Cheers. I gotta say, well done on this PD!
Bree and I slowly moved our signature cocktails together, careful to avoid spillage, and clinked to a successful professional development trip, mid-trip.
The bartenders at SYGN replaced the special bitters and house-made mixers to their rightful bins, secretly eyeing our reactions to the first sips. My lavender margarita was on point.
It was sad to cut the summer short and leave family and friends, but my roommate and I were aiming to gain skills and inspiration to be better creatives.
Writing in the Highlands
We started Monday in the Highlands only a couple miles from Loch Ness at a creative writing center, Moniack Mhor. What followed (in this place we both still can’t pronounce) was a week of good food, crackling fires, and some of the best writing advice either of us have ever received.
A world opened up. A future path for which I used to be hopeful suddenly came back into view. Writers and tutors Robert Twigger and Jason Webster provided countless tips and exercises to make writing more accessible and creative.
I wrote nearly 10,000 words in six days, and I made haggis!
After revealing her blue skies and warm sun, the Highland weather got back to her usual tricks and sprayed mist on our departure from the writing center. I’d been dreaming of riding the cross-country train through small Scottish towns and National Parks, and it did not disappoint in reality. Upon its termination, we arrived in the capital city of Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival.
Perspective at the Fringe
When one has access to the world’s biggest showcase of artistic performances, one’s brain explodes as the prospect of selecting a few to attend. After many careful reviews of the 440-page catalogue, I landed on a visit to the Picasso/Lee Miller exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, a couple walks through St. Andrews Square and George Street, some free comedy in the wee hours of night in Old Town, and stayed close to the Edinburgh Book Festival, also the largest fest of its kind in the world.
It was the Book Fest that slapped some perspective into this dream world of creative indulgence.
I attended Amnesty International’s Imprisoned Writers series and listened to excerpts by persecuted writers in Saudi Arabia. At the bottom of my program, I scribbled:
I am having a beer. And I’m alone.
They recited the words of Habib Ali al-Maatiq, Wajeha Al-Huwaider, Raif Badawi and his wife Ensaf Haidar. Each of these writers was fully aware of the rights they don’t have and had the courage to voice this sentiment. One didn’t care to show her papers from her “male guardian” at a border checkpoint and wrote a poem about it. A man felt like starting a website to spark discussions amongst Saudi liberals.
These acts are illegal in Saudi Arabia.
Earlier that day, I awoke when I felt like it, started working on some creative writing of my own volition, and wandered to a delicious Vietnamese lunch after FaceTiming my parents. I did what I wanted to do, no courage necessary.
I had a revelation at the writing workshop earlier that week that I have a lot of guilt when it comes to my TGS life. We experience an overwhelming number of bucket list opportunities and operate with the unique sense of freedom of a modern nomad. I have access to a drone, for Pete's sake!
I’m in the process of dealing with this new awareness of guilt and turning it from a bad feeling into positive action.
When I hear stories of others struggling to gain what I know as a given right of existing, I feel all the more choked up by my ever-growing list of privileges and opportunities that, in those moments of perspective, don’t seem earned. And yet, as someone hoping to write more works of public relevance, I have to transform this dead-end sentiment into fuel that propels forward with a voice that engenders action.
The next day, Bree and I attended another Book Festival session, this time on current affairs in México. This talk hit even closer to home with an explanation of how America’s demand for drugs and access to guns drives the “War on Drugs.” The two men on stage, writers Juan Villoro and Sergio González Rodríguez, were willing and eager to take part in the most dangerous profession in their country, even in the capacity of a desk job: journalism.
Yet again, I carried away with me free literature and a false sense of self.
Transformation process from guilt to go-forth, commence! What is the takeaway? After eleven days of venerating the tapped potential of the human brain, I find myself returning to a quote overheard at Moniack Mhor on Day 1:
Searching for the core
I think society gives so much richness to individual lives, and social pressures also take away a great deal of original thought and creative freedom. Many people don’t call themselves writers because they unknowingly play the harshest critic to themselves when they’re poised at the keyboard. Many more disregard their own human nature and fall in line with the expectations of their community.
Habib, Raif, Juan, Sergio, Wajeha, Ensaf, Jason, Robert, and Nikola seem to be tapping into that universal core, freeing and enabling their creativity in a variety of social climates. They listen to their own ideas of what’s right and real, and they share those ideas in words (and inventions, of course, Tesla).
At the risk of sounding like a Grateful Dead groupie, I can now see a clear link from creativity to justice. The more we all tap into our own creativity and let our inspired words be mighty, the closer we can come to universal peace and truth.
I don’t think I wrote anything revolutionary during my workshop last week, but I feel like my creativity is accessible and limitless again. With this belief, I feel empowered to continue tapping the “core” and finding words that reveal greater truths. And continuing to read the words of others only exposes me to more of that core.
If I lost you up there, just take away that I think writing and reading are important to making the world a better place. That link might seem like a stretch at times, until you hear the words that will make you act.