Writing anything creative right now is not easy for me. Writing in community helps. Always. But especially now. I'm finding the community Green Windows built over the last 12 years to be vital - alive and necessary. Green Windows' retirement is still looming, but I'm grateful that it hasn't happened yet. That we still have each other and these relationships forged through believing in each other's creativity. We need us right now: to be in touch with each other and to help each other be in touch with the part of ourselves where our best, most powerful writing comes from.
We've done a couple experimental online writing workshops and are ready to do more, according to interest and capacity. Please sign up for our newsletter and indicate your interest in online workshops (or change your preferences), if you would like to join us.
Here are two poems I wrote recently. I haven't used my pen name "Meg Claudel" in years. Partly because I haven't been submitting work for publication. Partly because my writer identity is mixed with my identity as Peggy Simmons, Founding Director of Green Windows: Art of Interchange. But these two pieces have nothing to do with that role.
I hope you are writing and well. This is hard. And will end. But the world will not go back to how it was exactly. Meanwhile, I'm grateful for you and for your words.
This Is Not About…
By Meg Claudel
This is not about me.
It’s only me, here. A cat or two, spiders, oranges.
But this is not about me.
This is not about you.
Or you. Wherever you are. I will imagine you with cats and oranges.
Hopefully heat. Maybe someone to curl up on the couch with.
Hey babe, if you're sick, I’m sick.
This is not about your kids.
I miss your kids.
Adults are boring and there is only one here.
You wish we could trade. For an hour or two. Me too. We can’t.
This isn’t about us.
This isn’t about the planet either.
Because, frankly, the planet would be better off if several million of us were to leave.
So maybe this is about us
Even if this isn’t about you or about me or about your kids.
Maybe it’s about the kids, including yours.
It might well be about the oranges.
In the dream my cats pulled me out of the creek before they left.
This isn’t about the cats, they will be fine.
This is about my mother.
And maybe your mother too.
The white cat Mom inherited when my sister when to college already left.
This is about my dad who has survived everything
Though comparatively has survived nothing.
This is maybe about your dad, too, or your grandad.
And, yes, maybe your kids.
This is about your kids because this is a short chapter of humanity.
And our next chapter, in which your kids are the protagonists
Where it is about them
Has a completely different setting than our last.
This is about money.
It is, don’t lie.
This is about privilege.
It is, don’t lie.
The blinds on the window of who really has what are being lifted.
This is about us:
The ones who need groceries. Oranges and cat food.
And the ones who bring groceries. Fresh cut yellow roses.
This is about going hugless for weeks. Months.
And this is about kids clinging to you when you are at work.
This is about technology becoming a basic, as basic as oranges
(While reminding us this is about who has what).
This is about hoarding toilet paper
And this is about recognizing cashiers as essential
And grocery stores becoming supply depots in our battle with an invisible enemy.
This is about information and lies.
This is about power and vulnerability.
This is about us
But it’s not about us.
This is about today.
Tomorrow it will be about tomorrow.
There are oranges and there are cats
And there is a creek which does not stop flowing
And there are your cute faces on my screen
And there are words, there are always words.
This is not about words.
Thursday March 26th, 2020, NYWC online writIng workshop
“Visiting Your Lover” is not on the List of Essential Activities
When the State Orders Us to Stay at Home
by Meg Claudel
I could argue that you are coming over to “care for” me
18 months of sex and companionship do not, though, count as “family”
Yet you visit and for us the afternoon is stolen
Lunch is ready. The bed is sunlit. Wine has been delivered
Our skin is disinfected and we are touching
Two weeks of six feet apart and we are touching
All of me touching all of you
If you are sick, I am sick. (Isn’t this family?)
We don’t need much, my fingers on the side of you neck
Your thumbs under my shoulder blades
To go wholey into the moment, stolen and sunlit
A pandemic left on the doorstep
The news silenced by bird calls and “Dream a Little Dream of Me”
Covered in your list, then covered in mine, solidifying our dream
We create this bubble and walk into it together, alive and joyful
Grateful and surprised
No before or after, the after so unseen
Harmony written on your skin, there is where we stay
March 31, 2020
I have some news. You don't need any more news today, especially non-joyous news. This is a moment that will be a reference point in our lives: before COVID-19 and after COVID-19. I hope you and yours are well, home, and safe. This is a moment when we are reaching out to each other. I was given roses at the grocery store today. It is also a moment to reach in. I hope you have moments of quiet and moments of creativity. I hope you are writing (drawing, dancing, singing...) so that this moment in time is as much as possible a time of growth and centering.
Two months ago, I made the decision to retire Green Windows later this year, after twelve years of incredible work. I've taken some time to have conversations and make some decisions, and can now make it public. (I didn’t call everyone I wanted to. I’m sorry if I didn’t get to you!) My timing is bad. I apologize. I like the word “retire.” After years of good work, Green Windows is not going away: it will stop working professionally, but its spirit and work can continue. Partly because they exist with you.
Thank you. Thank you for all your words: all the words you braved onto the page and all the words you found to tell other writers what you loved about their writing. Thank you for the community you created, with your openness, your belief in each other, your trust in your authentic self and your fidelity to creativity. Watching our community grow was a privilege. I have been deeply pleased to give you the space to create it.
We have done 125 monthly workshops! Many, many 4th Sundays, especially in the moments my life was hard, I spent the afternoon wondering how I would have the needed energy for the workshop that night. I wondered why I was doing this. Without fail, the very first lines of the very first piece of writing that was shared impressed, settled, warmed and inspired me so that I recalled, again, Oh, oh yeah, of course, this is why I’m doing this. Thank you.
Two years ago when my finances became more challenging, I had to ask Green Windows to pay more of its share of my livelihood. I had a clear choice: either Green Windows grew into something sustainable that could help me live in the Bay Area, or I’d have to close its doors (its shutters?). I gave it a last go, with a lot of help, especially from Yesenia Sanchez and Catherine Mencher, but also from everyone who donated money and/or showed up to a fundraiser. Thank you. We did this cool impact survey that enabled us to show others what we already knew: that Green Windows grows artists and develops cross-cultural community. And we met our financial goal for 2019! But that goal was just a step toward sustainability and I can’t imagine doing it again, much less ramping it up to be able to meet the next step’s goal.
I love the workshops. I love being in that space. I love the writing and the constant reminder of the brilliance of individuals when they are encouraged to be themselves. But I do not love all the work that has to happen to get folks in that space and to pay for it. Furthermore, I do not believe in the current (just pre-COVID-19) climate that it is possible to do the work - the work in the space plus the work to get in that space - part-time. I’m tired of the hustle. For these reasons, I need to retire Green Windows. But also, frankly, it’s time. Twelve years is a long time to do anything. I'm very, very proud of what we’ve done together for a dozen years. Proud of you. Grateful. And I’m ready for the next thing, though I don’t know what that is. (First order of business: get a full-time job).
And you all don’t need me. Or Green Windows. Your brilliant selves are still your brilliant selves. You can carry the spirit of community and creativity that we built with you, into everything you do. And I want to know how you will do that. Please let me know (in a comment on this post, ideally) what Green Windows and its community have given you that you will always have. Please let me know how you will carry it forward and share it.
Here is my plan, very much subject to fluctuations as we shelter-in-place and have to go through extreme measures to keep each other safe.
THANK YOU! All your words have always been welcome in Green Windows workshops. Your words remain welcome, and important, even just on the page, or just shared with one person. Please remember that I believe in you and your words. Trust yourselves: The page knows that with that trust, you can’t write wrong.
Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you for sharing.
I haven’t been writing consistently for months like I always plan to. Throughout the constant bustle of things to be done, things that didn’t get done, the things I want do, I often think about all the writing time I’ve “lost,” all the poems that never happened. This makes me feel bad, like a bad writer or someone who doesn’t care about what they claim to be their truest passion, or hobby. I constantly worry that in the time in-between, my writing flow will be difficult to revisit, that I’ll be “rusty” once I come back to it, or I’ll just have trouble writing anything at all.
However, the last few years have served as great testament to something someone shared with me once before: When you experience your life fully and grow on a personal level, that will translate to the work. This has become truer over time, and I’m so thankful to have had Green Windows as the space to begin some of my most exciting work to-date.
Here is a poem I wrote in the February Uniquely Yours workshop. I hope you enjoy it.
by Steph Yun
I know the distinct ring of a wrench falling to concrete,
the exasperated sighs of a man whose calloused
blistered bruised hands
heal slower with age; they’re clenched in a fist
around a cigarette
15 hours away from here
I don’t know how to speak of the dead who hurt me
and my family.
do they visit me my humble bowl of water each night, too?
My father isn’t a man of faith or prayer but now
I know that all these years
he’s burned tobacco smoke in the urn of his lungs
in reverence of his own father, halabugi
a joyous man with a penchant for peanuts, soy sauce
and pepper paste
When my body decomposes
I hope to first become first rain
and the air on the dirt and
When I become flower,
I hope water tastes as good
as I’ve always remembered
and when I bloom
I hope creatures find my sight nourishing.
if they choose to consume me
may it be just as well
If I become water, may it be well
let the mouths who sip from me taste the brick and stillness
and cast their dreams somewhere uplifting
In no one’s name, I pray.
Green Windows gives me a forum in which to share personal experiences in a fictionalized way. It is not therapy, but it does give insight into feelings and motivations that can be expressed in powerful descriptions of life. Some of my best fiction and memoir has come from the opportunity to explore and reveal scenes to myself that lie just below the surface, untapped. I find this invaluable as a writer.
The piece below was written in the January Green Windows Uniquely Yours workshop. The prompt was Pain, specifically images of things that remind you of pain.
As is the magic of writing spontaneously from a prompt, you never know where your pen will lead you, if you let it. This is where it led me (unedited).
by Karen Gordon
Cutting. Cutting the skin, cutting off the blood. Cutting off the air. Blown to the ground, punched in the neck. Yes I saw stars. But the shock was the lack of breath. Then the shock of the violation, the violence. And the sense that I did something so extremely wrong as would cause this scenario.
Of course, I knew from the start that this was not a person that revered me, although he was all sweet words and smooth moves at the start. I imagined I had found a partner, a mate, dare I think a father of my child? But deep desires and fantasies die hard and I had to play this one out to the end. At the start, I believed in my own inadequacies, believed the lie that if I just lost 5 or 10 pounds that I would be desirable enough. That how he saw me was more accurate than how I saw myself. If I were stronger, more confident, I wouldn’t have followed him from place to place, wouldn’t have been more afraid of being alone than being emotionally and now physically abused. But I wasn’t strong then. And I was led by my lack.
Sometimes it’s best to be ignored, best to let things slide. It’s never been strong in my nature to “let it be.” I guess I need a sign of magnitude, to shout at me – STOP – let this one go. You don’t have to have the definitive straight-forward answer. And you can’t know what another person’s triggers are. Until you do.
I learned that night, that Xmas eve, about cornering a wild animal, one that looks calm on the outside but inside is so full of rage and angry remorse – that DANGER should flash from his eyes in red. And, of course, when I tried to make sense of it, to talk myself into a state of blame – I thought that gave me some control, some insight.
I was just wrong. I had to leave and never go back there.
Read more from the survey in this blog post.
(written November 11,2019)
In honor of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I returned to the notebooks, dusty under my nightstand, filled with the work I’d done with Peggy. In the spirit of honoring my writing, my self, and my sanity, I walked my 19 -month-old son, who had not napped for the day, a mile to the library. When his chirpy banter slowed, paces from our destination, I exhaled as I lowered his stroller seat, both of us reaching equilibrium. I wheeled us into the library and returned to pieces I’d scrawled in Uniquely Yours.
Magic to return to this piece, written 8 years from the experience and now 2 years past that.
Another type of magic, Green Windows’ workshops are and aren’t about the process. I know she tugged something from me with her prompt, the trust in the room and the timer. I don’t know the prompt, and it doesn’t matter. Written likely in 10 minutes, my piece sits complete.
As I reread Athens, GA 2009, I inhabit the smaller clothes and forgotten shoes of the narrator. I poke open the door and wander about.
It’s about the process and it’s not. I’m using a timer for this meta exercise in which I’m writing about what I wrote in Uniquely Yours, but I sit alone. As the timer slows, I’m not shifting to the new energy when we share and appreciate one another in Uniquely Yours. I’m grateful for this piece I wrote, a capsule, and for now knowing this process/not process. I know a hint of that community will see me, honor me by taking in this blog post.
Athens, GA 2009
by Catherine Mencher
(written March 9, 2017 in a Uniquely Yours monthly workshop)
Head out the laundry room door, and there’s a trampoline from Craigslist.
Notice the two trailers on the back right. One of them might hold a family. There’s a plastic trike on the dirt in front. There’s a rag over the window. The other one houses a glasses-wearing white man who comes by to collect Tom’s cigarette butts. Put them in a New York Times newspaper bag for him.
On your left of the trampoline is a two-story house. A new dad. Talk to him about how the weather in Athens, GA has changed since he was a young kid. Remember to reject Southern stereotypes. Curve around the trampoline, notice my half-hearted DIY project: wine bottles buried in the dirt all cockananied and inconsistent.
Be impressed by the strawberries Vanessa planted.
Talk to the very old widow who lives in the teeny brick house next door as she hangs her thin house dresses out to dry. When she says her and her husband lived here when it was just a hill, remember. Remember the sprawling apartment complexes just a few doors down, remember the shady house with the guys who shared their coke and dressed you up just one road down, remember the public housing two stories tall just at the corner, and feel sad for her. Give her a hug.
In September, we asked Green Windows participants to respond to a survey to gauge the impact of our work since we began Green Windows in 2008.
The respondents exemplified the diversity of participants in our workshops:
70% of respondents participated in more than 10 workshops, with 39% attending between 11 and 50 and 31% attending more than 50.
Here's what we learned from them:
So fun! Here's what we did:
We actually all wrote to the same prompt. We had several rounds and each time had volunteers read their writing to everyone, with the mic. The we switched partners. So we got to know different writers, too!
Here are some of the prompts:
- calculated perforated holes
- blue glow
- riveted soaking trousers
- overlooked misgivings
As always, we were struck each time by how differently each writer responded to the same prompt!
Stay tuned for more FLASH workshops!
Green Windows turns
11 years old this month!
For another 10 years,
we need your support:
I love working with teenagers because I learn from them. And it's fun!
I started working with teens in 1995, with the ATD Fourth World Movement in a vacation house for poor families outside of London. Teens said, "No one is working with us. Will you work with us?" I said, "Sure!" having no idea that I was making a career choice. One of those teens, Bea, and I continued to work together for several years within the youth branch of ATD Fourth World and she continued to work with teenagers well after she no longer was a teen herself. Bea and her mother, Moraene, both work as anti-poverty activists, as experts with first-hand experience of poverty. When I recently saw Moraene, at a conference in France, she introduced me to one of her colleagues: "Bea might have gone down a dangerous path if she hadn't met Peggy when she did." Youth workers often don't know the effect we really have, so that was wonderful to hear. But what was remarkable for me is that it's thanks to Bea that I've been working with teenagers, and loving it, for 24 years. Bea and I changed each other's lives, and those are my favorite stories.
Teenaged Bea showed me around her Hackney neighborhood, told me stories about her life, introduced me to her friends, answered my questions and helped me figure out how to work with teens. She began my understanding of the struggles many teens face that I never had to face, but also of the strength, creativity and profound sense of justice that teens can bring to that struggle.
After London, I spent four years working at the international center of the ATD Fourth World Youth Movement, outside of Paris. The Youth Movement brings young people from very different backgrounds together, as equals, in social justice, anti-poverty projects. I was working with young people from different countries, with different first languages, with widely varying formal education and literacy levels and facing very different kinds of challenges. There was Richard who lived with his Roma ("gypsy" or "traveller") community in a camp with no running water outside of Paris; Luke, who was going to University in Berlin who had had family on both sides of the wall; Marie who was learning circus arts to entertain children in hospitals in Brussels; and so many more. We brought them together very carefully and intentionally with a methodology that has been developed over decades and is now called Merging Knowledge. But even with this methodology and other techniques such as Theater of the Oppressed, and our purposeful facilitation, much of which I recognized later in "Restorative Justice" practices, I was consistently impressed with the capacity of these very, very different young people to overcome the barriers between them to fight for justice for all youth. That capacity gets dimmed as we grow older and I knew I had a lot to learn from it. This knowledge, of how much there is to learn from bringing very different youth together, was solidified after a group of Slovakian, French and Belgian youth I was leading on study trip in Bratislava was attacked by skinheads on a public bus. This is a story for another time, and one I have written over and over without ever being satisfied [we all have those stories]. But the most important part of the story, for me, was the incredible way the young people, who had not had an easy week, came together and supported each other in the days after the attack.
In 2002, I moved back to the States, very much motivated by the desire to learn from young people in my own country like I had been learning from youth in Europe. While waiting in France for visas to come through for my French husband whom I had met in the Youth Movement, I put together a data base of youth-serving organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. When we finally settled in San Francisco, we both found very interesting jobs in youth organizations and we were both shocked by how youth from "disadvantaged" backgrounds were being treated. The bar was consistently being lowered for them. Staff were condescending and preachy. And no one seemed interested in learning from the youth themselves. We had been trained to keep the bar high for all youth, knowing every youth would need different kinds of support to get there. We'd learned to be patient and persistent, creative and team-focused. Most importantly, we'd learned to listen to the youth themselves, as the experts on their own lives. My (now-ex) husband (and still best friend) eventually gave up on American non-profits which are overly guided by grant cycles and which put so much financial investment into executives who, especially at that time, seemed so far away from the lives of the youth they were meant to be serving.
Eventually I found two organizations and one new methodology that would allow me to work with youth in a way I believed in outside ATD Fourth World: The Beat Within, The Oakland Public Library, and the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) writing workshop method. I've been volunteering with The Beat for eleven years in the local juvenile hall, and for the last year in San Quentin State Prison. The purpose of The Beat is to get the experience, thoughts and creativity of youth, especially incarcerated youth, out into the world through writing workshops and a magazine. The public library, for which I've worked, mostly part-time, for over ten years, is all about seeing the full complete person in front of you, finding answers to their questions, and being a gateway to knowledge sources and community they might not find elsewhere. The AWA method sees every person as a creative person and sees brilliance as being rooted in one being true to oneself. I've been using AWA in Green Windows workshops since 2008.
Through all these jobs, bits and pieces of work cobbled together to almost make a living in the Bay Area, I have learned a lot from young people in my community. The boys killed on the street in the "bad" parts of my town (parts I live and work in, happily) aren't just boys, they are our boys. I know the shooters and the shot and know choices they face and choices they do not have. Thanks to The Beat, I know a lot of their hopes and loves and dreams and I've seen those turn to despair when their future is no longer imaginable. I bring these hopes and these despairs into everything I do and they make up one basis of my understanding of my community. I am not the same person when, for example, on the same day, I hear news that a 24 year old I've known since he was 15 got his sentenced reduced from 84-years-to-life to 2 more years in the state juvenile facility and news that another, age 19, a youth worker himself, was shot and killed sitting in his car with his girlfriend. I don't want to not know this. I want to know these young people and I want all my decisions to be affected by these events, these youth, these victories and these losses.
Thanks to working with the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate program for the library, I get to listen to youth speak out on race, gender and justice in ways that my generation cannot manage with such articulation and honesty and respect. And being able to witness teen writers support each other in Green Windows workshops has taught me about listening, about imagination, and about what being true to oneself means today in ways that deepen my trust in the future of our society, if these youth can continue to be themselves and be safe.
Today's youth give me hope. Not because they are simply the future, nor because of their own hope. Youth give me hope because they are brilliant, because I can see social progress made within them, because I have so much to learn from them, which means my own life is still evolving. We need to support them, trust them, believe in them, but not step back, not give over. As an adult, I want to continue to listen, to learn and to then see how I, with the wisdom and skills I've gained over fifty years, can help. Let me know if you, too, want to help.
And I truly do simply enjoy the company of teenagers. And I am deeply grateful to be doing work I love.
- Peggy Simmons
PS -if the skills and experience I've gained working with teens over the years could be of use to your group - of adult or youth - please let me know!
Please submit a post about your experience in a Green Windows workshop or about social justice and artistic expression.