Keeping Pen to Paper

(Aka: The Creative Opportunity of Extreme Social Distancing)

Charlotte Lit’s “Keeping Pen to Paper” is a new virtual resource to take the place of our weekly in-person Pen to Paper class, which we’ve had to suspend due to Coronavirus.

On Wednesdays, newsletter subscribers will receive a free mini craft lesson and prompt, which will also be posted on this page. These lessons and prompts will come from Charlotte Lit co-founders Kathie Collins and Paul Reali, Pen to Paper’s lead teacher Megan Rich, and other Lit faculty and members. Enjoy!

April 8: The Mask!

by Kathie Collins

Until a few weeks ago, the only surgical masks I encountered were those worn by characters on my favorite medical TV dramas—ER, Gray’s Anatomy, and House, M.D.—and by my dentist and dental hygienist at my twice-yearly cleanings and checkups. Now, the surgical mask is haute couture, which has me thinking about “masking” as metaphor and archetype.

Wearing a mask is a way of touching the archetypal world of forms. When we intentionally cover our ever-changing faces with something plastic or static, we focus on just one aspect of our being. It’s a way of entering mythical time, of experiencing one of life’s highest, lowest, or most often repeated human dramas—an initiation like graduation, marriage, or parenthood; or a typical situation like birth, falling in love, heartbreak, old age, or death.

Masking puts a barrier between us and the world. When we don a mask, whether literal or figurative, we protect, veil, or conceal our total selves from others. At the same time, we reveal or shine a light on particular aspects of our characters. Psychologist C. G. Jung posited that we all present a masked self, a specifically curated version of our more complex wholeness, to the world. He called this self the Persona, a term he borrowed from the masks worn by actors in classical Greek theatre. The Persona isn’t a problem unless we begin to believe that the mask is all we are.

This is where writers have an advantage. We study the roles beneath the masks we typically show the world by trying on other aspects of ourselves. We cloak our personal experiences inside the characters we create. And, we “try on” experiences we’ve not yet had by imagining ourselves into new situations, allowing ourselves to act out hidden desires and impulses.

Nonfiction writers also assume a mask: the mask of the writer. This mask permits us to step back, to become less active as participants and more active as observers. Imagine a carnival wallflower hiding behind his or her mask while sipping champagne in a shadowy corner of the ballroom. We can see life very differently from this vantage point.

This week’s writing prompt wears three masks:

  1. Reflect on a “mask” experience you’ve had or witnessed over the last week. This might be a surface-level exploration of life in the age of COVID-19 or a humorous riff on the theme of surgical masks.
  2. Write about a mask you have worn, physical or metaphoric. How did you feel beneath the mask? In what ways were you different? What feelings and impulses did the mask allow you to express? How did others engage differently with you?
  3. Explore “masking” from the point of view of a fictional character. What aspect of themselves does your character hide behind? How does this mask benefit your character? What does it cost them? (Bonus points: What part of yourself does this character mask or protect? What do they say or do that you can’t or won’t?)

April 1: KonMari Objects

by Megan Rich

Stuck at home for the unforeseeable future, many of us are holding our spring cleaning up to painstakingly high standards, and what better way to do that than harness the cultural phenom Marie Kondo? Perhaps you’ve unearthed an object in your attic or a sweater in the way-way back of your closet that once sparked such joy for you, it almost felt like a friend? Or maybe you’ve come to realize in the face of this existential threat to mankind that perhaps you don’t need quite that many books? (Yes we do, Marie; don’t touch our books!)

In this vein, please take a few minutes to choose one character (fiction), persona (poem), or person (memoir/nonfiction), and imagine one object in each of Marie’s categories that would “spark joy” for him or her and one that would not.

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Misc. stuff (read: crap)
  5. Sentimental items

Now, choose one of these objects and do the following:

  1. Describe it in great physical detail. Consider giving it anthropomorphic qualities that help us feel what the owner feels about it.
  2. Tell the story of how that object came into his or her life. (This might be particularly interesting if it something that no longer sparks joy but once did, showing a transformation.)
  3. Use this object in an emotionally-charged scene. How might the object itself, and his or her feelings toward it, raise the stakes or tension?

Write for at least 40 minutes, if you can.

March 25: Using the Sense of Smell

by Paul Reali

Writers paint a picture for our readers. We want them to see what we see, or what we’ve imagined. So it makes sense that the most of our writing focuses on what we see—that is, uses the sense of sight. But if you want to paint a more vivid picture for your readers, be sure to sprinkle in the other senses: smell, taste, hearing, and touch.

In today’s mini lesson and prompt, we’ll focus on the sense of smell. Here are some examples of writing using the sense of smell.

[Read More]

March 18: Making Connections

by Kathie Collins

Let’s face it. Life in the outer world is typically so busy, most of us hurry through our days with little awareness of what’s going on inside us. We awaken each morning with to-do lists so long and loud, our nighttime dreams evaporate before we even open our eyes. And, we climb into bed at night so dog-tired we’re lucky to read ten minutes before our eyes slam shut again.

[Read More]

About Keeping Pen to Paper

by Kathie Collins

When last week’s (March 11) Pen to Paper class ended, we said, as we typically do, “Thanks for coming. We’ll see you next week.” Little did we know that within a few days our city would be on a light version of lockdown and that we’d have to cancel all in-person programming. We’re all anxious about the uncertainty we’re now living through. And we realize that some of our community members may find themselves temporarily unemployed or in need of assistance. If that’s you, please reach out. One of the great things about our community is that it’s full of caring people.

Indeed, we created Charlotte Lit for the purpose of building community through the literary arts, and we’re going to do our best to stay connected during these days of extreme social distancing. One of the ways we’ll do this is by continuing with our Pen to Paper program in a virtual format. Newsletter subscribers will receive a free mini craft lesson and prompt each week. This week’s issue is low-tech—which is my favorite kind of tech! But future issues may include short video lectures and readings.

If the current Covid-19 precautions remain in effect for an extended period, Charlotte Lit will develop an online format for next season’s classes. For now, however, we’ve decided to embrace the “found” time this situation has gifted us to read, write, and reconnect with our creative selves. Charlotte Lit’s entire staff and faculty invite you to join us—at a safe distance, of course.