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:
Every Wednesday in August, The New Parkway Cinema will give 20% of its ticket sales to Green Windows! It's Karma Night so you can also pay what you want for that ticket!
We also need some help to table and talk about Green Windows workshops! From 5:45 - 7:30.
Let us know if you can come.
Catherine Mencher, Administrative and Operations Consultant, has been writing in Green Windows workshops for years. She has recently begun using her admin and operations skills a few hours per week to help Green Windows through this period of transition and growth. She's immediately become indispensable. Thank you, Cat! We asked her to share a little about her relationship with Green Windows as well as the powerful piece she wrote in the June Uniquely Yours workshop.
Why do I support Green Windows: Art of Interchange?
I hope to provide the Green Windows: Art of Interchange community with a drop of what it has given me – deep connections to folks with whom the daily rhythms of my life would not otherwise come into unison, a reconnection to how I cast myself as a child (as a writer) and a model for how to comprehend the world. Spaces like Green Windows are elusive in our face-in-screen society. How we participants write in Green Windows reveals and validates how we live. Some follow prompts with extreme fidelity, some throw them aside. By accepting the diversity in writing approach that others take, we see and honor their uniqueness, and in turn our own innate uniqueness. Green Windows inspires an authentic day-to-day curiosity, a wondering what each person we come into contact with would say if given a pen and paper and brought to our circle.
In my new role, what will I do for Green Windows: Art of Interchange?
I hope to increase the chances that someone comes into contact with the various offerings of Green Windows. The social media world can be a scary one, but I want to ensure Green Windows has a presence that increases the connections and long-term viability for its important work. I want to push the wheels on the grinding details, like data-keeping and grant-satisfying, so that Peggy can move the integral product, authentic connection and community-building, forward.
by Catherine Mencher
I didn’t like the aftermath. Jaw like sandpaper had scratched the bones and bases of the teeth. Memory of the lack of control, the learning that one tab of one finely hewed chemical could drop my inhibitions so totally.
I didn’t like looking back at standing jittery in the line at Walgreens buying bottles of lotion. I kept that knock off lotion for almost a decade. Finally throwing it away before I finished it. One bottle of aloe still haunts my toiletry drawer. Knowing how thin our line of control is.
I didn’t like what the chemicals in my mind had gotten me into the night before.
I do love hearing you in the morning. I so never want it to end. As I sit today I want to keep making babies so I can always hear MOM in the morning. I’m grateful I don’t have a six am shift. How easy it would be for our disconnect to build if I couldn’t hold you every morning, couldn’t be in a privileged group who know what you look like when you fall back to sleep: the adorably adult way you reach your arms up to yawn, trying to push yourself back under that cloak of sleep when the light’s teasing the outside.
I learned that I love strawberry cake when Jacob and Newton married. At some point the cake splat onto the grill at the wedding park. Erich, I love that you and a couple named Elizabeth and Maegan ate grill cake together and that we bonded about it in the bathroom line later.
I don’t like the word usurp. It seems like a word describing something that I tend to support happening, but it has a sneaky, gnarly feel to it, like something done the less ingenuous way.
I don’t like a lot of things anymore. I don’t like what it feels like when a baby throws rice all over the floor, which sticks flatly to your feet, requiring a peel off. I don’t like that caring for my child has made me bad at modeling austerity. How do I keep him hungry enough so he doesn’t waste food is not a question I ask myself much.
I do like the concept of personal change. I’m frustrated by the litmus test put on people in power. Why are they held accountable to not changing? Isn’t changing what makes a human?
How can I combine my passion for the issues of education equity, prison abolition and youth solidarity in one poem written in one thirteen-minute sitting? If you had asked me before 7pm Sunday night I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, but as the sky changed hues we all straggled into a warehouse in North Oakland and sat down in semi-comfortable chairs for the Uniquely Yours workshop. We opened our notebooks and Peggy started feeding us prompts. A few new folks but most of us veterans of this workshop, coming almost every month and forming close-knit bonds around shared expression. I had something on the tip of my tongue but I couldn’t taste it, couldn’t form it into the words that I wanted. My muse felt like an astronaut suspended in deep space with nothing to hold on to.
Then Peggy read the poem “Purple” by Alex Rotella and gave us the prompt, “Write about a moment when you were discouraged, or encouraged, or when you discouraged or encouraged somebody.” In this workshop it is assumed that everything we’re writing is fiction, even if it’s not. This gives us the freedom to write the truth while maintaining anonymity in our own experience. In other writing workshops I will write a piece and people will ask me about it as if the narrator is really me, Alec West, in real life, and the story I wrote was something that happened to me. Outside of Green Windows, I have to stop people and say, “This story is not about me.”
I don’t want what I say in a story or a poem to affect the relationships I have with my friends, my family, my readers, or the community at large. Outside of Green Windows, this happens whether I like it or not, but within the safe space that we all create together, I can write whatever I want, plumbing the pits of my soul for something I would never admit to my closest friend. When I share those secrets with the people around me through my writing, they nod and listen and tell me what they liked about it, then we move on. It never has to enter the relationships I form with those people outside of the workshop and it never leaves the room. With the safety afforded by Green Windows I can write freely and do the kind of self-exploratory work I need to do among others in my community who are doing the same thing.
I wrote this piece that night, based on that prompt. I thought about how discouraging it is for a teacher to have one of your students, someone much younger than you, die. I’m not revealing whether I’ve had that experience or not, but you can judge whether my writing resonates with you, and you can feel it if it is authentic.
To Be Judged
by Alec West
At twenty-four I was young to be a teacher whose student had died. Ricardo had what you would call a magnetic personality. He was tall and solid with long hair that descended to his shoulders like the coned branches of a pine tree. He wore the jail uniform like any piece of clothing you would wear. He seemed to have an air of acceptance of where he was and hope for where he was going. Both of these combined with patience, faith that he would get there, that took confidence. I only remember him really writing one piece in all of the writing workshops we had. He attended a lot of them, as he was in jail for six months after I got there and I don’t know how long he was in before.
Press play. Three months after he got out, a car crash. Ricardo was a passenger and he was dead. I’m not sure if he was 18 yet or not. I wrote in his obituary: “Almost as sad as his young death was how long he had to spend in jail.” Overall, Ricardo spent two and a half years in jail after he skipped out on probation to get a job so that he could support his family. A vast number of the people you will meet in jail are not there for their original crime, but for a violation such as staying out too late, or not checking in with their PO, things that are not illegal but could wind them back up in the system. Often these people are leading positive, productive lives and trying their best, but one misstep led them off track.
How many people are lost to parole violations, not even real crimes? How many are trapped behind walls when they could be connecting or creating with us? What if you were judged and your whole life was determined by what you did or what happened on your worst day?
There is a scene in the movie, “The Mustang” when a therapist asks a group of prisoners incarcerated for violent crimes,
“How long from the idea of the crime to the committing of the crime?”
30 seconds. Fifteen seconds. Ten seconds. Less than half a second. The men answer with certainty as though a game show is asking them what they had for breakfast.
Can you judge the entire character of a person for an action committed without making a decision?
Do you feel safe?
I’m young in my teaching and I’ve only had one student die. I’ve known teachers who have lived through the deaths of several of their students. The loss we feel is mixed with blinding injustice as the world becomes a little less colorful, a little less vibrant, and we all become a little less powerful, despite the efforts we as teachers put out every day to keep the fire burning in our students’ hearts. Our students get snuffed out. We put our dreams into these children, and these children give hope back to us. Then, the system takes these children, takes them away from the rest of us. I am a teacher and I am in my twenties and I’ve had a student die. You can judge whether I am too young or whether this is too much, but this is the world we live in. I’m not ready to make a judgment about the world, and Ricardo will always remain perfect in my memory.
Do you feel safe?
Alec West is a teacher, activist, and author of What Happened When I Stopped Watching TV, his first book, available on Amazon. He lives in Oakland, but is moving to Richmond, and was born and raised in the East Bay. You can find him on Facebook: on instagram @alecwestwriter510, or writing in a local cafe.
The Uniquely Yours monthly workshop started in March 2009!
For ten years, these workshops have inspired all kinds of voices: ages 14 to 82, high schoolers, adults working on their AA, people with MFA’s, science fiction writers, poets, memoirists, children’s book writers, essayists, novelists, songwriters, homeless, renting, passing through, house-owning, from all corners of Oakland and all spots on the gender-queer spectrums, with various racial and cultural identities.
Listening to the other people’s writing always amazes me--the variety that flows from the same prompt in the same town on the same evening.
- regular Green Windows writer
For ten years, writers have said they’ve done their best writing in this community.
For ten years, we’ve offered a sliding scale workshop anyone can afford.
For ten years, we’ve shown up consistently, out of belief in the writing and in the community, donating time and professional facilitationwhile paying way-under-market rent to The Rock Paper Scissors Collective, a grassroots organization that has been a cornerstone of the Oakland art community.
For another ten years, with the increased cost of living in the Bay Area, we must find ways for this workshop to pay market value for facilitation and rent.
For another ten years, we need your help.
We need only $6,000 per year to make this work sustainable.
Can you donate $10/month?
I look forward to writing with you soon.
Read writing and testimonies from these workshops our blog.
Listen to why I think these workshops are special:
Our blogger this month, Roxanne Rocksteady Jones, first attended a Green Windows writing workshop in 2010 and has consistently written with us at every opportunity since. We asked her why she keeps coming back.
I keep coming back to Green Windows because I really got motivated when Peggy first invited me to the class to get over past things and express myself more.
While I was taking the class, I went to a women's group and we had incense and candles and meditated and were asked to take whatever was on our mind and bothering us, from childhood to early age to teen to young adult to adult, and write it on a piece of paper, then read it to ourselves, then ball it up. It made me get rid of what was bothering me. I had been feeling like I had been tortured since a little girl. But as I wrote, I released things through the tears in my eyes, from my stomach, my belly, to my lungs to my throat, releasing it, throwing it up, freeing myself. So my writing is more like a journal: Instead of using my voice, I'm using my writing, screaming so the world can hear me. Instead of marching in the streets with the 99 women's march, I'm the 100th woman, marching with words.
Young women, girls and teens are speaking up with their voices. You know, some people can't speak. Some people can't hear or talk. But they can read with their eyes. Reading, and other people reading your poetry or stories, is inspiring in either a happy way or sad way. They can learn to relieve what is bothering them, too.
Now I'll hand a person a pencil, ink pen, or crayon and say, "I would like to hear your story. Would you like to write it down?" People think homeless people want money or food. Some people just want people to hear their story, to sit and listen, or release something, or just be quiet together. So asking them to tell their story, what's bothering them, they are like. “Oh, I just wanted you to hear this." Sometimes it doesn't make sense, but I don't care. They just want someone to listen. Most people don’t have time.
For 2019 I would like for the city of Oakland or Green Windows to have an open mic where women, men too, but women, can say what's on their mind or what they went through, or what they want to release. Then we can give each other hugs after and let each other know we are loved no matter what gender, race, color or nationality.
When I think about the violence done to people of color and queer people, I want say, “No matter your gender, we are praying for you, be strong, keep your heads up, know that you are loved. I hope they catch the racist haters out there who try to torture you. We are going to kill them with love because love is what makes the world go around.”
Below is a piece of writing that I wrote in a Green Windows workshop. It was published in the 10-year anthology, Writing from Green Windows.
Who’s Your Daddy?
By Sister Roxanne Rocksteady Jones
Trick or Treats
Who’s your daddy?
Ok! Soul Sisters
Girls, here we go
Dancin’ to the beat of Aretha Franklin
and Lady of Soul, Diana Ross
and Lady Sings the Blues
Here near downtown Oakland
the block of 22nd, Telegraph and West Grand Ave
which is now called Uptown
Here on the sparklin’ psychedelic rainbow dance floor
in this ol’ ol’ ol’ red brick building
used to be the Pancake House
which is now called Disco City
Shakin’ our money maker
as the mens would say
Shakin’ what your Mama gave you
Shakin’ our bootays
Droppin’ it like it’s hot
Girls just wanna have fun
Actin’ like our Mamas’ drinkin’ brandy
Vodka with pineapple juice
Laughin’ havin’ fun
Cryin’ talkin’ about the good good ol’ days
about the no good men who almost stole our hearts
Rememberin’ the good good good ol’ ol’ ol’ days
When our Mamas was also on the dance floor
Partyin’ and shakin’ their old money makers
Their groove things
Their asses, as the ol’ men would say
Drinkin’ brandy with milk
7 Up with Courvoisier
Vodka with orange juice
Gin with apple juice
Dancin’ to the Temptations
Gladys Knight and the Pimps
Dancin’ til’ the funkadelics the freaks
Come out at night
Droppin’ it like it’s hot
and our Moms cryin’ about our no good daddies
on the dance floor
as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown
Sings the number one song
I like the girl with the hot pants on
She can do the boogie woogie all night long
Oh my God, he’s singin’ about my Mama
who’s your daddy?
James Brown, Father of Soul
Goin’ back to the good good good ol’ days
Trick or Treat
Who’s your daddy?