“The Road to Surrender,” by Lauren Hardy
On the first day of class, I knew Lauren was the type of writer that editors dreaded: highly motivated, lots of student organization experience, and very sure of what she knew.
It was clear that much of what The Invictus Writers discussed wasn’t going to be received without a fight. Making matters more complicated, she was itching to get started and nobody was going to stop her.
I knew we were in for a long tug-of-war when we spent a considerable amount of time in one of our early classes focused on getting her to use the word “conversation” instead of “interview” as she conceptualized what she wanted to do.
We discussed how conversations lead to scenes, while interviews lead to the dreaded (and dreadful) inverted pyramid. We talked about the collaborative nature of discussing your story. We spoke about the collective nature it takes to understand a scene from a holistic point of view, and to write that scene so that it speaks a truth to everyone.
But all of that takes time.
* * *
One of the joys of The Invictus Writers project is that ultimately the writing and the writer begin to take care of each other. There is no getting around the truth that you put on the page. You begin to see its flaws, its beauty, and its missing pieces.
If writing is done well, you need editors less to help you find answers and more to help you understand the problems you have.
For a writer, the page speaks to you, presenting problems and offering up solutions in ways that outsiders may not comprehend. As Lauren began to craft her story and as she began to see what others were writing, her words and her approach to the story changed.
She was less rushed in finding the answers, and more willing to explore scenes. She made mistakes, found them, and searched for new solutions.
Somewhere around the middle of the semester, Lauren came into our class and announced that she needed answers for her story. She said she needed to have conversations with her parents to get those answers because interviews weren’t giving her what she needed.
A few days later, she told The Invictus Writers a story about her father’s life with music, anecdotes that framed her story differently than she’d been telling us. The whole idea of her story suddenly shifted in our collective as we heard her tell these stories, ones she’d gotten from her parents as she talked with them about their lives.
I don’t know if she knew it at that moment, but she’d found her way into her story. More importantly, she’d found her way into the group.
* * *
From the outside, I suspect it’s easy to think our adversarial relationship in the classroom is indicative of our relationship. Without a doubt, Lauren frustrated me as a teacher. I suspect if you asked her, I did the same to her as a learner.
Yet this is the one of the greatest relationships that teachers and students can have. Respectful friction, even when sometimes accompanied by exasperated eye rolls or breathy sighs, is how we forge new experiences.
We have odd notions of teachers and students in America. There exists a mythology that we teachers are benevolent instructors and students dutiful learners. There is no room for a complexity of humanity within mythologies, and I find that tiresome and boring.
If this project is about anything, it’s about understanding grey areas and embracing them. The Invictus Writers project involves slicing open our veins and bleeding across the page. It is, by definition, fraught with friction.
In between our project walls, we embrace that friction. We revel in that because its in those moments that we experience life in real ways.I need students like Lauren, just as she needs teachers like me. What we sometimes forget is that other students also need to see that dynamic play out because it gives them permission to question, to challenge, and to strike out on their own.
That idea is at the very heart of The Invictus Writers; we are the master of our fate, after all.
* * *
By the end of the semester, Lauren was writing away on her essay. She would ask for advice, and as I am wont to do, I answered her less and less.
There comes a time when the only advice an editor can give a writer is bad advice. She, like Andrew and Lacey, had found her way into the story. Certainly it wasn’t complete. There were spaces she wished she’d done better, but there were more spaces that reached out to the reader.
She found her footing and her voice and her story. She’d reached that point where I could only screw up what she’d done.
I’m proud to introduce Lauren Hardy’s essay, “The Road to Surrender,” which follows the sometimes difficult relationship she’s had with her family and traces how they have learned to understand each other because of those travels.