I waited eight plus months to participate in Tom Jenks Writing Workshop. Admittedly nervous, I had put too much weight and expectation on a four day experience, wrestling with my own strategy and decision making skills. Wondering if a new job was what I should have been pursuing over this random workshop that cost money. Then I found myself there in midtown Manhattan sitting amongst a small group of writers with Tom Jenks at the head. The internal questioning quieted. I was elated to be in front of brilliant creatives discussing character motivations, intersecting plot lines, imagery and craft. A delicious moment of arrival.
We submitted two 20 page selections; one for the entire workshop to read and one only for Tom’s review. The mornings were spent workshopping each other’s stories and in the afternoons we listened to Tom lecture on published works he assigned. After class on Thursday, the first day, I stayed behind to have my one-on-one session with Tom. The chapters selected were the ones I felt most torn by, exposing my most vulnerable bits. Our meeting went better than I anticipated, and although I choked up at one point, there was no tear shed. Tom gave me some helpful pointers, called me an astute reader and told me, while gently squeezing my arm, that he was very happy to have me here. When I left him on the corner of 39th and Park, I knew I had just been in the audience of a genuine and compassionate master.
On Sunday, the last day, it was my turn to workshop with the group. In this selection, I included the first eight pages, a key middle chapter entitled Heart Song and the last eight pages of my novel. I read Heart Song aloud and had to be silent as the group discussed my piece. People had a lot to say offering their feedback freely and expertly while I gratefully scribbled away notes. At the end, Tom asked me to speak and give more background to the larger scope of my piece. I started to tell the group about my experience in Dr. Dunning’s Theories of Religion class by way of explaining my point of view and plot structure, but about halfway through something unexpectedly unearthed inside of me. Almost like a strong, powerful wind that comes out of nowhere, unrelenting in its pursuit of destruction. The teardrops flowed out of me, one after the other, while the energy of the entire group dropped. Of course, I wanted to run, to hide, to be zapped somewhere far away, but of course that was not an option. At lunch, the tears resurfaced, and I struggled to find the strength just to go back to the workshop, just to look the others back in the eye. In my despair I texted Tuck, yes Tuck from my Fringe performance, and he replied with the spiritual food needed to reenter that room. But alas, the fact remains, I cried on the damn table.
And no, there is no romantic future brewing between Tuck and I, just gratitude for the beautiful assist.
In other news, sharing some of my takeaway shorthand notes:
- “Movement is Mastery” – a TJ quote focusing on the flow of CRA (Conflict: Action: Resolution).
- TJ said as a writer you must choose your masters. I’m choosing Virginia Woolf and James Baldwin for the time being.
Actionable Next Steps:
- Apply for Narrative Poetry contest (7.20 deadline)
- Accept TJ Challenge to reduce Heart Song to one dramatically purposeful paragraph.
A Warrior Princess