by Dori Ostermiller
In an interview a few weeks ago for ArtsHub of Western MA, the interviewer asked what I thought had made Writers in Progress so successful. I puttered and sputtered around this question for a while, trying to get a grip on what that word even meant, or whether I would ever use it to describe any of my undertakings. The word “success” implies having arrived somewhere, reached the summit. It implies an ending, a satiation, a grabbing of the gold ring, and in reality, I have never felt this in regard to my work or my writing. As Martha Graham once famously said, “There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching…”
Whether we’re talking about writing itself, or the work of creating and sustaining a writing community, it’s not about achievement. It’s not about reaching some end goal, but about the process itself. It’s about the practice of showing up for oneself and each other. I told the interviewer this–how it’s about the process: how writers come back to workshops again and again because we need the consistency, the community, in order to ground what is otherwise an isolating and hugely abstract activity.
I talked about how writing doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and how we learn so much from hearing the attempts of others–even their earliest drafts, even their ramblings and meanderings and failures. Especially their failures. I went on and on about how failure is built into creativity, and about how we need not only craft-building but community and confidence, and bla bla bla. But what I neglected to say was, “It’s the Love.” It works because of the love.
Because my heart really does expand and warm when I see the faces of writers in my workshops, and my day is made by hearing their unique voices, witnessing their sometimes bumbling, often inspiring, frequently brilliant attempts to claim some part of their truth, to capture in language a small piece of what it is to be a human being alive in this world, right now. Listening to their valiant attempts at making meaning, I feel bolstered in my own. I feel affirmed and accompanied in this difficult–no, this impossible task of making experience into art. I hear and I feel heard. And what is hearing and being heard, really, if not love?
I should have said all this to the interviewer. That it’s about the love–that’s what keeps people coming back. That’s what keeps me doing what I do.