A Direct Route
As I have mentioned here before, when I was a boy I became a big fan of the game Dungeons & Dragons. Within my group of friends I soon became the Dungeon Master (or DM), whose job it was to both design and run the night’s adventure: adjudicate rules, voice the various elves, barkeeps, and hobgoblins the players encountered, and, most importantly, maintain a consistent level of fun at the table. Dungeons & Dragons is a game without winners and losers. The point of the game is to have fun, to gather with seven or eight friends around someone’s dining room table to solve puzzles, defeat villains, and generally goof around with dice, little lead figurines, and dense rulebooks. Though it is a cooperative game, and all the participants’ opinions, jokes, and objections are equally welcome, the DM is granted a kind of leadership role, pointing the group’s attention this way or that, all in the name of more fun. It was a role with which I felt immediately and unquestionably comfortable. In many ways, it was the most comfortable I felt as a teenager in the company of others.
I do not play the game anymore, but I recently found myself leading a workshop for a group of eight writers. Like this blog, my workshops focus less on craft and more on the emotional challenges of being an author. My goal for the workshops is to spend four hours focusing our attention in the most enthusiastic, optimistic, and inspiring view of writing possible. If they gain nothing else, I hope the attendees walk away with a renewed belief that making something on purpose, like a novel or a poem, is an act of love.
The workshop was being held at one of the participant’s house, around her large, oval dining room table. We took a lunch break midway through, and as I returned to my seat at the head of the table, and as the other writers settled back into their chairs, shuffling their papers and clicking their pens, I felt exactly as I used to feel when I fifteen and it was time resume our D&D game after a short break. All that had changed was my idea of fun.
I knew at the time I was playing it that this game overlapped with my love of story, and fantasy literature, and theater – but I could not have known that it would so directly overlap with my love of teaching, because I did not know at that time that I loved to teach. How often I have thought it was my job to plan a route to happiness, and how loudly I have complained when that route met a dead end. No matter. The most direct path is usually the one I cannot see, though it is always the one I am traveling.
"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com