Angel City Zen Center Monthly Writing Workshop

Angel City Zen Center has a monthly writing workshop, usually on the 3rd Saturday each month. Today, on the 4th Saturday of the month (ha!), ACZC held the workshop after its weekly zazen, discussion, and community lunch.

The writing workshop, while a platform for exploring and flexing creative muscles, also serves as an exercise to build communal understanding, compassion, symbiosis, and empathy. I’ll elaborate on this in a bit.

I attended the workshop for the first time, without prior conception and certainly with a degree of apprehension. I’ve never done anything like this before and was nervous about embarrassing myself. There were, indeed, very creative writers in this group. But they were also extremely supportive. The format of nonjudgmental analysis and sharing of present impact cultivates a safe and lighthearted atmosphere that makes you forget that you’re living in Los Angeles, a city that can be lonely and superficial, if not downright merciless and cruel.

The workshop started with a 20 minute zazen that ends with a topic prompt, from which we free-write for thirty minutes. Then we go around the room reading our respective writeups. Each reading is followed by everyone taking turn to share what impact it had on them and what their impressions were, all with zero judgmental and personal preferences.

The second part of the workshop had us use anything we heard and took notes on in the first part of the workshop to synthesize another writeup. This is where I mentioned about this being an exercise in building communal symbiosis. Because to write up the second piece, we had to listen to what everyone else had to say. Whether or not we agree or liked or disliked what we heard, we had to hear them. As we compose a writeup using their words and ideas, we essentially enter their mindspace, which is how understanding, compassion, and empathy starts. The result is a deep connection with everyone involved, even if we don’t know each other’s personal histories.

I tell you, everyone’s writeup was amazingly creative and great. This entire group has legitimate writers, even if they don’t do it for a living. Everyone’s writeup had me shaking my head in awe over how good it was. There was prose, stream-of-consciousness, poetry, creative fiction, social commentary. Everyone in this group is truly talented, creative, and most importantly, good-hearted.

I really did think what I wrote didn’t come close to everyone else’s in terms of quality and originality. I’m not being modest, just cognizant that it was my first time and I did my best, which is fine with me. I look forward to continuing this writing process with the group in the future. I know I could learn a thing or two from everyone there.

Anyway, here is what I wrote in the first part of the workshop, followed by the second part. Be nice. (The topic prompt, by the way, had a political bent. I don’t remember what it was exactly, but it’s not important because no one really used it as a basis for what they wrote.)

• • • •

Clever people think they are clever. That is their nature. They identify with that label. Little Johnny was told he was a clever little boy and he grew up liking that. The problem is that everybody is clever, too. Little Johnny knows this deep down, though he may not know it truly, only that there is some nagging sensation that points to this. So he devises ways to show off his cleverness, but in a way that really illustrates how unclever other people are. In short, Johnny is an asshole.

A whole generation—maybe several generations—of Johnnys have been fostered in this country and as a result we have a clever country on our hands. A prevailing character trait for Johnny is that he doesn’t want to be just like everyone else. The urge for different, i.e. superior, is strong. Everything then becomes a measuring stick. There has to be results! Society has been built with this mentality, where metrics means more than right. Never underestimate the power of self deception. Whole industries are built on this: advertising, marketing, sports, Hollywood, award shows, the list goes on.

How do we break this cycle of self-destruction? I have no idea. The only thing I know is that we created this problem in the first place by doing things. Doing more things does not seem like the solution. Nor does looking into the past. People like to say that history repeats itself. That seems silly and wrong. Everything happening now is new. If anything is real, and that’s debatable, it is the cosmic law of cause and effect. Don’t believe that at your own risk.

• • • •

(This piece is based on what the others in the group wrote and on notes that I took throughout the workshop.)

Who are you?
Confusion is the flavor of the month,
Like the fleeting nature of hellos and goodbyes.
Still, we have
Desires so viscous, sheets can be erected
And spun into a
Rope called hope,
Which can lift the
Embarrassment that has become customary
Ointment for our narratives.
After all, the rebound is the reason.
Everything happening now is new.