A Workshop

Grimod de La Reynière (I’ll get to him!)

Last week I attended a writing workshop for the first time.

The workshop is sponsored by the hospice program that helped my mother (and me!) when she was dying. Its basic purpose is to help people deal with bereavement through the writing process.

I already write about my bereavement (and just about everything else in my life) pretty regularly. Nevertheless, when the hospice people called and asked whether I’d like to attend I said yes. I had never participated in a writing workshop before, and I can always use a little feedback!

The workshop wasn’t quite what I expected since we don’t bring samples of writing from home to read. We just write in place, prompted by various cues from our group leader. We then read our writings aloud. If we don’t feel like reading, we don’t have to. So far everyone has felt like reading.

I wish I could tell you about the leader—and about my fellow workshop participants! Unfortunately, the whole thing is confidential. I can share some general impressions—and I’m sure as time goes by I’ll be sharing more of the essays I write.

Based on last week’s initial offering, I can say that I’m a bit different from the other participants—and not just because I’m a professional writer. The other group members expressed their grief in a manner that contrasted with my mode of writing.

Like me, most of them are dealing with the loss of parents. A couple have lost siblings, and one has lost a close friend. In general, their writings relayed their feelings in a way that made their sorrow sound more overt, more raw, than mine.

As we read our essays I felt a little phony somehow, a little less than authentic in my grief. I knew this was silly. I certainly miss my mother and mourn her death. And grieving isn’t a competition. I felt that way nevertheless.

Instead of dealing straightforwardly with death and loss as the other essays did, my writings skirted around those topics. They wove in a little philosophy, a few anecdotes, some threads of conversation, and even a joke or two.

I was reassured over the weekend as I dipped into a book called The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food. Author Adam Gopnik included the following sentences in an essay about two turn-of-the-century (the 19th century, that is!) French food writers.

“We have often heard these days about the difference between sincerity (saying what you truly think) and authenticity (being who you really are). There is as big a difference, though, between being sincere and being in earnest.”

His point was that the people of whom he wrote were absolutely sincere, and really quite authentic, in their writing about food. They were seldom in earnest, however.

They toyed with their words and their concepts. They laughed at their subject matter even as they expressed passion for it. They were simultaneously serious and playful.

Gopnik believes that all food writing stems from these two writers, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin and Alexandre Balthazar Laurent Grimod de La Reynière.

Perhaps I’ve been writing about food for too long. Perhaps I’m really French. All I can say is that I identified with the spirit Gopnik described in Brillat-Savarin and Grimod de La Reynière.

In writing about anything—including and perhaps especially bereavement—I almost always combine the playful and the serious, the sincere and the humorous.

I do occasionally feel a little out of place, and I’ll probably continue to do so all my life. Nevertheless, after some reflection I realize that I am ultimately comfortable with my writerly voice. It suits my personality. And it suits my view of life. I see our earthly existence as theater, rich in emotion but also rich in spectacle and humor.

The bereavement group wrote three separate essays last week, one that took about ten minutes, another that took 20, and a third that took less than five. Here is my third, very short essay.

A Place on a Map (an assigned topic)

My grandmother’s infinitely stretchable Victorian house in Rutland, Vermont, still exists on Route 7 and could probably be viewed on Google Maps … if I knew how to use Google Maps and if I had truly high-speed internet service.

I don’t need to see it as it is now. I can close my eyes and remember what it was like for me as a child, smelling beguilingly of stewed rhubarb and decaying books.

And can I recall my mother’s vivid memories of it in HER childhood—her Eden; her Disneyland; her evergreen, always safe home.

My grandmother’s house in February 1937.


7 comments on “A Workshop

  1. Linda Petersen says:

    Hello Tinky, I completely agree with your view! I find things in life to be quite “silly” most of the time. My mom has been gone two years now & I have moments of sadness~~~but my sister & I seem to be talking & laughing about mom & the fun we had more often than not. It’s been that way from the first. I love to read your blogs & the essay from the workshop is lovely.

  2. BumbleVee says:

    hey Tinky…..

    ‘none of us is the same it seems…. and then there is me’. That’s how I put it nowadays. I seem totally out of sync with the rest of humanity most days. However, I still like me. Mostly I like me better. As a matter of fact..I usually say… it is everybody else that is out of touch..hahha…. hey, just a minute I know what it is …I AM French! Well, half French anyway……

    Anyway…. my sister and I always use humour to get us through..have since we were little kids dealing with a violent drunk for a father. Our Mom was our rock and we used humour to make her laugh in spite of our horrible situation It was pretty awful and we were lucky to survive physically never mind mentally. All 4 of us still became productive citizens… amazing compared to most (…I’m groping for the word, because we never used it nor even knew it’s meaning… okay..finally remembered what it is) …dysfunctional, that’s it…. families. Yep, we certainly were that family…but, didn’t even realize it. We just knew we lived a crappy life compared to most kids not on our block… our block was full of several drunks and weirdos it seems. Our Dad was working on ruining his second family..he had 4 other children…all quite strange. They didn’t make it. One died at 37…. the others are still ticking on… with all kinds of mental problems and eating disorders etc…. he killed them off.

    Now that he’s been gone for years and can’t hurt us anymore…we can laugh about lots of the situations… and do…regularly when we get together……. and her husband gets mad at us. Calls us stupid to laugh or make fun of it…I think it is totally cathartic for us. He saw a lot of it when we were teens and even was injured by dear ol’ Dad…so he doesn’t think it funny at all. I’m glad that we are able to inject some humour or anecdotal fun into what was a horrible and dangerous situation for us all… we all have injuries and scars to show and compare and brag about…. and our stories shock most people… but, we just carry on.
    I refuse to be weighed down by my past…. I always say I don’t have baggage… I just have a huge bag of experience from which to draw any time I need to do so. I reach back for what I want and just ignore the other stuff. I know it’s there, but who needs to dwell on it really? I suppose some therapists …(and plenty of people who think they are) would disagree. But, as you say…we all deal with stress, grieving and loss in a different manner and why wouldn’t we? We are all so totally different as human beings. Thank goodness!

  3. BumbleVee says:

    yikes I wrote a novella….. sorry…. hahah…no I’m not! I needed that many words to tell you what I needed to tell you.

  4. vcello7 says:

    Tinky, I really enjoy your approach to things in general. My Mom has now been gone for almost 19 years, and I miss her terribly. Perhaps it is harder being an only child. However, she is not constantly in my thoughts these days, although I do cry sometimes.

    I saw this cool graphic on-line last month and thought you might appreciate it too. The letters were superimposed on a keyboard, looking more effective that way. Nevertheless, the idea is significant:

    Do not say (write) anything without asking myself
    T is it true?
    H is it helpful?
    I is it interesting?
    N is it needed?
    K is it kind?
    = think!

    Fond greetings, and I trust your day is going well.
    With love,
    ~Eleanor <

  5. Judith A. Christian says:

    I’m with you. Writing is a creative act, so don’t count on me to tell the “truth,” unless I am working as a reporter, a journalist. Writing is an act of imagination. It is always an approximation, an attempt to say what is essentially unsayable, and it is a transformative act. Who can say the pain of grief? What words are adequate? None. Stick with your own voice. It’s beautiful because it’s the one and only, it’s yours.

  6. Doris Matthews says:

    Tinky, that’s what makes you, YOU-your voice! We all have one-so uniquely ours. I enjoy the way you write (your voice). Keep on keepin’ on! Doris

    • tinkyweisblat says:

      Linda, it’s great to hear from someone else who sees the silliness in it all!

      Vee, thanks for sharing your story. I admire your attitude and fortitude.

      Eleanor, I will try to use that acrostic in my own life and writing!

      Judy, YES SISTER!

      Doris, thank you, thank you.

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