Of course, I can tell you there was magic. Something profound has to happen inside people’s hands to make a word jump from a cloud or several of them – words, clouds, jumps. Besides, what story about people like us trying to save ourselves doesn’t contain some sort of magic?
The first time I attended the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, a master’s level workshop for writers who work toward community-building and non-violent social change, I sat at Our Lady of the Lake University. I listened to Helena María Viramontes and remembered reading her books, the stories – “Miss Clairol” and “The Moths” and Under the Feet of Jesus – my mouth full of questions, my hands eager to empty themselves onto a page. I hadn’t yet published a book. I knew inside me were stories only I could tell. But isn’t this true about everyone? Each of us with our own lives made of suffering and joys, possibilities, questions, which are other words for stories, other words for poems.
You might hear about poetry and perhaps you cringe, having been force-fed the old esoteric stuff and then told to answer questions. And as a result, perhaps you loathed it, coming up in school not seeing the real-world usefulness of iambs and vers libre and all those little and big rules that, at one time in life, determined who could write and who couldn’t. If you’ve forgotten how to love words, if you’ve forgotten that inside you, in the fibers of your arms and back and all down your legs, in your tripas, I promise you it’s there.
And the world is changing, and the world has changed.
Yes, I am telling you that progress is possible. I am telling you that when people work together marvels and magic and movimiento can happen. I am not telling you that you have to believe me. That, of course, is up to the voices inside you.
A handful of years ago, I wouldn’t have given much thought to the potency of a community of like-minded writers like those at Macondo. I wanted only to work and earn a good check, own a truck and a house and some dogs, work in my yard. But these are dangerous times. And thinking beyond today is no luxury.
I spent most of my time at this past Macondo workshop – which took place July 13-16 at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center – working alongside the Macondo Young Writers, the first group of high school-aged writers to participate in the workshop. You hear a lot about young people being the future. But young people, I have discovered, are the right now. They wrote about Syria and Oaxaca, about music and fathers, about police violence and memoir and love.
A better word for dangerous is “shut your damn mouth,” “ask no questions,” “don’t you dare dance,” “you can’t really write,” “nothing about you belongs.” A better word for dangerous is “sing with all of your body,” “ask many, many questions,” “dance under each phase of the moon,” and “write and write some more, and yes, yes, be alive.”
On the first night of this year’s Macondo workshop, Texas Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero, who is the program director, talked to us about love.
“…Love is generous…Love makes us into a tiny red bird,” she said.
All week during the workshop I looked in the mirror, thinking my body could be covered in tiny red plumes. A small bird covered in red feathers and black-grey tattoos. All week I listened.
I’d be lying if I said I never am starstruck, which is a wonderful idea in and of itself, that a star might strike our bodies, touch our muscles and bones, an impact on the red flesh of heart, skin and eyes that look upon the world. Scientifically, being struck by a star isn’t such a beautiful event or perhaps it is. Incineration. Going back into the nobility of the universe, its gases, its dark mass, its heat, each a possibility of scientific beauty and God. And that’s some of the wonder of Macondo – possibility. Both can exist, more. All at once.
But Macondo isn’t what it once was. We used to sit around tables and read things we’d written, talk about revision, build ourselves up, ask questions. This year’s Macondo was different. New people, many people. Workshops not workshopping. High school students. Although I miss the workshopping, I am glad to hear another vision, another way of doing this, other possibilities.
Because the world is changing, and the world has changed.
And I’d like to think a little bit of Macondo is possible in anyone’s life. So much of Macondo is a call to action, a commitment to make the world better. If you’ve ever wanted to write, perhaps you should heed the call that happens inside you. Or maybe your call is to begin teaching, to finish a degree, or maybe it’s to learn how to read or to teach someone a word or to write great letters to people you love. Maybe your call is to read a story to your kids at night or to sit with them in a library, in a park, at the dinner table, and talk to them about their stories and yours and ours.
No matter who you are, no matter where you live – wanting a better world is something that bonds us. Perhaps that want, embedded somewhere in ancestral human DNA, is what connects us all, a blood-cue, hope. But how do we get that world? And what if my vision of a better world differs from the world you envision?
Thus, writing. Thus, thinking. Thus, community. Thus, Macondo.
At the end of the workshop, there was a circle. Many people told stories – a story about a snake entering a woman’s heart, a story about a hummingbird and a baby and a handful of cockroaches. Many people offered blessings and offered thanks.
As for myself, it was the story of “…love making us into a tiny red bird” that still sits on my shoulder, days after the facts, heavy with marveling, its wings doing what wings will do, its tiny heart beating and beating and promising me more.
Top image: 2016 Macondo Writers’ Workshop participant and author Joe Jimenez (center back) leads a class during the inaugural Macondo Young Writers’ Workshop. Photo courtesy of Joe Jimenez.