I started teaching in 1998. I have worked with young and adult students, as a volunteer and paid teacher.
One of my favorite positions has been working with adults at the New York Public Library; these are my thoughts on the past year at the Mulberry Street branch:
It was the perfect job. I was a volunteer instructor for a conversational ESL group at the New York Public Library.
That was in 1994. Then I became a mother. I couldn’t do the hours. The group met in the evenings, after work. I swore I would come back.
It took a while, but in 2016, I made a concerted effort to make my way back. Libraries are in my blood; my father worked for the Queens Borough Public Library for thirty years, and my aunt worked for the 42nd Street library, as well. I have spent the last thirty years patronizing the Brooklyn Public Library and my children, when they were visiting their grandmother, lived at the Massanutten Regional Library, in Harrisonburg, Virginia.
Getting back in, though, turned out not to be so easy. It seems there are a lot of people who want to volunteer for the library (thank goodness) and what seemed like a simple phone call was going to require a lot more effort. Undeterred, I persisted. A humorous moment occurred when I got a call from the volunteer division of the 42nd Street library and the woman mistook me for another Anita Bushell.
Finally, I was set up with a woman who managed adult learning for the library. It would be a data-entry position and, although, I am no administrator, I committed to it for a three-month period; however, because of scheduling conflicts, that position didn’t work out. What a gift. While looking at the volunteer needs of the branches, I found the posting for a Writer’s Circle instructor at the Mulberry Street branch.
What a joy this year has been. The workshops, which were only supposed to run from September through January, were extended into July (and will begin again in September). And when I saw that the sessions were too short, the library happily extended the time to two hours.
And the participants? They are marvelous. As one would always expect at a library in New York City, they come from all over, around the corner, and as far as India. They come with every level of writing background, having written little since school to professional writers. All are welcome, to commit to a regular writing practice and the invitation to tell their stories.
We talked about New York a lot this year and one participant mentioned the idea that, even though the city changes all the time, “New York is still here.” This served as a writing prompt for pieces that were developed over months and shared with the library at the end of the year. It was a wonderful event that brought together a group of New Yorkers, who had recently been complete strangers to each other, telling their stories in a warm and nurturing environment.
Interested in the workshop?
Can't make the workshop but want to create a writing practice? Allow yourself the time and space to start a daily writing discipline. Below is a piece I wrote for the Writer's Circle on this subject.
The Permission To Write
Years ago I was visiting family in Oregon.
On a sunny, Portland day where the temperature hovered blissfully between a low 68 and a high 70, I contemplated how good life was. I watched shorts-clad joggers dropping by cafes for iced coffees and I realized I had no problems whatsoever. I could write volumes in such an environment.
Then I came home. New York was grey and cloudy. The mail was messy, a pile simply challenging me to attack it. My mood plummeted. Writing? What was that?
Although life occasionally hands us the perfect day, the majority of them are anything but. There are families and jobs and bodies to tend to, to say nothing of relationships. If you're a writer, unless you have the lifestyle of the “one percent”, you're screwed.
We all know how much time and focus writing requires; how can we possibly create a regular practice within our busy lives that allows us the time and environment we need to be creative?
The answer is we have to do it ourselves; no one and nothing is going to do it for us. I started out as an actress; another actress once told me how frustrating it was telling people you were an actress (“I'm an actress. If that's ok with you...”)
I began to think of myself as a writer when I realized I no longer wanted to write; I had to write (think eating, or drinking water.) At this point it became really easy to stop asking others for permission.
For now, I am giving you the permission to write; eventually you will do the same for yourself.
You're first step is to decide who you are as a writer. Since we all have day jobs, even if we're retired or on disability, we just need to figure out how to convey to others that we are writers and that we spend time writing. I'm a writer, educator and private tutor. It’s a mouthful but that’s what I do. No one questions me. The sooner we become comfortable with our role as writers, the easier it will become to create our identities as such.
The next step is to decide what you write. Are you a poet or a novelist? Perhaps you're a playwright. In my case, I write non-fiction works of all types, from articles about homeless children in Baltimore to essays about my obsession with black and white films.
The final -- and perhaps most important step -- is to decide how you write. This encompasses three points: when, method, and where.
When. My perfect, Portland day was a sunny, 70-degree morning. It was my dream writing scenario. If I hadn't been with my family I would have been one of those joggers, grabbing an iced coffee and settling down at a cafe table to dive into my next project. Needless to say, I'm a morning person; you, on the other hand, might be a night owl. You're job is to figure out your optimal time to write.
Method is also key. I used to write with pen and paper; then I found myself on a bus with an idea and no notebook. Who does that? The advent of smart phones and the iPhone Note App changed all that. Now I have no problem getting those thoughts down on technology. Organization is also part of method. How many articles, ideas, and notes have I misplaced because I really don’t have a system? (and I'm a really organized person...) Do you file on flash drives? Do you print and file in old-school manila folders? Or do you simply have everything in a notebook? The sooner you decide how to organize your writing, the easier it will be for you to manage your projects in the long run.
Where you write is equally important, especially in New York, where, once more, unless you have the lifestyle of the one percent, you need to figure out what space suits your needs as a writer. Is it at the kitchen table or a table at your local cafe? Can you work with people around you or do you need complete solitude (as I write this I am on the subway and a couple next to me is discussing the logistics of getting to the climate change march. I am trying to tune them out...)
Whether you're a beginning writer or one who is more established, everyone should be journaling. This affords you the opportunity to write daily (I write in my journal at the end of my day) and takes the pressure off if you have no specific project in mind. It's like working out; the more you do it the better it is for you. A great journaling exercise is the Morning Pages from The Artists Way (Cameron). The requirements are simple: three handwritten pages, unedited, without stopping. On your perfect day, you do these when you wake up; for most of us, this will take place on a weekend day or day off.
Ultimately, when you find the who, what, and when of you as a writer you’ll be able to get to work; a great goal is on a weekly, then- hopefully, daily basis.
A final thought: In our word-driven world, it’s important to remember that, from a historical standpoint, we were all once storytellers. Good writing is good storytelling.
What story do you want to tell?