I was Pond Scum. That’s what Tom Spanbauer called those of us who sat in the outer circle at the weekly meet ups of the infamous Portland workshop Dangerous Writing. We surrounded the veteran writers at the table as workshopped their pages, listening and commenting as they read. Pond Scum had to wait until the end of the session for their turn to have 5-10 minutes with Tom. He would take our papers home with him over the week and give notes, then spend those minutes going through the notes with us.
You had to earn it to sit at the table. Most people at the table had been a Dangerous Writer for years. They had to bide their time. Their writing had to get to a level of truth. And space had to open.
The second week was the first time I turned in pages. The third week was the first time I got to sit down with Tom Spanbauer. My nerves trying not to black me out.
Each meeting my moleskin was covered in illegible scribbles, trying to write it all down, trying not to forget:
Unpack the verb. On the body. Try not to use received text. Screw subtly. Be present. Deconstruct. Tell it how I would tell a friend after a few drinks.
In my personal meetings with Tom, he spoke to me about rawness. About writing from the wound. About what it really means to write from the body. To be present in yourself. To throw all the proper storytelling out the window. To write with honesty. To write your truth.
The reason I gush to everyone I know about Tom is that truth in his writing and in his being. I’ve encountered many people who don’t enjoy this style: the minimalistic, raw, tell-it-how-it-is, on the body, repetitional writing. The fragmented and graphic writing. The kind that doesn’t use adverbs and brings forth uncomfortable issues we have a hard time in our culture discussing in the flesh let a lone on the page.
This writing style isn’t solely Dangerous Writers’, or Northwest authors for that matter, but what Tom’s writing does, and what Dangerous Writers did, was bring me back to my fear of writing, to the body, to my fear of my truth.
In that moment, my body understood what it was to be brave…
[Brave] meant you were afraid, real afraid,
but you went ahead with it anyway.
- Tom Spanbauer
- In The City of Shy Hunters
I was only a Pond Scum for four months. You could barely call me a Dangerous Writer, but Tom never told me I had to write dangerously. In fact, he pointed out to the newbies this is just the way he sees it, doesn’t mean he is right, doesn’t mean he is wrong.