Yesterday, we had our inaugural writing workshop of this trip. We gathered on the 11th floor of the hotel in a meeting room with a panoramic view of Hanoi on all sides. We could still hear hear constant honking from the streets and workers turning the restaurant over from lunch to dinner on the other side of the door, but pretty soon all of that fell away as we brought our hearts and attention to words. Finally, it was time to write.
Writing group is a grounding place on these trips where so much attention goes outward, so the first thing we did was sit in meditation together, stilling to the sound of my gong. We got quiet, finally stopping the momentum of travel, arrival, and jetlag; the excitement of exploring a new country, the rush of getting to know each other, to settle in and step inside ourselves. Writing is a great way to reflect, to ground, for us to coalesce as a group.
Because it was our first session, I spent quite a bit of time establishing the basic ground rules of safety and confidentiality essential to any writing group. Then we talked about what it means to travel as a writer. How traveling as a writer is different than traveling as a tourist. Being a writer in a new place means paying close attention to all the sensory input swirling around us. It means listening more deeply, paying attention to details, looking for the story in our day. As I explained to my students, writing is a powerful vehicle for deepening and enriching your travel experience.
I described the way I create my blog posts – how I gather the details of the day, jotting down impressions, quirky things I notice, random bits of dialogue, street signs, insights, and questions in a small notebook I carry with me everywhere I go. For the purpose of this Virtual Vacation travel blog, I take pictures to illustrate my posts, and as I move through my day, I let that day’s story shape itself in my mind.
I read my students some of the random things I’d jotted down the day before and then followed that with the blog post that had emerged from those notes. I described the way I had shaped the story and the curiosity that had informed it. Then I gave everyone the gift of a small notebook to carry with them at all times, as well as their first assignment: to go out in the streets of Hanoi with their notebook and to begin noting down what they see, hear, smell, taste and feel, and to arrive at our next class with a few paragraphs or a page or two written from those observations.
Writing class has begun!