Sunday, June 27, 2010

Want a detox?

A lot of you know that I was in California until yesterday.  A couple of days in the Bay Area with the family (and a heartwarming reading at San Jose Public Library) followed by an intensive writing workshop in San Francisco. I am still exhausted.

The workshop, Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation (VONA) hosted at University of San Francisco, will always remain special to me for very many reasons – some I’ll share with you; few others, my memory will always savor.

Here is how it started: I won a part scholarship to the VONA workshop. Naturally, I was excited and nervous about a new city, new opportunity. Who hasn’t dreamt of living in San Francisco for a week as a local resident and not a visitor? Soak in the city beyond the regular tourist haunts. Walk through the Golden Gate Bridge Park in the evening. Which artist doesn’t want to hang out at restaurants and bars where the creative energy is at its peak? See murals in the Mission area, grab a glass of wine in Haight, or recognize poetic symbols in their entrée served at eclectic restaurants. I can go on and on.

The instructors: it was an honor being in the company of experts: Suheir Hammad, Tayari Jones, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Mat Johnson, David Mura, and Elmaz Abinader.What mentors! God, each one of them could teach a class on humility. They were so encouraging and nurturing. It seemed our success meant as much to them as it did to us. I still remember what a few of them told me after my reading. And it takes a very big heart to shower such kindness.

I had the honor of being in Lorna Dee Cervantes’s class. Lorna is considered a legend in the world of poetry. What she told me in my one-on-one meeting with her still brings tears to my eyes. And I don’t cry easily. All I can say is that I feel blessed. And I hope her words come true.

My classmates: Sometimes it takes a lifetime to know someone; and other times, it takes a few hours to develop a bond. We ate together, dreamt together, partied together, and cried together. Even a private person like me was able to somewhat break that wall and share. As a fellow writer (from the fiction category) said, “Damn you, poets. You make us all emotional.” And then she teared-up and gave us a hug.:-)

Though we came from diverse backgrounds and carried our own baggage, we were all joined at the hip. We trusted each other with our darkest secrets and deepest fears when we least expected. Poetry can be autobiographical, confessional, therapeutic, which means you dig up issues and stories your pragmatic brain conveniently buries under the cement of societal pressures. We spoke of things that even our subconscious was unsure about uttering. Fearlessly helped one another with writing and reviewing. There were no selfish bones in the equation. Learned about each other’s cultures, past, and present. We danced to Shakira and hip-hop like there was no tomorrow. Tried a new cuisine every night. And worked until the cows came home. I mean, we all slogged!

I feel like my life underwent a change in just seven days. In the past, I have scoffed at people who have said such things. Such convictions sounded a bit cultish to me. But believe me, VONA was life altering for a lot of us. In many ways, self-revelatory (This is the part I keep to myself. Sorry).

After checking in at the airport, when I called up my husband, he joked about the tranquility in my voice and called me “a Californian.” He was right. I haven’t felt this calm in ages. And maybe, just maybe, there is something in the air of San Francisco that wants you to cleanse and heal.

More until next time,

Copyright © 06.27.2010

"There may not be a Heaven, but there is a San Francisco" ~ Ashleigh Brilliant


My two cents said...

Thank you, Rajiv for the useful link. Very touched by your note!

S said...

just got to read the blog post- it was WAY shorter than I expected and WANTED it to be - sounds like the time spent there has left you with many wonderful memories and lots of inspiration. Something about the West Coast life style does make me want to move out there too!