Cedar Park, TX
Having been to three of these Sit Down and Shut Up's, here is my report.
1st session I had no agenda so I wrote about writing and all the reasons I had not. Aimless. Just spewing. But at least the coffee at Flight Path was good. I had a Clif bar in the car on the way over, but next time I'm at Flight path one of those bananas looks good. Brain food for writing.
2nd meeting I didn't want to just screw around like that, so I had a list of exercises. As it happens, the one I flipped to was a more focused thing on "writing obstacles", a assignment to make a list of blocks and reframe them as strengths. An interesting workout. I think it was beneficial to me to re-imagine things like "I have no time" as "writers always work (and prosper) with constraints". Many of us might benefit from doing a piece like that. Just list the things that stop you, and then flip them around and imagine how that could be a strength. Still, I consider that at least partially errant time. Would rather have been working on a short story. But the black bean and egg taco with guacamole was top notch. I had to eat it with a fork because it was so bulging. I wish I had my own guacamole tree.
Third time, last night at G.Joe's, I came with a story to rewrite so I wouldn't spend another hour drooling nothing onto the page. But I struggled for the first 40 minutes to even get it up in front of me. I did some more aimless writing, played with my software, read the story 4 times.... almost anything I could do other than typing a word (fascinating to watch your own resistance). But by the end of the hour I was putting down new words.
Because I stayed in my space even when my mind didn't. The way I regard it, the only rule is that I not browse the web. No Facebook, no Twitter, no downloading porn or watching Family Guy. That last restriction is tough. I love Family Guy.
If I can't write, fine, sit there and stare at the manuscript. How long can I keep that up? Something has to break. How many hours will my mind and body allow me to waste before it starts wanting to use this time for good. It was only in the last 20 minutes I finally got into my story but I got one important edit done and continued working at home later. Victory, such as it is. The hummus wrap was good, too.
Some years ago, I lived in a Zen Center and was a practicing monk (of sorts). This meant sitting in meditation for some 3-4 hours a day. Some days you felt like a tiger in a cage. Not only could you not settle your mind down, you felt like storming out of the room, screaming, grabbing someone by the shirt, punching holes in the walls and burning the building down. Left alone with your mind in a room full of mediators, sometimes you wanted to just explode, rip the heart out of the person gently breathing (like a locomotive) next to you. My teacher, a Zen priest, told me basically "It happens. Sometimes you want to murder people. That's fine. Just don't get up. Keep sitting. Even if all you can do is sit and pretend, do it." I lived there for a year and I don't remember having those problems after the first few weeks. You just settle down. Your mind comes to realize you are not going to get up. I got quieter, more able to sit. It's amazing how much more still I became with practice. And no humans were harmed during my difficult adjustment period.
In Zen, they call it Monkey Mind. You train it by just sitting there and not letting it drive you out of the Zendo. The ability to sit and meditate, like the ability to sit and write, is your mind, but also your body. I personally can't sit for an hour and get straight to work, at least not this week. I need time to screw around. But I believe it will get better, much in the same way I stopped wanting to murder people during meditation. I believe the mind and the body will learn, when you keep commitments and show up and sit down, that you aren't kidding. You really are going to do this. The mind and body will settle down and settle in. I believe if I keep my eyes on the page, I will soon be working on my real prose starting at minute one, not just at these meetings but every time I sit down to write.
And none of you will have to die for it.
If you're reading this as someone who is considering coming to the group, please do. I can tell you it's very low key, very warm, the opposite of scary. No one will demand to see any work, so you don't have to worry about that. It's just, as the name says, sit down, shut up... write. No one will know what you're working on. Some people are working in notebooks, some on laptops. I believe there has been at least one person at each meeting who was there for the first time, so no need to sweat if you're coming for the first time. It appears to me we are all different, from different backgrounds and places, writing different kinds of things. It all runs smoothly.
And there are snacks. Did I mention the Hummus Wrap at Genuine Joe's is superb. I swear, hummus should be its own food group, it's so good.
Thanks Suzanne for keeping this group on the road. I'm enjoying it, benefiting from it, and hope it just keeps growing.