pen.For the past four weeks I’ve been spending some time at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre teaching a memoir writing workshop. Every Wednesday morning for about an hour a few people write around a table in the midst of a busy room buzzing with conversation and movement and a movie blaring on the TV in the corner. It’s not hard to block out the distractions: my participants are keen on learning how to craft their stories and ask a lot of questions.

The workshop is offered through This is My City (TMC). TMC is a non-profit society that brings art and people together no matter their income bracket or social status. As a TMC volunteer I’ve been offering my four-week memoir session to homeless and detox shelters for about two years now. Last week was my last trip to the Drop-In this fall.

We talked about using description, show: don’t tell, in our stories. For example: Janice was very angry. That’s telling. Janice was waving her fists in the air and her face was very red. That’s showing. Description paints the scene for the reader by proving details that appeal to the senses using the senses. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? How do you feel? These bring a world to life in your story instead of just telling a reader what he or she should be experiencing.

I asked my Drop-In participants to describe something. One man decided to illustrate himself with words. Here is his piece:

I am a large teddy bear on steroids with long curly hair, a weathered looking face with an unwanted belly that travels in front, defying my efforts at reduction. This belly laughs at me, “Hah, hah!” it says. “Try and lose me, my friend.”

“I will lose you,” I retort, “one day.”

When I am in decent shape I dress “gangsta.” I dress in Ray-Ban, True Religion, FUBU. I look good, sexy. I’ve been taught to do that. I like the look.