By Bryan Perley
It is a Friday afternoon in the month of May and I pass through the doorway of the old farm house on the Food Bank Farm where my writers’ workshop meets. I am late, having just gotten out of a short cross country practice, but I am immediately received with a warm welcome from all those present in the kitchen. Danny, a complex and thoughtful poet, slaps his freckled hand on my shoulder and then proceeds to talk to me about the Eagle Scout process, as we are also both members of the same troop. I also manage to greet Joe, a long time member of the group and a talented debater for his school’s mock trial team. I sit down next to Lou, who often cannot make the workshop because of his sports practices, and joke about how short my cross country practices are compared to his. Margot plays with the household cat on the window seat, while Benny, the host of the workshop and son of our instructor, enters. I settle in for what is
always one of my favorite parts of the week.
We come from different places, schools and backgrounds. We are actors, mathematicians, runners, debaters, computer whizzes, hockey and frisbee players, Jews, Christians, atheists, vegetarians, nature lovers, boy scouts, fencers and duct tape enthusiasts. However, there is one constant across our diverse lives, and that is a love of writing. This shared passion for writing is at the core of what has kept our eclectic group of aspiring poets, essayists, novelists and authors together, somehow carving out time from our hectic schedules to keep coming to the farmhouse for regular meetings for almost ten years now. And while writing remains central, our workshop experience has evolved over time into something that has come to mean so much more.
We gather in a circle as the workshop begins. We are given an abundance of magazine cut outs from Ms. Bowmaster, the instructor of our group, and we write in whatever manner we wish in relation to the picture that we choose. Danny’s story is deep and moving; his older brother William executes a philosophical poem about his wilderness picture. Lou prepares a hilarious piece, while his classmate, Cory, concocts a science fiction short story. I, like others
in the group, find a way to intertwine the concepts and emotions of my photograph into the novel I am writing. One by one we share what we have written with the rest of the circle and the others offer constructive criticism and encouragement. Every time we share, we learn from one another and we often try different methods and styles to advance ourselves as writers. The group is supportive, encouraging each of us to take risks and “put ourselves out there” with no fear of falling flat, which of course we sometimes do. That we voluntarily spend Friday afternoons, at the end of a very demanding school week, coming to this old farm house to work on our writing is sometimes a bit puzzling even to us. However, we all agree that in the midst of all of the fun and the crazy exercises we have actually learned as much here -- not only about creative writing but also about public speaking, self-confidence, expression, listening and tolerance -- as we have in any class that any of us has ever taken.
The workshop is over for another week. The photographs are put away and our latest literary creations are stuffed into backpacks or pockets. Some have gone home, some of us linger and talk. As it often does these days, the conversation turns to college plans. Amid the mundane recitations of interview schedules, application deadlines and the relative merits of early decision, we share our hopes and fears and try to put into words the sense of excitement and anticipation, and the nervousness and anxiety, over what lies ahead. Benny speaks of wanting to find a college that will prepare him well for law school, while Lou emphasizes his desire keep up with his sports. Cory mentions his search for the right university where he can hone his computer science skills. I listen to all of this and reflect on my time with this group of friends and kindred spirits, and my larger experiences at the Food Bank Farm. I realize that this community which has come to be such an important part of who I am is really a microcosm of all that I hope to find in the “right college.” I imagine an environment full of interesting, bright and talented people, one that nurtures creative thought, encourages and values diversity of opinion, and fosters a true sense of charitable purpose and service to the larger community. While I am not so naïve as to fail to realize that this a fairly idealistic vision of what college life may be, and one that no school can realistically be expected to attain in full, my experience with the Food Bank Farm and writers’ workshop communities has shown me that such environments do exist and that I can thrive in them and contribute greatly to them. I can only hope I am fortunate enough to find a similar environment in which to spend the next chapter of my life.