In the summer of 2014 I attended a summer writing workshop at The American University of Paris located just a few blocks from Champs de Mars ~ the site of the iconic, awe inspiring Eiffel Tower. It stands strong and secure in a place, which was meant to be temporary. I had an all too familiar dread that attending this workshop was putting myself in a group of people way over my head and ability. I went to the first evening’s get together anyway, and I stayed.
On the outside everyone appeared as though they belonged. Each person mingling with another holding beautiful glasses of wine meant just for this event. The excitement of a chance to write alongside participants of whom most had already been published. Members of this workshop were connected to outside sources of writing unparalled, especially compared to the ‘shitty first draft’ of my manuscript.
I was comparing their outsides to my insides. I am normally a runner, meaning when I feet these painful emotions of fear in situations as these, all I think of is “get out of here!”That was the guidance within myself and, normally, what I did.Surely, I was the only one awkwardly trying to look at ease.I dressed like a tourist, not a writer. It felt like I had ‘novice’ as a neon sign on my forehead.
With a week long intensive workshop ahead of us, I decided that very evening, it would be best if I opted out of this workshop I had already paid for and take the loss. There was nothing, here in Paris, worth my looking like a ‘third grade wanna be writer’.However, I stayed. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I desired that more than any one thing throughout my life and especially since my mother’s death. I wanted to get our story out. So I stayed.
There were amazing men and women at this writing workshop, most all of whom were published in books, magazines or collections of essays.The only man in our group, Martin, spoke often, throughout the week, with wry wit and wisdom. All I could see were my weaknesses as a lame writer when he spoke in smaller groups or I cafes after the classes.
Martin eventually became a good friend and mentor but when The Paris Writing Workshop was in its infancy, these international authors and writers were well above me in every way. Was this to be my time of playing pretend and catch up. Each evening, after classes, we met for long discussions in some old cafe huddled around a small table with wine and intensity. I drank water, having very little in common amongst these passionate creative people.
Going through my fears and doing what I have signed up for has given me opportunities for growth every single time. Growth sometimes outstanding at other times odd. Yet, it has been growth nonetheless. Fear keeps people stuck in lives once filled with hope. Not long after attempting something new, most people will find something that went wrong or didn’t turn out as they thought. Sometimes we stop too soon or before the new and different experience has a chance to work out.
The message I had within myself telling me I was not good enough to be in Paris was NOT stronger than I. Because I stayed in Paris I was able to learn a great deal, write in class and at wonderful spots around Paris after class. I sat on the banks of the Seine with others basking in the sun. I wrote whatever came to mind.
Once back in Pittsburgh I was discouraged because I had not figured out an ending to my manuscript as I had hoped. Within a week of not paying attention to any writing at all I woke up one morning and my magnificent ending came to me. All because I stayed in Paris and took in every sight and sound, everything everyone had to offer, I had learned what I needed to about myself and was open to receive what was there for me.