Over eight years ago, with a renewed energy to actually starting my writing life, I joined every writing class, every writing workshop. I spotted one—for free!—at the Potrero Hill library. During the weekday. I had essentially taken a sabbatical from working and so that fit perfectly. I put that into my calendar and showed up with a quick flash piece.
“Anyone wants to share?” she said.
She sat in the middle of the room. I was startled that the whole workshop just evolved around her—she spoke and nobody else spoke. Not that she invited anyone else to share their opinions. Everyone was older likely in their fifties and white. As it always happened in many writing events, I was the only non-white person. I may have been the only or one of the few young people, then barely into my thirties. I had prepared copies of a short piece about my neighborhood—a satire of taquerias, bicycles, and tech people. I remember how much I laughed to myself after I wrote it—so hilarious and I was so proud of it.
“This, everyone!” she said. “Is Excellent.”
I silently puffed my chest. Proud. Her only comment was to consider line breaks. She suggested writing something from another perspective or something similar to that. Who knows, because during the following week, I wrote something about my mother. A risky thing, of course. I remember asking Chris for feedback, he being my first reader, but he couldn’t of course, because he had issues with his own mother and couldn’t read it for what it was. So I was stuck in the world of…I think there’s something here, but I am not sure.
The following week, I brought copies of it to the workshop. And it’s likely I didn’t apologize for it, because I naturally wouldn’t express my insecurity, even if I had it. And just as expected, that woman tore it apart. She sat there in the middle of the room critiquing a piece that was personal about experiences with my mother. Who knows exactly what she said, but I only heard that she was questioning about why I wrote it, why the narrator was acting in such a way. Nobody else spoke. Eleven other voices were quiet as if they were praising her, agreeing with her.
My confidence crashed and the only thing that I could retort was, “This isn’t supposed to be therapy.”
“Sometimes it is,” she said.
I cried silently. I don’t remember if I stayed or left. Probably the former, because it’s not in my nature to leave when I am upset. It’s simply this: if I am upset, I want everybody to know that I am upset.
Years later, I have built my confidence in various ways and am protective my early work (usually). I want to be closer to my Asian identity and with that, stories of my mother arise. How was that piece like? I look at it again today—it’s raw and disjointed, but I see glimmers of a strong voice. That’s what I would have focused on—drawing out that voice through exercise. Maybe that’s what that woman would have done. But maybe I would have seen an early writer and say that it’s fine, it’s fine. Keep going, keep going, you’ll get there.