I got to spend the whole week writing.
From where I sit now – surrounded by piles of laundry and dirty dishes, worrying about work emails and tomorrow’s to-do list, planning meals and errands and playdates – last week already seems a year ago and a world away.
I’m left with lingering memories of my time at the workshop: an annoying tendency to analyze every phrase I write (what a lovely suspended sentence! what a charming balanced series!), a head bursting with stories I need to share, and a heart brimming with gratitude for the writers with whom I was graced to spend six days.
We laughed, we cried. We cradled each other’s sacred stories and pushed one another to go deeper into truth. And by the end of a long week, with little sleep and lots of caffeine, plenty of swearing but even more praying, we each agreed that we had been changed.
But how exactly? As writers? As people of faith? As something more?
For the past few days, as I’ve reacclimated to a life weighted heavier on mothering than writing, as I’ve dived back into the daily swirling mix of my vocations, I’ve been wondering what I could say about the week, what I could convey about this transformative experience – without sounding trite or falling flat.
Ironically, my inability to crystallize my impressions about the writing workshop has helped me make sense of a completely unrelated phenomenon: the birth story.
Sprinkled through endless blogs, splashed across pregnancy magazines, shared and reshared at moms’ groups and baby classes, the birth story has become a genre of its own. But a strange genre – a narrative that swerves wildly between lengthy clinical descriptions of labor’s stages and euphoric elations of how absolutely amazing, beautiful, and life-changing childbirth can be. Part boring medical textbook, part born-again testimony.
As someone who loves story, celebrates the act of claiming one’s voice, and wonders at the marvel of birth, I should be interested by birth stories. But I have to confess that I usually find them painfully, ploddingly boring. Even the tales that dance the edge of danger, even the feats of endurance through searing pain.
I could never understand why my eyes glaze over when I read them, why my interest wanes halfway through a friend’s passionate storytelling, why I never bothered to write the story of my own boys’ births, even when I love to write about so much of their early years.
Until I realized why I couldn’t write about the workshop either.
Because the truth about Life-Changing Experiences is that they are impossible to express in the immediate aftermath. Even when their power compels us to share, we can’t make sense of the experience when we’re too close to situate it within a larger context.
Ironically, it’s the timing of birth stories that traps them from becoming powerful narratives of transformation: new mothers want to capture all the details before they forget, but they’re too overwhelmed by the newness (and the hormones and the lack of sleep) to grasp the totality.
It’s why women seize upon centimeters of dialation or hours of progress through labor as landmarks of their story, even though inches and minutes fail to describe the transformation that takes place. It’s why tracking my progress as a writer through lessons on sentences and style falls short of expressing how I was shaped by the deeper relational experience of being in community with such a quirky, passionate, committed group of writers.
Words fall short.
I’m like the weary, wonder-struck new mother who wants to tell you how her world has shifted but can’t convey the depth of the transformation. Even though I know something significant has taken place, I can’t yet see the scope of how I (the writer) or my baby (the writing) or the world around me (the audience) has changed.
I jot down fleeting impressions, share snippets in conversation, promise myself I’ll sit down and let the words pour forth before their immediacy passes. But I can’t capture it completely. I need plenty of time and space to sort out how this shaped me, who I am becoming.
To say nothing of making sense of the beautiful, terrifying new life – its promise and its responsibility – that is emerging.