ethod Writing Program in SF
October 24, 2013
Dealing with the Inner (and outer) Critic
This month I want to talk about something that everybody struggles with-the thing which is most important for creative types to overcome-silencing the inner critic.
I think that is the biggest obstacle toward creating new material. I bring this up because one of my students, "Jane," a life-long painter, was very excited to show her writing with a poet friend of hers. The poet friend, a long time writer, told her that she was too old to pick up writing as a craft and that her work was no good. Then, this so-called "friend" began discrediting the beautiful work that Jane had done over the past year and a half that she had been studying writing. She also told Jane that she herself had been working hard at being a poet for 25+ years and who did Jane think she was waltzing in and trying to write? Didn't she know that she had chosen one of the hardest things in the world to master-creating true literature? Oh please. Hold on while I say that again, P-L-Ease!
If you are a writer long enough, I'm sure you have had a similar experience with somebody, maybe even a friend or loved one, maybe even another writer, teacher, or editor, telling you that you are not a real writer or dismissing you or excluding you in some horrible little way. Don't let it get you down. Don't let it stifle you. Don't let it silence you. It says more about them than it does about you.
Once a friend of mine invited me to her creative writing workshop where two literary agents were visiting that night. The agents asked us all to bring in the first page of our novels. They gave comments to each person in order. When it got to mine, which broke with literary convention, but was compelling, the literary agents threw a fit. They hated my piece. Not only did they hate it, but they acted like I personally offended them for throwing a few words my mother tongue, Greek, on the first page. A man turned around with a twisted face and acted like I didn't know how to write in English.
They took so much time attacking and criticizing my story, which broke the "rules" that they ran out of time to go over any other piece in the class after mine. At the end of the class, a group of people from multicultural backgrounds came up to me and gushed about how they loved my piece. One man told me that he wanted to read the rest and not to listen to the literary agents' criticisms. As I was leaving, the literary agents saw the people's interest and slipped me their card. Why was I such a lightening rod for controversy?
As an artist, sometimes you are going to piss people off. That's okay. That's part of it. But if you take risks, you will find that there are other people who might embrace you.
In my case, if I had been less experienced in my craft, I would have likely wilted under the pressure and gone and hidden under a rock. But, I learned something that takes some of the sting out of such narcissistic wounds. People who are blocked by their own inner critic often feel a strong desire to silence others who are making art from their own true voice.
Julia Cameron, a screenwriter who wrote a book called the Artist's Way calls these kind of people, "spoilers", "crazymakers," "blocked creatives" and "toxic or poisonous playmates" who are hell bent on stifling our own artistic growth.
"Not surprisingly," writes Cameron, "the most poisonous playmates for us as recovering creatives are people whose creativity is still blocked. Our recovery threatens them."
Yet, conversely, if we believe the lie, if we allow blocked creatives to attack us, then that means on some level WE ARE LETTING THEM. So next time somebody puts down the work you are doing or dismisses you, remember this and go out and do something nice for yourself. Open yourself up to change and to the deliciousness of your own making. Write anyway. Don't hide.
I think it's important to distinguish that I am not saying that you shouldn't take in and implement feedback or to ignore edits, but part of gaining mastery in your craft as a writer is developing a filter to trap the poisons and the silt of other blocked creatives that could pull you into the dark cold place of fear and self doubt. Another mark of a master craftsman is to have the courage to face down your own work and do the edits the work needs.
If you are looking for a supportive environment to join of writers in the midst of their creative process, Jack Grapes Method Writing Program--offered in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco may be for you.
San Francisco Method Writing classes are held at the Emerald Tablet three times a year. The class is based on process not product. Everything we generate within the class is new material. The class is a range of ages, disciplines and experience levels. There are absolute beginners all the way to seasoned pros. We are having a reading on November 17 at 5pm at the Emerald Tablet Art Gallery and Creativity Salon. Come check us out. Tell your angsty writer friends. We are a safe space for all things creative and an incubator for new work and process.
As artists, we need to stop surrounding ourselves with people who degrade us because deep down we may secretly believe that they could be right and that is the most crippling fear of all. Instead, dear artists, surround yourselves with people who affirm you and the first step to that is to join a community-or a new community. If your current group isn't working, if it's full of spoilers, or if it's just you and the cat and the clock ticking, it could be time to make a meaningful change.
Writer and Instructor
Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program in SF
Sweet Potato Pie
Member of Method Writing SF workshop
Poem written for the workshop set to video. By Dennis Estrada.
|Writing the City|
1. Just weeks before he is to make his first Holy Communion, he tells his mother he can't swallow the white wafer that the priest places on his tongue when he kneels at the bronze altar rail. The boy and his classmates spend many hours in church, away from the school room with its forty-five small wooden desks and waxed linoleum floors, rehearsing. All of them kneeling and standing in unison as Sister Helen sounds the wooden clicker. Click. Genuflect. Click. Click. Stand.
When the white host is placed in his mouth, his body tightens, his tongue swells, his throat contracts. For the life of his 7-year old body, he can't hold back. And he gags. He knows it is a big problem.
It is his mother who saves him.
On the Sunday of his first Holy Communion, just as they enter through the side door of the church, she pulls the boy aside, opens her purse, and shows him a stick of gum. She tells him to hurry back to the pew after Communion where she will slip it to him. He is to chew the gum until the host is gone. And that is exactly what he does.
A stick of gum and the Body of Christ. It is his little secret, and he never talks about it again to anyone.
Dark brown fingers-short and thick and stubby-turn the white knob on the black Motorola transistor radio that sits on the shelf beside the medicine cabinet. The click is audible, and a familiar voice rushes to fill the room.
Throw to second base and Mays is back in...
His father cooks and listens, while names are reported: Mays, McCovey, Marichal, Cepada. He shuffles from radio to pantry, and from pantry to cutting board, his house slippers scraping like sandpaper along the silver gray linoleum flooring. He pulls cloves of garlic from a bulb, sets them on the wooden cutting board, and strikes with the side of his cleaver.
Garlic is diced. Onions are chopped. Tomatoes are sliced.
Now the windup, and the pitch to Cepada...
His fingers command wooden handle and blade. Cleaver and hand-two entities with long-standing history. He chops staccato, creating short crisp notes, sprinkled with momentary pauses of silence, and sighs. His father cooks all day in a too-tight kitchen and then comes home and cooks some more.
3 and 1 count to McCovey. Willie checks the bat...
He is a short man with small feet, and he stands in white. A chef's coat stained with bits and pieces of the day's menu. Deep-fry oil. Marinara sauce. Au jus. A pair of stiffly starched pants dusted with a light coat of flour and marked with slivers of crabmeat and fish scales.
In the cabinet farthest away from the gas stove, he keeps a black cast-iron pan, behind a stainless-steel pot and egg skillet, and right next to a ceramic jar of Chinese snake whiskey. "Good for the appetite," he is fond of saying.
Next to the cutting board is an aluminum jar labeled "GREASE" where drippings from pork chops and steak fat and bacon reside for the time being-until Saturday morning revivals, when he slaps lard into a pan, cracks two eggs, and fries.
Flame burns high. Meat, onions, garlic, and tomatoes dance. His father cooks in white.
When it is time to feed the family, he sits at the table beside the garden window, sipping snake whiskey. The man does not eat. He is worn out, too tired from the day's long affair with garlic and onions and pots and cleaver and fire. And one too many kitchens.
A line drive to center, this could be it...
They weave their way to the church, mother and son-pilgrims along the streets of the Richmond District. Left at the Irish pub and past the Five and Dime and Russian deli; right at the bakery and beyond the penny candy shop and jewelry store. Car headlights, storefront signs, and a fading red sky to the west light the path.
It is a Friday evening during Lent and Stations of the Cross begins at six.
She climbs the concrete stairs that lead to the side entrance of the church. She is a heavy woman, and her pace is slow. Step. Rest. Step. Rest. Her cadence becomes his, slow and measured. Upon entering, she blesses herself with holy water and then reaches to his forehead. With the ball of her thumb, she traces lightly the shape of a tiny cross. He hears her:
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
He follows in the shadow of the woman as she finds her place behind the organ bench. A thin veil of smoke lingers above the sanctuary. He inhales slowly; he savors the morsels of incense that hang heavy in the air.
One Sunday morning, his mother does not feel well. So he leaves home and makes his way to the church, alone. The path is familiar to him: Irish pub to Russian deli. Traverse two crosswalks. Bakery to jewelry store.
High Mass has begun, and Mr. Wilson is on the organ. His hands float over ebony and ivory, his fingers stretching wide and contracting small, like kneading dough. His legs outstretched, stepping from one wooden pedal to the next. Hands, fingers, legs, feet, head, chest- moving here, moving there. Spastic gestures amidst graceful control of the body. The boy knows the piece, but he never learns its name.
He is in his mother's pew, seated. A bell rings. He rises. Everyone rises. A priest. Two acolytes. A crucifix held high. Musical notes pound deep, gaining entry through the young boy's ear canals and echoing through tissue and veins and blood until a singular note comes to rest in his ten-year old bones. There it remains, a low frequency. Vibrating. Resonating... Until visions of his mother arrive, unsolicited. Her large body. A small black prayerbook. A white lace veil. He is overcome with grief at her absence, and he begins to cry. He fights the urge to leave, to run back home. He wants to big a big boy, a good boy, his mother's son.
Kyrie eleison. Lord have mercy. Christe eleison. Christ have mercy. The faithful chant in unison; it is a call the boy knows by heart. And he responds.
His exit is swift. Into the aisle. Onto the crimson carpet. Through the side door. He retraces the steps back to his mother.
He knows the way.
The boy can not remember exactly when such occasions occurred:
It could have been on Tuesday evenings, when the man dropped onto the green vinyl Lazy Boy next to the Magnavox console, after coming home from working a hot fire in a kitchen where he took short orders from waitresses in white blouses, black skirts, and tired smiles;
or it could have been on Saturday nights, in an upstairs room, shades drawn, bedcovers thrown back, dim light cast, when the man sat on the very edge of a bed, too listless and spent to even ask the boy, "Who won the game?";
or it could have been on those rare Indian Summer afternoons, after the man pulled the car into the garage, and climbed the basement stairs, and fixed a highball, and sat himself down at the kitchen table beside the garden window, sipping slowly and waiting, for the next shift, when he would have to get up and drop spoonfuls of white lard and onions and egg and yesterday's left-over white rice into a fry pan on the white O'keefe & Merritt stove.
The boy cannot remember exactly when such occasions occurred:
When he would bend down at the old man's feet to untie the black laces on the black shoes, dusted in the day's flour and fish scales; when he would place his hands on the toe and heel of the man's foot, slipping off one shoe, and then the other; when he would remove one tired white sock and then two, only to uncover two too-tired feet; when he would take one bare foot, and lift it up to his own 11-year old nose, and breath in, slowly, because he wanted to know his father, distant and removed-and the smell of spatula and cleaver and skillet and hot fire, and sweat and tired, and living a life in one too many kitchens.
* * *
Please come see our class read from works-in-progress.
What: Jack Grapes Method Writing Program Fall Reading.
When: Sunday, November 17, 2013 @ 5:30 pm
Where: Emerald Tablet * Art Gallery & Creativity Salon * 80 Fresno Street * San Francisco *Free* complimentary snacks * beer and wine by donation
Local Literary Events
Here are some other readings leading up to ours that look interesting:
Wednesday at 6:00pm
Hotel Rex, San Francisco
Polina Barskova Reads New Poetry and Translations
Thursday at 7:30pm
Glass Door Gallery, San Francisco
Under the Influence * Round 8
Friday at 7:30pm
The Emerald Tablet, 80 Fresno St. San Francisco
Today's Revolutionary Women of Color Project: A Community Gathering
Galer�a de la Raza
2857 24th St, San Francisco, CA
Saturday, Symposium 1:00 - 2:15 p.m. Poetry Reading 2:30 - 4:00 p.m.
SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL Halloween Party & Open Mic
Saturday at 7
3218 Adeline Street Berkeley, California
in Berkeley, California
Hazel Reading Series: October
Sunday at 5:00pm
1564mrkt, San Francisco
James of All Trades: An Evening with James Franco
Sunday 5:45 INFORUM, a Division of the Commonwealth Club
Castro Theatre, San Francisco
BAY AREA GENERATIONS (a reading series for the ages) #2
Monday at 7pm
Berkeley City Club, Berkeley
Macabre Curios * Strange Halloween Art, Scary Stories & Curiosities | SF
Tuesday at 5:00pm
Cesar Chavez Student Center Art Gallery, SFSU, San Francsico
What is Social Justice
Saturday at 7pm
What Is Social Justice & What Is Social Injustice?
Understanding the magnitude of the problem & the struggle for a just world
Art Internationale Gallery 963 Pacific Ave San Francisco
Speakers: Jack Hirschman (Poet Laureate of San Francisco 2006-09)
Ethel Long-Scott (Women's Economic Agenda Project - WEAP)
John Curl (author of For All The People) Poets: Sarah Page, Sarah Menefee, Ayat Jalal-Bryant, Aja Couchois Duncan
Portuguese Artists Colony
Sunday at 5pm
The Make-Out Room
3225 22nd Street San Francisco
Why There Are Words Reading: "Purpose"
Friday at 7pm
Studio 333 Sausalito
Saturday at 7pm
Gender Justice & Human Trafficking
Emerald Tablet Gallery
(80 Fresno St., San Francisco)
Speakers:Jeffrey D. Brown (filmmaker of "Sold")
Beverly Allen (author of Rape Warfare)
Poets: Alejandro Murgu�a (Poet Laureate of San Francisco), Agneta Falk, Mahnaz Badihian, Kristine Brown, Judith Ayn Bernhard, Jessica Loos.
Musicians, Hosts: Agneta Falk, Mahnaz Badihian
Tuesday at 7pm
Crows in the Stork's Nest
Reading and Open Mic Night
With Julia Vinograd, MK Chavez, and Evan Karp
Stork Club *2330 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Friday at 7pm
Food Justice, Hunger, & Sustainability
(1187 Franklin St., at Geary, San Francisco)
Speakers: Kevin Danaher (Global Exchange)
Miguel Robles (Biosafety Alliance)
Poets: Devorah Major, Dee Allen, John Curl, Cathleen Williams, David Volpendesta
Musicians: Curry Without Worry, Jim Steinke, Jerry Ferraz
Host: Karen Melander Magoon
Sunday at 5:30
Write from the Gut!
Jack Grapes Method Writing Program
Fall Reading featuring poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction
Emerald Tablet 80 Fresno Street* San Francisco
Did you know that The Emerald Tablet home of Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING in SF has cool arts and literary events happening all the time? Find out about more the Emerald Tablet.
"If art is the bridge between what you
see in your mind and what the world sees, then skill is how you build that bridge."
-Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit.
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
- Samuel Beckett