Maureen Ryan Griffin is a writer and teacher who lives in Charlotte. On Monday, April 29th she is teaching a writing workshop at Queen’s College called Delicious Memories, which will use food as a starting point for writing. The cost is $49, and anyone is encouraged to attend.
Mrs. Griffin was nice enough to sit down with us this week to talk with us about food and writing and why both are important to all our lives.
Charlotte Burger Blog: Good to meet you Maureen. You mind telling us a little about yourself?
Maureen Ryan Griffin: I am somebody who started loving language from the very beginning. I don’t even remember learning how to read; I just always did. And I love sharing my passion for language with people. I have a degree in teaching and I just love working with words. My business is called Wordplay because I love to play with words. This month is actually my twenty year anniversary. I taught my first script writing class in April of 1993, so I’ve been at it for a while. I’m interested in all genres, [but] I think sometimes it’s great to have a single genre class, but I really love to bring together people of different abilities and people of different genres. You know, good writing is good writing. It’s going to have strong imagery in it, and all five senses, including, of course, eating. We all love to eat. And there’s going to be some kind of plot, even if the story is about you going into a restaurant and the food was bad. There’s a story to that. I also love to focus in one thing.
My mother was actually a dietician and she loved, loved food. She just loved to prepare food. She loved to eat. So I grew up in a family where food and the combinations of flavors together were important, and I think it’s a big part of everybody’s life. This particular workshop, Delicious Memories that I’m offering is an opportunity for people to come and write about experiences with food. I use a number of different ways to approach getting words onto paper that are playful and very non-threatening and easy for anyone to do.
Charlotte Burger Blog: I think that’s one of the things about food is that it tends to be very positive in terms of the memories you have. It usually has the connotation of safety, so I think it’s the kind of thing that should be approachable for a lot of people.
Maureen Ryan Griffin: From my teaching background, there’s this thing called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We have to eat. I think so many times food is a source of comfort. It’s also a such a source of pleasure. You know, who doesn’t love a good burger.
Charlotte Burger Blog: (laughing) Not us. Not at all.
Maureen Ryan Griffin: We use food so many times to celebrate, and in the course description that I wrote I say, “Food not only nurtures and sustains us, it’s a rich source of metaphor and memory! We’ll explore our connections with food as we write of when, where, what, with whom, how – and even why – we ate!” I think that so much of that is embedded. Food is special because a certain person made it for us, or we ate it with a certain person at a particular time. My husband and I just had our twenty-nine year wedding anniversary, and we still remember the places that we went when we were dating and the ones that aren’t there. We used to go to this placed called Epicurean and they had these amazing little biscuits. We still talk about those, and still remember the conversations that we had when we ate those biscuits.
Charlotte Burger Blog: That’s one of the main reasons why we started this blog. We wanted to capture that conversation. There’s a conversation that just starts naturally by eating food together.
Can you tell us a little bit more about Wordplay?
Maureen: Well, I offer through Wordplay a number of different kinds of opportunities. I offer classes, and retreats, and workshops in so many different areas. I just recently started, this year, doing online offerings. That’s been really a lot of fun. April is National Poetry Month, so I’m doing [something] called Poetry Rocks. Every week day everybody is getting a poetry tool, and I broke poetry into a number of different components and they get one every day. I’m very interested in writing as a healing process and what makes some writing make people feel better and happy and some writing doesn’t. And then I work with people one on one. I do coaching and I do critiquing and editing. I came across a line, I don’t know if you guys have ever heard of this book, it’s called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, but she says “We are meant to midwife dreams for one another.” And I love that.
When I talk about my business, that is so important for me. I love for people to get what they want. For me, as somebody who coaches and teaches, it’s about helping people to find what they need, and often times it’s getting past the blocks in your head—the fear that they have, or worrying that they’re not going to be able to do it, or not being happy with a first draft. That’s really important for me to help people realize their writing dreams. What I love to do is help people get in touch with what that is and map out plans to get there.
The other thing about the playful part, is that I really believe that the way we human beings learn best is through playing. Play has this inherent quality to it of you’re not worried about finding the right answer. When you’re young, you’re exploring your options. When kids are playing they are trying on different possibilities. They’re exploring and they’re seeing what will happen. My workshops and classes are very interactive, and I always include an element of play in it, where people are coming at working with language in at least a couple of ways that they haven’t before. I love for people to surprise and delight themselves.
Charlotte Burger Blog: So tell us more about Delicious Memories.
Maureen: It’s two and half hours, and basically what we’re going to be doing in the workshop is—well, first of all, I always bring examples of different [writings] and I’m actually going to print out a couple of your blog entries because, why not, you know?
Charlotte Burger Blog: Well, we would advise against it… 1
Maureen: Well, it’s kind of fun. I will also get a couple of other food blogs. I’ll be bringing examples of memoir. I’ll be bringing a couple of family cookbooks. I have a few really cool essays about food or about the experience of eating something that are really, really lovely. I always give people a chance to express whatever they want to express about why they came. And then we’re going to be exploring two things. One is I’ll be giving them some strategies about how they just get stuff down on paper. For so many people that’s the hard part. They have this idea, but executing it is difficult. And we’ll actually be writing in class. I love writing from prompts. I love the energy of writing together. We’ll be doing a number of those. This is my writing book, Spinning Words Into Gold, and it’s filled with all manner of prompts and resources and strategies. What I’ll be doing is using some of them, one of them is the Sprint, which is a stream-of-consciousness writing, but I have a little different of a twist on it than some people. I’m also a big fan of the List, and I know we’ll be making a number of lists. They’re such good memory joggers and such good organizational and structural tools. And a couple of other things that I don’t want to give away because I want people to be surprised when they get there.
And people will go home with at least three drafts of something that could be a scene. They’ll be writing and there will be an opportunity for them to ask questions.
Charlotte Burger Blog: So you mentioned something about family cookbooks, am I correct in saying you actually wrote something that is kind of a memoir/cookbook?
Maureen: That’s a project really near and dear to my heart. It’s called How She Fed Us. I told you about my Mom who loved to cook. It’s been 11 years, so I can talk about it without getting too teary about it, but my mom had an illness called Lewy Body Disease, which is like Parkinson’s in the brain. It comes with dementia, but it’s different from Alzheimer’s in that she had moments of lucidity all throughout. She knew when she got the diagnosis that it was going to kill her. She knew that. I have four siblings, and it was such a hard time for our family, and for my mom to have to confront all of this loss.
I found out that she had always wanted to write a cookbook. And, I got to tell you, I really don’t like to cook. I did not inherit that. She had two daughters. One daughter was in the kitchen helping her, that’s my sister the cheesecake queen. And then there’s me. I was up in my room writing trying to avoid the paring knife at all costs. My sister at one point said, “I can’t believe you’re the one writing this.” She ended up helping me to select the recipes and type them up.
I love stories. And I had this very wonderful thing happen where my mom used to send me this birthday box with these cookies that she knew I loved. And there was a year and I didn’t get my cookies and I realized that I never would again. And so, the next birthday I made those cookies for her and sent them to her. I ended up writing an essay about that and it was in the Charlotte Observer with the recipe.
But they didn’t run it by the food editor, and it turns out I had said “stir in the nuts” but there weren’t nuts in the ingredients. And she called me up the morning it was in the paper. And she was so mad.
One thing led to another, and I thought I could write stories that went with my mother’s recipes. I decided it would be a wonderful project for the whole family. So I interviewed my siblings extensively. I interviewed all my mother’s grandchildren. So it has all these recipes and stories. What I’m working on now is turning that into something that the general public would like to read.
It’s been a wonderful thing for our family to have. It’s wonderful for me to have these pieces of my mother. I even scanned in some of the recipes that were in her own handwriting.
Charlotte Burger Blog: I love that idea. It seems like a great way to not just share the memory in terms of the words, but in terms of the food itself.
We would like to again thank Maureen for sitting and talking with us, and for providing us a copy of her book. Again, if you’re interested in her website, the link again is http://www.maureenryangriffin.com/ and you can register for Delicious Memories here.
- We hope that doesn’t dissuade anyone from attending. ↩