Thursday, October 15, 2009

Members Only

WICE--The Women's Institute of Continuing Education.

That's what it started out as back in the day when so many corporate wives were here with their husbands... 1979, I think. And the demographics haven't really changed all that much, but they don't ever use the full name any more.

The year I was introduced to the organization, the idea of "World Institute of Continuing Education" was proposed--by a non-WICE member, but who can say if that's the reason it hasn't caught on... yet? It was 2007 and I was weeks away from graduating with my MFA, so as a graduation present, my parents paid for me to participate in Cecilia Woloch's Paris Poetry Workshop: 5 days of workshops and readings in the City of Light with which I had already had a long love affair... In which I had been carrying on a long distance love affair since living t/here for six months in 2005.

So now, here I am, two years later still, "working" in the unpaid sense for that organization over which we only glossed that week. Dependant on the unemployed status of many of its volunteers, WICE is a non-profit organization that offers courses in everything from wine tasting to German. Literature, studio arts, museum tours and walks in various arrondisements, parks and cemeteries, and of course, Creative Writing. This is the reason I joined WICE last year... I took a course called Writing From Dreams with Sandy Florian. I wrote a few poems, none of which I thought very highly at the time, and I made a few friends--the best side effect of every single workshop I've ever attended. I served as a poetry editor for their literary magazine... and will again this year.

I also tried to get involved as a volunteer but found that so many of the desirable assignments were snatched up by veteran volunteers. I once stood around all Sunday morning at the orientation for their annual Paris Writers Workshop... and met a participant... from Long Beach... who had graduated from my MFA just a couple of years before me! But apart from that, I never found my place at WICE, exactly.

Then late last summer, I went to the launch for the literary magazine, Upstairs at Duroc, where Barbara Beck, the editor, announced that WICE was looking for a new Creative Writing Program Director. I jumped at the opening, emailing Barbara, then the then President, and anyone else I knew of to ask for advice and information. This was the summer of change at WICE. Downsizing and relocation had turned everything on end. A few months of run-around and I gave up. Not the post for me, I said to myself.

Then the email came. WICE was ready for me. The program had been dead for a year and they were ready to jump start it again. Inquiries were coming in about writing classes from prospective students and instructors alike, and with fall on the way it was time to get someone on the job. They gave me a few weeks and the contact info for a favorite WICE instructor, and I was to schedule the first course. I guess they figured I should start out slow and easy, but when the first class sold out weeks before the open house, it was clear there needed to be more on the program.

I have been working at a work-a-holic's pace for the past couple of months and have managed to start up four creative writing options, including a second session of the sold out course and a third course to begin in November. I don't get to teach them because I don't have working papers. Argh! But to connect with the students for which I design the courses, I decided to create a Writers' Drop-in/happy hour... On Thursday evenings, guess where... Au Chien qui Fume, of course! A casual, non-committal forum for those who are unable or not quite ready to join WICE and/or enroll in courses. You see, only WICE members can enroll in the courses we offer, and membership costs 50 euros a year--30 for full time students with valid I.D. For people with time--and money--this poses little or no problem. I haven't renewed my membership since it lapsed this spring. After all, there were no writing classes.

And now that I'm working so hard for them--for free--I am reluctant to cough up the 50 euros. It's not that I don't have it. My partner has been more than generous and supportive, especially where my writing is concerned, but we agree that it seems unfair--like life--that I should have to pay to belong to the organization for which I work so hard, so wholeheartedly, for so many hours a week. Instead, I sit in on the occasional workshop, as my title permits, and feel the energy: so many interesting people, so much good material and discussion. I really wanted to participate, but ultimately--and after a call to my level headed, business minded dad--I have decided not to enroll or even join.

Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind ;)

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