What You Have to Say Matters

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A few summers ago I had finished my master’s in social work program and was in Paris to exhale while simultaneously editing a book and hosting two retreats. During a late night jaunt to Shakespeare and Company (also known as editing avoidance), I found a flier promoting an upcoming five-day writing workshop stuck on a community board.

With visions of English-speaking writers seated around a farmhouse table in a light-filled room embellished with crown molding and chandeliers, I snapped a photo of the website. I scurried back to my shoebox-sized AirBnB apartment to log on—eager to learn more. After making a cuppa tea, I logged into the website and saw there was one spot left. With a couple weeks of free time set aside to write and edit after leading the last retreat, this felt synchronistic.

I clicked “purchase” and eagerly awaited the first day of school. Since learning is up there on my list of favorite activities (next to sleeping and petting pigs), I arrived with sharpened pencils, a fresh pink legal pad, and a croissant for sustenance.

After working my way through Paris’ maze-like streets in unsteady clogs, I made it at the stroke of 9am. Unfortunately the workshop began with the teacher proclaiming, “Nothing you have to say is important.” It felt as if someone had popped my pretty pink balloon or told me Paris was out of peonies. While I know she was trying to make some cockeyed subtle point, it was hard to move beyond the class’ kickoff statement.

As I emotionally ate my croissant, the flakes fell to the floor and I looked down at the material I’d brought to share with the class. My mind wandered: Is a DIY guide to everyday tranquility necessary? and Maybe she’s right, what do I have to say that’s new?

Though the experience didn’t improve over the next few days, this comment left me with a blend of deep-seated insecurity and desire to prove her wrong. I believe we all have something important to say and there are readers out there who will resonate. It may be a tiny bunch, but they’re out there.

Monday night Ariana of the blog Paris-to-Go came to speak with our Penning in Paris group about her writing experience. Her well-read blog focuses on gluten-free, zero-waste living in Paris. Talk about niche! And yet oh-so-popular.  She said, “Let your personality shine through your blog. If I have these questions or ideas, others will too.”

I agree. While leading writing workshops and retreats I do my best to emphasize this point. There’s an inspiring passage in The Mindful Writer where the author, Dinty W. Moore, quotes Martha Graham:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy . . . that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.”

Moore  goes on to highlight “honoring your individuality, your specificity, and the essence of who your are.” Sure there may be heaps of book, articles, or essays on a particular topic, but no two people can possibly bring the same experiences or perspective to it.

The above photo was snapped at the newly opened Shakespeare and Company cafe on Saturday that sits adjacent to the bookstore—a spot I visit at least a few times each time I’m in Paris. As I reread the passage quoting Martha Graham, I remembered the teacher’s comment and smirked.

Dear teacher, I disagree. What we have to say matters and is important. And how apropos to have this experience where I found that workshop flier. Bisous. x