Conflict in a Writing Workshop

I’m too tired from writing. I’ve been writing all day at the International Women’s Writing Guild at Yale University. In my first class I wrote a short short story that I love and want to get published.

I’m almost too tired to tell you about something that happened in my last class — how one of the teachers was talking about how a woman from Jehovah’s Witness came to her door. “I’m rewriting the Bible,” she told the woman. “Today a Psalm. Tomorrow a Lamentation.” And then the teacher showed the evangelist the Adirondack trees ablaze in orange and red outside her window, “These are my burning bushes.”

And the class laughed. But one woman, wearing a batik dress got up. She was behind me. The teacher asked, “Are you leaving because you’re leaving or something I said?” And the woman said, “I’m of that faith. And we believe in the Bible.” She was offended. She did not believe just anyone could write or rewrite the Bible. It was very tense. A few quick words. The student said, “I believe the word can raise the dead.”

“So can my word,” said the teacher. “Can’t we all be prophets?”

“No, not like that.” They disagreed. They stood their ground. “I have to leave.” And the teacher said, “Don’t leave without a hug.” They hugged. The teacher put on a short video. After the video, the teacher said, “We mustn’t live in fear. This is what we’re up against.”

The teacher gave us an assignment to write a blessing, a praise or prayer of gratitude.

After some of us read our writing, the teacher asked for feedback on the conflict with the woman who’d left. One person said, “We all laughed when you said a Jehovah’s Witness came to your door. I feel bad about that.” Another said, “I felt like leaving too.” I said, “I avoid conflict at all costs so I was interested to see how you’d handle it.” The woman beside me said, “It would make a good story.” More than a dozen of us commented on the conflict.

Then we went back to another writing exercise: write something from the Bible from a woman’s point of view. I wrote something funny and true about Martha and Mary.

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