Coordinating a BWW workshop is sort of like herding cats. And it just so happens that I love cats. But I didn’t set out to be a cat herder. About 2 years ago, I innocently asked Peter [Biello, founder of the BWW] if the BWW had ever thought of holding workshops in Montpelier so that those of us from the hinterlands wouldn’t have to repeatedly risk our lives in the Bolton Flats. He responded, “We’ve thought about it, but didn’t have anyone willing to coordinate them.” The rest is history.
The thing I’ve appreciated most about the BWW has not been what I’ve gotten from it, but what I’ve been allowed to give. How many places do you know of, in this increasingly disconnected and regulated world of ours, where one is allowed to give what one has to offer? And to have what one gives treated as precious.
At its best BWW is not an “organization”—it is a living, breathing communal organism. Most organizations, including most writing programs, are basically service stations. You pay your money, you get services or goods in return, and you leave. At the BWW, there really and truly isn’t anyone here but us chickens (mixed metaphor between cats and chickens, but you get the point). There is the potential for something much more vibrant and rare than an “organization.” There is the rare chance here for a vast interdependent web that we will continue to weave together.
We think so much about what we want to get, to have, from life. But really, in terms of what makes life worth living, what creates health and a sense of purpose, it’s what we get to give that counts. And to have our talents, our attempts, our energies, our generous and compassionate impulses, even our failures, received with appreciation and care.
I thought, when I attended my first workshops, that I would learn from having my work critiqued. But over these years I have learned far, far more from offering feedback to others. I’ve been blown away by the incredible variety of minds and the courage it takes to expose one’s private world and work to others. There are pieces to which I would never have given a second look if I saw them elsewhere….genres I thought I didn’t like, subject matter which I thought bored me. But the commitment we make to each other, when we sign up to attend a workshop, is to treat each piece the way we hope ours would be received.
It is an honor to be handed someone’s work. And so I expand my world. I learn to practice patience, to find the gems in the sometimes very roughly hewn rock, to enter into someone else’s mind and heart and ask myself how I can help them to get where they want to go. People achieve things I would never have even attempted. It is an exercise in exchanging minds and souls.
It is this exchange that I support when I give to the BWW. I hope you will too.
—Eva Gumprecht, BWW Montpelier workshop coordinator