My First Week at My 2021 Writing Course: 13 February 2021

open laptop keyboard with notebook and pen on top

Despite not sleeping very well last night — due to both anxiety and excitement about starting my new writing course — I woke up about half an hour before the alarm went off, feeling quite energized and only somewhat refreshed. My normal morning routine flew by, although I did it back-to-front: shit, shower, shave, then breakfast. Before too long, I was busy twiddling my thumbs and checking my watch and every clock around the house for the time.

As I was leaving, I said good-bye to Noel but admitted as I had in previous days how nervous I was — not overwhelming anxiety or anything, just nervous — and he countered I should be myself as people tend to like me and I should be fine. Okay, as long as I can get rid of the nerves, I’ll be good.

The drive itself was uneventful. Being a Saturday morning, there wasn’t as much traffic as normal. It even got to the point where I got to the new Cranford Street – Northern Motorway roundabout, and there wasn’t another car in sight, and I wondered if I was the only human left on the planet. Alas, cars did appear once I left the roundabout itself.

I managed to pull into the sparsely used parking lot, and after having issues with my first parking space decided to move to a shadier part closer to the building. Seeing some of the people I met at the group interview in November last year, I realized my carry-on computer case might be a bit large as others were carrying smaller bags and backpacks. My carry-on-computer case comes with me to work every day as it has my laptop, chargers, and other bits-and-pieces just in case, and with an extra compartment at the back, I can keep my notebook and other things there.

Once inside the office area where the English department normally meets, quite a few of us there already, we broke off and spoke to one another. Both the people I spoke to weren’t in Christchurch during the quakes — they brought it up, not me — which seemed strange since they were the ones born and raised in New Zealand, and I was the odd one out in having moved here. For those of you in the know, the quake questions seem to be pervasive still in Christchurch: were you here when it happened? Where were you at? What happened where you were at? What happened to your house? All those sorts of questions.

We broke off into our groups and headed towards the classrooms. The first lady I spoke with was in the other group; the first man I talked with was in my group.

My class is made up of 10 students including me, which is a nice, small, even number. Our tutor put us at ease, and most of us seemed willing and able to engage in the class.

After a brief discussion, we broke off into pairs and spoke with one another about which three authors, living or dead, we would invite to dinner. My classmate Jadwiga had some interesting choices: Haruki Marakami; Jane Austin; and French theater critic and author Antonin Artaud. We spent a bit of time discussing both Marakami and Artaud because, frankly, they sounded interesting, and I wanted to know more. Jadwiga obliged my 20 questions.

She introduced me and my three choices: Toni Morrison; Margaret Atwood; and Arundhati Roy. Roy is a writer I would like to speak to, but another writer or two popped into my head later, including Philip Roth. Our teacher spoke a bit about Toni Morrison and said we should discuss her more later. While I’m not the foremost expert on Morrison, I do love her work. I’d have to brush up on my knowledge of her, but that would be a simple task for sure.

Another classmate named Ben also picked Toni Morrison. We spoke at length later in the break about her and also other things as well: funding applications, the Christchurch terrorist attacks, the impact on Christchurch’s Muslim community for starters. It was a great conversation, and weirdly I now feel like I know him.

We wrote a bit, our assignment being to write a list of as much as we could remember touching, seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing on our way to course this morning. I wrote out a literal list, my depersonalization-riddled mind taking the exercise literally and not even putting things down chronologically. (Incidentally, I found out I wasn’t the only one who wrote a list like that!)

When we were invited to read our lists, some of my classmates read some wonderful work. Sean, Hannah, Moya, Jadwiga, and Zoe shared some stunning imagery that I honestly had blossoming in my mind’s eye. Something inside me shifted; I felt challenged; I felt happy; I felt inspired.

The anxiety wasn’t there any more. I didn’t feel that I had to be the best or the possibility I could be the worst or the best or mediocre. These people around me were talented and inspiring, and I knew that this would help me achieve, create, be challenged, and grow as a writer this year.

We approached subjects like adults and writers. It felt so very good to be in that headspace again, a creative one, sure, but also one shared with like-minded people.

Three types of list poems came next. First was a number poem, with every line starting, “Number of times” in a paragraph block. The second poem covered memories the author had of growing up in the 1950s with short phrases of two to three words, each stanza rhyming. And the third one discussed rules Samoan girls should follow growing up. (The third was honestly my most favorite.)

Our assignment this week is to emulate one of the poems, and on the drive home, a poem about the rules unfolded in my mind. Either “Boys don’t cry” or “Men don’t cry”. I couldn’t quite pin it down.

The lesson ended way too early. I was so excited and happy and felt the most engaged I have felt in long time. It has been the happiest I have been in the longest time, which is saying something, especially as with depersonalization I can laugh and not feel a thing. This was true, unadulterated happiness.

And it felt good.