to learn about writing from a reasonably intelligent writer who falls down a lot and almost always has some kind of food on her lapel, here are some options.
Rosemont Writer’s Retreat June 17-24 (I will be serving as the writer in residence/manuscript consultant. I will also be reading at some point during the retreat if the ghosts in the haunted mansion don’t eat me first–details to come. The workshop can be taken for graduate credit.)
Lehigh University July 10-July 23 (I will be teaching a multi-genre college prep course. It’s a wonderful opportunity for teens to take a college level writing workshop and have tons of fun!)
Western Connecticut State University, First Week of August
(I will be teaching a master class that will unfortunately only be open to MFA students at the university. However, I will be reading on August 2, and the event will be open to the public. I’d be willing to bet there will be cheese involved. I’d also be willing to bet I will be wearing a nice spread of brie on my lapel before the night is done.)