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An update from the third Writing Workshop with Conner Bassett

A summary of the Workshop held on Saturday May 1, plus some of the output published below

Lightness is a "lightening of language whereby meaning is conveyed through a verbal texture that seems weightless, until the meaning itself takes on the same rarefied consistency.” -Italo Calvino

“My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language" -Italo Calvino

For this week's Writing Workshop, Conner first asked us to consider his original lecture of Good vs. Evil (now split in to two parts) as "Lightness vs. Heaviness," this week's focus being Lightness. In order to introduce the two modes, Conner offered a primary juxtaposition of Don Quixote and Hamlet Don Quixote being the quintessential example of Lightness, and Hamlet the quintessential example of Heaviness. "Heavy" characters were noted to be brooding, philosophical, intense, opaque, emotionally closed, and characterized as scheming and calculating; on the other hand, "light" characters were noted be agile, quick, cunning, witty, lighthearted, whimsical, emotionally open, and characterized by action. At this point of the lecture we moved into strictly discussing lightness, first focusing on the character of Perseus, who "moves according to the pattern of the wind and clouds" as an embodiment of lightness. Peter Pan and Robin Hood were also discussed as iterations of Perseus. Next, using Milton's funny and charismatic figure of Satan in Paradise Lost, we discussed how a quote on quote "evil" character could embody lightness, too. Another example of a character embodying lightness was Scheherezade from A Thousand and One Nights, as we noted her ability to think quickly on her feet and tell stories, and the fact that the stories she told were in themselves examples of Lightness—stories about flying carpets, winged horses, genies, magic, love and romance, and about characters like her: witty, smooth, fast talking characters of action. Following our discussion of Lightness in characters, we moved into a discussion of Lightness in painting, music and literature, beginning with three paintings: Magritte's The Castle of Pyrenees, Malevich's White on White, and Turner's Norham Castle, Sunrise. We also listened to Mozart's "Piano Concerto No. 21 and Stan Getz's "The Girl from Ipanema" to set a mood of Lightness. Finally, we discussed the Lightness evident in the haikus of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa, William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow," and Gertrude Stein's poem, "A Dog." 

The Challenge: First answer what "lightness" means to you. Write one of the following prompts: 1) Write about a character who exemplifies lightness; 2) Write a story that makes the reader feel “light;” 3) Write a description of a place that uses all the elements of lightness we discussed in class (lighthearted, whimsical, effortless, or emotionally open).

The Participants: Emma, Josh, Svitra, Georgia, Liam, Helen, Sophie, Anya, Simran, Jackson, Sena, Sinan, Olivia, Aditi, Lucy, Harine, Isolde, Audrey, Alice, Sasha, Noa, and Julia.


Emma Hoff, 9
Bronx, NY

Fear of Drowning

Emma Hoff, 9

I was flying. It felt like I was floating on the water, but this time without sinking in, without coming up coughing and spitting. I didn’t know how to fly, but I didn’t know how to swim either.

Flying was easier, though, because when the wind lifted me up, it didn’t feel like a hurricane. It didn’t feel like a menacing and strong wind, because it was lightly tossing me onto the fluffiest air ever, and suddenly I was floating. I was hoping somewhere my family would be floating. And I knew they probably were somewhere, flying, feeling the most comfortable they had ever felt.

And as the wind carried me away, I fell asleep. I woke up, and there was no more soft air. I was in the hurricane again, and I was being swirled and tossed, like fruit in a blender. Somehow, I was enjoying it, because while I was floating, a tiny pocket of my brain had been thinking, This isn’t right. This isn’t real. And when I stopped floating, when I just started being tossed around in the hurricane I realized that if the flying wasn’t real, then my family was probably gone. Helpless. Scared. And here I was, unable to help them. And then I was falling. The hurricane tossed me towards the ground and I was sailing down… until I stopped. And I realized I was with the sun. And it was real, even though it seemed like it wasn’t.

And the sun said, “Are you lost?”

And I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell the sun that I wasn’t lost, that a stupid hurricane had taken me away from my family. But I couldn’t speak. The sun somehow tossed me inside of it, and when I was inside I saw infinite space. And a lot of people. Everyone. My family, my friends, people I didn’t know. And then we were pushed through the other side of the sun, and we seemed to be in our world. I suddenly forgot about the trials of the hurricane, and how I was just tossed into the sun. I didn’t care, because at that moment I was happy. And I felt like I was floating… for real.


Isolde Knowles, 9
New York, NY

10 Days

Isolde Knowles, 9

10 days. That was how long I’d been in heaven. Heaven was just like people thought of it as. The whole area is up in the clouds above all the souls still tethered down there. Yet still I yearn for the sense of unpredictability you have on earth. And now I start to wonder if I'm thinking about this wrong. Maybe that tether that keeps you down there isn't stopping you but saving you. Heaven is a beautiful hell.


Aditi Nair, 13
Midlothian, VA

Fly

Aditi Nair, 13

Bouncing off the white fluffs,
she went into the air.
Gliding and soaring with
the expressionless winds.
Gliding and soaring with
the youthful cheers.

Gliding and soaring with
her arms wide open–
large and welcoming,
leisurely chirping with
those around her.

Flying in a place where
judgement drowns,
and uniqueness is heard.
She gently sways her delicate arms,
and feels the caressing wind
on her cheeks.

Bouncing off the white fluffs,
she floats in the air.
Gliding and soaring–
free at last.


Sena Pollock, 14
Madison, WI

Wind and Possibility

Sena Pollock, 14

There is lots of wind.

Wind and sun shining through the leaves on the trees.

I could grow wings if I wanted to, but right now I just want to stand in the wind.

This is a place for singing and almost flying. I can fly here and the only reason I don't is because I don't want to.

Thank you maple for being the way to this place. Thank you sun for shining and making the leaves so golden-green. Thank you whoever built this roof at just the right angle to stand on.

Thank you wind for blowing in a flying way. Thank you world.

My sister says the roof could fall in, but I know it won't because if it was going to it would have already. And anyway, I can fly if I want to so it wouldn't matter if it did. One of those little cabbage moths is flying by and I know that its babies will eat the garden but I DON’T CARE because when they grow up they will fly and right now that’s all that matters.


Svitra, 13
Fremont, CA

Lightness

Svitra, 13

Floating infinitely
Through an abyss of thoughts
Almost as if you are sinking
Because your pool of thoughts
is deeper than anticipated
Lightness is like soaring underwater
Like dancing in the rain
Release all the heavy thoughts
That may contaminate your mind
To reach true lightness
You must be blank
You must be empty
You must be hollow
And you may begin to wonder
Is lightness really a good thing?


Emma Hoff, a girl with blond hair, wearing a red dress and holding a blue book.
Emma Hoff, 9
Bronx, New York

Fear of Drowning

Emma Hoff, 9

I was flying. It felt like I was floating on the water, but this time without sinking in, without coming up coughing and spitting. I didn’t know how to fly, but I didn’t know how to swim either. Flying was easier, though, because when the wind lifted me up, it didn’t feel like a hurricane. It didn't feel like a menacing and strong wind, because it was lightly tossing me onto the fluffiest air ever, and suddenly I was floating. I was hoping somewhere my family would be floating. And I knew they probably were somewhere, flying, feeling the most comfortable they had ever felt. And as the wind carried me away, I fell asleep. I woke up, and there was no more soft air. I was in the hurricane again, and I was being swirled and tossed, like fruit in a blender. Somehow, I was enjoying it, because while I was floating, a tiny pocket of my brain had been thinking, This isn’t right. This isn’t real. And when I stopped floating, when I just started being tossed around in the hurricane I realized that if the flying wasn’t real, then my family was probably gone.

Helpless. Scared. And here I was, unable to help them. And then I was falling. The hurricane tossed me towards the ground and I was sailing down...until I stopped. And I realized I was with the sun. And it was real, even though it seemed like it wasn’t.

And the sun said, “Are you lost?”

And I wanted to scream. I wanted to tell the sun that I wasn’t lost, that a stupid hurricane had taken me away from my family. But I couldn’t speak. The sun somehow tossed me inside of it, and when I was inside I saw infinite space. And a lot of people. Everyone. My family, my friends, people I didn’t know. And then we were pushed through the other side of the sun, and we seemed to be in our world. I suddenly forgot about the trials of the hurricane, and how I was just tossed into the sun. I didn’t care, because at that moment I was happy. And I felt like I was floating... for real.

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