A Visit to a Write Around Portland Workshop

We all go through phases when the words come slowly, when there are plenty of false starts and lots of jumping up to pour another cup of coffee or fetch a sweater. 

So what a relief to sit down at a table and hear someone say briskly, “OK, we’re going to do a 2-minute write.” All of us at the Write Around Portland (WAP) workshop happily took out pens and notebooks.

“You have a choice,” our facilitator, Ed, said to the group. “Before I go to sleep tonight…, or I’m happy to see…. You can write about either one. Or if you prefer, I have an envelope with alternate writing prompts that you can use instead.” There wasn’t time to agonize about it: we all put pen to paper and wrote.

There were about ten of us, a mix of writers, aspiring writers and people who just wanted to try something new, at this two-hour, drop-in workshop. Write Around Portland workshops cost between $10 and $30 on a sliding scale, and proceeds help to fund the free programs that WAP offers to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to writing experiences: patients in hospitals, treatment centers, schools, senior centers, prisons, low income housing buildings and homeless shelters. Our writing would support other people’s writing: it was a wonderful thought.

Time was called and we took turns sharing what we’d written. Ed guided us in providing feedback. “Focus on strengths,” he said. “Anything that’s interesting and memorable.” The comments were brief and of the “I really liked the way you…” variety, but it worked: by the time we’d gone around the room, we were all smiling, enjoying the power of words to enlighten and entertain.

On to a new activity: next, Ed asked us to make a list of things that can occur in 10 seconds. “A lock is opened,” someone said. “Licked by a dog,” said another. “A car crash; a blush; a wave breaking.” We were told to pick one and write a longer piece: we had eight minutes for this one. The room was silent except for the cozy sounds of pots and pans clanging: Write Around Portland workshops are held at HOTLIPS Pizza, which generously donates space for the event, and the restaurant was just getting underway for the day.

By now, we were ready for a break. Everyone stood and stretched, and we helped ourselves to the delicious pastries, coffee and tea provided by Grand Central. “Who’s the target participant for these workshops?” I asked Ed. He thought about it. “I’d say writers who are tired of writing alone. Community is one of our primary pillars.” We chatted some more, and others joined the conversation. One woman already knew Ed from past workshops. “Oh, I’ve taken a bunch of these,” she told me. “They’re a lot of fun.” “Why do you volunteer for Write Around Portland?” I asked Ed. “Two hours of focusing only on the good makes me feel really good inside.” There were smiles and nods.

After the break, Ed distributed copies of a poem: “What Matters” by local poet Brian Doyle. We read it aloud, then pointed out phrases we especially liked. “’On the sprawling porches of my childhood,’” someone said. “That’s really beautiful.” “OK, let’s take that as our inspiration,” Ed said, and we did another free write. By then, a delicious pizza smell was emanating from the HOTLIPS kitchen and it was time to wrap things up. Ed challenged us to do one final activity and write a “community poem” about what really matters to us. We took a moment to jot down ideas, then went around the circle, each reading aloud one thing we treasured. To my surprise, our individual passions really did add up to a kind of group poetry. As we gathered our things, I felt happy and wrung out and ready to stop next door for a piece of pizza. 

The Details:

When: 3rd Thursdays, 9-11 AM and last Sundays, 9-11 AM

Where: HOTLIPS Pizza, 2211 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, Oregon

Cost: $10 to $30 (sliding scale)

Other Info: please bring a journal, notebook or composition book and a favorite pen. Register by email or phone (503.796.9224) so we know how many people to expect. Drop-ins also welcome.

For more info: learn about Write Around Portland at http://writearound.org/