Here + There
I began working on my senior project with Rachel in August 2016. From the start it was clear to me that the project would grow out of my existing work with Writers Room, and from two things in particular. The first was a draft of "Oi-ling," an essay I began in Kirsten's "Name-calling" workshop Fall 2015. The second was a realization I had while doing a WR independent study as a junior with Rachel and Lauren Altman: that I had set up my life like a Venn diagram in which none of the various circles touched.
That foundation drove the focus of my project throughout my final year. I realized that much of my identity was tied to place, or rather, a fractured set of places that produced my fractured sense of self. I was always one person here and another person there, with no idea of how to bridge the gap between those two entities. A critical part of the process centered on writing towards a better understanding of that intersection between people and place, if not a full resolution of the here and there.
During the year, I was able to install myself in the Writers Room studio space on campus at MacAlister Hall. (More on that space soon!) I used it as we got it before any renovations began, so I've been told that it wasn't "the most glamorous," but the space marked a turning point as I began to make it my own and see myself as a writer there—pinning relevant photos, drafts, and quotes. My entire work routine came to be built around my time in the studio.
What resulted was a series of three related essays in which I returned to a place that has long been an anchor in my life: Chinatown. For the first time, I created an interlocking of stories: my father's, my family's, our neighborhood's, my own. Aside from what ended up as product on the page, what changed most was my process. I learned about the work that goes into a project like this and figured out how to do that work—waking up early to get to the studio, reading, researching, reflecting, drafting, reading, revising, reflecting again, drafting again, and so on and so forth. It was the single most enlightening and moving experience I had as an undergrad at Drexel. (Fitting, considering it grew out of my work at Writers Room.)
I am working now as an ArtistYear fellow for the 2017-2018 academic year, teaching as a writer-in-residence at Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia. I have a lot goals for the year, but the biggest one is to provide my students with the kind of experience I was privileged to have through Writers Room. From the work I've done there, I've come to believe that one of the most beautiful, transformative aspects of the art of writing is this: when we truly engage with it, we expand our sense of self in relation to the world around us rather than in a vacuum, we can take ourselves in conversation with one another. I have seen it—felt it—in the way Writers Room has bridged three fractured and diverse communities in West Philadelphia. As the year progresses, it is my hope that I'll share writing with my students as others shared it with me, so that they, too, may use it as a frame through which they can learn to embrace and navigate the differences between themselves and their neighbors as they move forward throughout the world.