NDJ:6 Martha Blechar Gibbons, PhD

Remarks at Graduation May 2009

When I entered New Directions three years ago, I had no idea that I would be participating in a diet plan. The literature that I read about the program never indicated this. Sharon Alperovitz didn’t mention it when she described the writing experience to me. Friends who had preceded me in the program never hinted that this might be a possibility. But in the first year of my participation in New Directions, I lost 89 pounds… of adjectives! Following this, the adverbs began to peel off, and I shed a total of 22.5 pounds.

In my second year of New Directions, my Sunday morning writing group instructor, Tesa Conlin, informed me that I could no longer start my sentences with the word “and.” I was stunned. I had been placing the word “and” at the beginning of my sentences since kindergarten. Changing this behavior was not going to be short term therapy. But now every time I begin to form the letter “A” at the beginning of a sentence, I sense Tesa behind me, breathing down my neck, her blue eyes piercing the paper in front of me. Like a dog when it hits an electric fence, I am shocked into submission.

In my third year of New Directions, I participated in Elizabeth Reese’s Poetry Workshop. Dutifully following her directions, I came to class with my original poem. Each of us read our creations, and when it was my turn, I shared mine. Liz listened, responded, and proceeded to cut my poem in half.   I felt a bit bereft, but definitely lighter.

Now, after all of this, the reason I do not appear emaciated is due in large part to my Sunday morning writing group. Even we experienced shrinkage: our group downsized in number from six to five, and finally to four. Yet the four of us remaining have learned that while there may be power in numbers, there is something very significant, possibly life altering, that can be exchanged in an intimate environment. The initial loss was our ultimate gain, and allowed us to come to know, support, and challenge one another in a way that facilitated our group and individual development. I conclude these three years feeling lighter, but liberated, and very grateful to everyone in New Directions for this experience.

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