Thinking about Provincetown and my workshop experiences there -- what strikes me above all else is that I've never experienced, anywhere else, that balance of utter relaxation & "on-vacation-ness" and focused, intense, hard work. Not at any of the other summer workshops I've attended, not when I take a couple days off work to stay home and write, not anywhere. That's where the magic is for me, I think; and I even experienced a bit of it when I visited Provincetown just for vacationing, before I started taking workshops there. The atmosphere of the town is so ... I don't quite know how to describe it. So NOT "nine to five," business as usual. Partly it's because so much of the town is dedicated to tourism, to reminding people that they're on vacation. Partly it's the landscape of the place, the expanse of water, the desolate dunes, the Province Lands that feel like another planet, the smell of salt water, the clarity of light. It all works together.
So when we all gather at FAWC for a workshop, we're on vacation, most if not all of us; enjoying the fact that while we're there we don't have to clean the house, pay the bills, go to work, make the dentist appointment. And yet the focus is so damn intense. I don't know about anyone else, but I spend at least as much time writing, reading, preparing for class as I do actually in class. More, usually. Not to mention how conversations over dinner, drinks, even slipped in around the edges of the karaoke (heh) keep circling back to poetry. It's pervasive. Everything starts looking, feeling, smelling like a poem.
Tonight I remembered one of the most important lessons I learned in martial arts, lo these many years ago -- yes, I was a very serious student of karate for about six years or so, in my twenties. The first most important lesson is to remember to breathe (I gotta admit that one applies to poetry very nicely too). The second important lesson is to relax every muscle that is not absolutely necessary for whatever technique you are doing. You don't want to be a floppy jellyfish on the dojo floor, that will get your ass kicked. But you also don't want to clench every muscle, not until that sudden, singular moment of contact with your sparring partner. Try it for a moment. DON'T HIT ANYBODY. :) But make a fist, and throw a punch in the air. Try it with every muscle in your body clenched and tightened just as tight as it will go. It's like pushing that fist through something viscous, isn't it? Now relax everything, just hold as much tension in your body as is absolutely essential to maintain your form, and try to throw that punch again -- then at the moment when your fist would make contact, tighten everything (even your ass muscles -- especially your ass muscles!) and let out a sharp exhale. I bet your fist whips out there a whole lot faster.
I think poetry is like that, too. If you can relax everything else, relax and let go of the bill-paying mind and the going-to-work mind and the "oh my god everything I write is crap" mind, the words flow a lot faster and more freely. All your energy becomes focused on that one moment of contact, the impact of your words upon the page. When you waste less of your energy on unnecessary tension, whether physical or psychological, there's that much more energy to focus on whatever it is you want to focus on.
And remembering to breathe? Still not a bad idea. *grin*
NOTA BENE: The Management is not responsible for any bad "wax on, wax off" jokes that may hereafter ensue. Also not responsible for lost items. Thank you. --Land Mammal Mgmt.