Sunday, December 6, 2009

Finding Purpose

When working with the Creative Writing Group for International Women...

At first I thought that our workshops were important because writing is important in its essence—it's fun, makes us think, helps us learn. But then I thought our workshops were particularly important because the women need practice with English. After a few weeks passed, I had to reevaluate. It was hard to judge if we'd brought writing into anyone's life in a meaningful way, if anyone had become friends outside of class, or if we'd improved anyone's English. All this kept leading me back to the questions, What are we doing here? What are we accomplishing?

I couldn't answer these questions, but I thought our experience with the blog might have something to do with our overall purpose. In our last post, Lucy wrote about our blog, mentioning how two of our writers' poems can be found there. The women were very excited about the blog. When we asked for permission to post their poems, one wrote, "it's my pleasure! It's a big encouragement." I started to feel something more significant in our purpose, but I couldn't articulate it.

On November 2nd, I attended a lecture on immigration by Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco. He is the Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education and the Co-Director of Immigration Studies at New York University, Steinhardt School of Education. He has received millions of dollars in grants for his research. His brief NYU faculty biography states, "[h]is basic research is on conceptual and empirical problems in the areas of cultural psychology and psychological anthropology with a focus on the study of immigration and globalization."

At one point in the lecture, he talked about interviews that had been conducted with immigrant children living in the United States. When asked who the most important people in their lives were (besides their nuclear family [and God]) they'd say someone like a godparent. And if you asked where that person was, you'd find (s)he was back in his or her native country.

All of a sudden I realized how heavily I rely on a network of people who are local. I thought of how much time I spend thinking about people in this network, talking to people in this network, and talking about people in this network to people outside of it. And so I realized that maybe these women, when asked what is important to them right now, might respond saying our group is important. When asked what happened this week, they might mention attending our group in a list of activities. They might say their poems were posted to a blog.

Not only does this reaction to group seem worthwhile, this seems more worthwhile than my initial desires for a writing group. Writing is wonderful, English proficiency is necessary, as are friendships, but being able to claim something local as a thing that is important to you, that's truly valuable. Understanding this value reinvigorated me for our workshops. We have been pushing all the women to share their work with us in writing, so we can make a booklet. We want them to have something tangible that they can keep at home and feel proud of. I know we are proud of them.

(For more information about Professor Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco's work, visit this site: )


  1. Good post, fine insight; it made me think:

    I've had somewhat similar thoughts regarding what we're doing for our group, which for a long while seemed unclear to me. The past two classes, however, it's become clear to me that, for a group of our young writers, the group has become something they can connect to, to a certain degree; something that they can care about and look forward to. The enthusiastic 'hi' I received today when showing up emphasized this to me, and later, when we discussed changing the schedule of the writers' group to once every fortnight, rather than once a week, there was disappointment from some quarters. I think we've given some of them, who are separated from normal society in some ways, a little something to hang onto.

    I know this is somewhat tangential to your specific point about helping with these women's geographic displacement, but the thought seemed similar in many respects, since our youth are also displaced after a certain fashion. Interestingly, the thought snuck up on me in a similar way it seems to have come to you.

  2. I definitely share this view of our group, Sarah. And having only visited your group once, Curran, I can see it applying very much in that situation as well. It seems to me that this is, or may be, the essence of "community" - finding something to connect with, be part of, engage with, and claim as your own.