“All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.” —G. K. Chesterton
On Monday, the seventeenth of June, at four-thirty, I arrived at MidAmerica Nazarene University for the OYAN Summer Workshop.
And never have I had a week simultaneously so long and so short. It seems that so much had happened in so little time. There were so many people, so many people I knew already, so many people that I learned to know. It passed with the speed of Almost-Flash, and yet small instants here and there remain riveted in my memory like a vivid picture.
This is me, trying to articulate these chaotic memories and process them. I've done this before, and I'll probably do it again: I'm going to think on paper and let you in on what's going on in my mind. It's going to be confusing (especially all of the inside jokes), and it's going to be unorganized. But I sincerely hope that it interests those who didn't go to the Workshop and helps those who did.
If I could describe the Workshop in one word, it would be this: vision.
OYAN gave me a vision. Not just for my novel, but for OYAN itself, and especially for that brief glimpse that Mr. S gave us the last night, of hobbit holes, a Rivendell for writers, an impossible thing that he wanted to make possible. That's what vision is, like hope.
At the Workshop, I remembered that I had forgotten. I caught a glimpse, a vision, of what could be. That maybe we writers could actually make a difference telling stories. I knew this in my head, but at OYAN I saw it. I saw that vision, I saw the passion in others for storytelling, for Christ, for trying to change the world. We were an army of ordinary heroes.
I've never seen anything like it. Not even remotely. For the first time, I was among writers I actually knew, that actually did the things I did, liked the things I liked. The first time I went to a Workshop I only knew one person. This time I knew dozens before I went, and even more afterward.
One of my memories comes to mind from Monday, the very first day: I'm leaning far back in my seat and talking to all of the other people I'm sitting with in the lounge. Queen Jane is dozing and telling people she's “not asleep” every other word with her hilariously British accent, Eagles laughs even though half our jokes aren't funny, Sandy is sitting on the table because there aren't any chairs nearby, Gunstrav is grinning, my sisters laugh. I don't even remember what we were talking about, but it was after eleven o'clock and everything was funny.
And there was so much good about the Workshop. My critique group was wonderful and lively and so funny, and actually liked my novel. I got into a theological discussion with some friends (someone evidently playing telephone changed the word to “debate”) for several meals and had a great time of it—we talked on controversial topics from predestination to Mormonism to evolution and never got angry or heated at one another despite a wide range of opinions. Jill Williamson was fantastic (and knew my name!) and I had a wonderful mentoring session with her. Jeff Gerke was one of us—he even dressed in two different costumes! The fluffnark still lives and Jeff's new shirt is proof of it. Mrs. S was herself and that's all we could ever ask for.
It's hard to articulate to people how exactly the Workshop felt. Sure, people can understand having lots of fun and being geeky with other people, like what I just described above. That part is easy. But what a lot of people don't understand is the level of emotion and the depth of friendship that develops between people you spend all day with for four days in a row.
I've talked with a couple non-OYANers about the Workshop in the last few days. They asked how it went. I said it was incredible good and sad at the same time. Sad? How was it sad? That was what they asked. Really.
I'm not sure exactly how it could not be sad. I was sad since the second day. You see, the worst part about OYAN was that it had to end. As Mark Wilson said during one of his lectures, you can't stay in Rivendell forever. The Workshop was a wonderful place of teaching and people and laughing and singing, but it couldn't go on forever. In fact, it could only go on for four days: “a far too short a time to live among such excellent and admirable OYANers.”
The Workshop was our Rivendell. It was our place of rest and restoration on our long and hard journeys. It was a place of community, of love and grace and a lot of laughing. And we knew that once we left we had to go to Mordor.
But the Workshop wasn't just that. The Workshop wasn't the end: it was the end of the beginning. Rivendell was a place for rest, but it was also the launching pad for so many great things. And that's what the Workshop did: it launched us back into our lives to march on, through all of the dangers of life, to persevere and maybe even change the world. It gave us rest, spiritually: physically we stayed up way too late and got up way too early. But after you rest you have to work.
We had remembered that we had forgotten, but we couldn't forget again. We had seen a vision, I had seen a vision, and we couldn't just file that away.
So that was the Workshop, a terribly and terrifyingly wonderful gathering of men and Time Lords and elves and Ithilien Rangers and writers...ordinary heroes.
I want to pause for a moment to talk about something I mentioned earlier. It's about Mr. S's last lecture, the one where he talked about vision.
Mr. S had a vision. OYAN was a Rivendell for writers, but only for a few days out of the year. But what if it actually existed? What if we could create a real haven for writers, where we could come anytime for rest and healing and restoration? What if we could make...hobbit holes?
The extent of what Mr. S talked about is too large and scoping and wonderful for me to cover here, but I'll try to summarize.
He wanted to really and truly build a place here on Earth for writers, a permanent residence where smaller groups of people could come for workshops, or to simply stay and write. They would be hobbit holes, amplified ordinariness. They wouldn't just look like them, they would literally be hobbit holes, with real wood and round windows and doors and holes in the ground.
He wanted to really and truly build a library, and in his mind's eye it has a spiral staircase and a real growing and living tree, and a place entirely devoted to every book the OYANers have ever published.
He wanted to really and truly build a creative arts center, a place for graphic design and filmmaking and so many other things.
Mr. S showed us his vision. And there wasn't a person (that I know of) that wasn't deeply moved by it. (If you're an OYANer and you were there and you weren't deeply moved, then you're a Dalek.)
Now we're carrying that vision on with us, not only to change the world through our writing, but to help others to do so by creating a real, physical place where writers can go, a real Rivendell.
And really, it looks impossible. But Mr. S was undaunted. OYAN remains undaunted. Because God has done the impossible before. And you know what? You can't change the world unless you try. We can't say building hobbit holes is impossible until after we've done all we can.
And after the lecture, we met outside and we prayed with Mr. S, and we sang (I sang hardest when we sang “It Is Well With My Soul”), and we laughed, and we said goodbye, and it was hard. And people cried.
I did. I really did.
Leaving people is hard. Especially when they're writers like you, and you've spent the last four days laughing and eating and talking and learning with them. Especially when you're going back to Africa and you don't know if you'll ever see any of these people again.
It was hard.
But it was worth it.
David Platt once said that all mission is separation. You can't be sent out unless you're leaving. It involves sacrifice. And each and every OYANer has been sent out, and we've been separated, but we're spreading our vision.
We have a vision to change the world for God, and we won't let it die out. It'll hurt, but it'll be worth it. We have a community utterly unique. We're OYANers.