Before Girls' Club's writer-in-residence, Laura McDermott Matheric, was allowed to take her driving test, her father presented the then-16-year-old with a painstaking checklist of required tasks and memorizations that -- if she remembers correctly -- went something like this: Be able to change a flat in under five minutes, parallel-park a one-ton van, change your own oil, name all roads going west from the Atlantic Ocean to the Everglades, and name every exit off of Interstate 95 from West Palm Beach to downtown Miami.
"This knowledge won't get me too far in Double Jeopardy with Alex Trebek, but it does show up in almost anything creative I write," Matheric explains.
This month, Matheric begins a series of two-day workshops in partnership with Reading Queer at Girls' Club that aim to explore and deconstruct elements of narrative in three parts -- "The Moment: Decoding Instances," "The Backdrop: The Language of Landscape," and "The Persona: The Fitting Room."
"For the past two years, we have selected a writer in residence who not only hangs out with us for the year but also creates programs specifically tied to our exhibition theme," says gallery director Sarah Michelle Rupert. "Laura has such an awesome history of putting together workshops [and] educational and community events, and we thought it would be a great pairing for us, especially given that the theme of the exhibit is a narrative, specifically, how artists are using narrative in their work."
The workshops are the literary component to Girls Club's current visual exhibit "The Moment. The Backdrop. The Persona." The first lecture and discussion, scheduled for Thursday, March 19, will examine episodes in life that, however big or small, made some deep imprint on those involved. Mirroring Reading Queer's mission, Matheric says, the workshops will examine the "othered," outsider character in society and will heavily critique and examine the idea of sexual identity and gender in the day-to-day situations we choose to write about.
For Matheric, a Broward County native whose parents live in the same house they bought in 1978, some of these instances happened while spending much of her childhood "playing with empty beer cans and spark plugs I pretended were people" at a machine shop in Pompano Beach where her father, a retired firefighter and auto mechanic, worked. While Matheric says it probably sounds a bit cliché, it is these many small moments -- like being able to name most parts of a car engine or the ability to rebuild a 5.0 Mustang in her sophomore year of college -- that show up like familiar houseguests inside her poetry and leave deep impressions in her teachings. These are her "truths" -- the things "in my life that are so common to it that it's mundane and ordinary to me."
Matheric knows that her Car Talk lingo and encyclopedic knowledge of what happens under the hood of a Ford might not be a shared experience with other writers, "but something else to this caliber is. Each of us has a unique setting or an impacting message or a vivid stranger etched in our memory. We all hold on to something like this, but why?"
Matheric will scratch away at that "why" with workshop participants, hoping that participants feel emboldened to write more about their own lives and find acceptance for the things that have impacted them along the way. There will even be a cathartic exercise within the last workshop in which writers can step into the persona of someone who has hurt or wronged them in the past in order to reshape the memory or find closure.
Matheric also helps to foster literary community growth with workshop attendees that will mirror her own community involvement and cultivation, whether it be with her aligning with Reading Queer (she is a huge fan of founders Neil de la Flor and José A. Villar-Portela and their involvement with the LGBT community), with Girls' Club, or as founder of the Orange Island Arts Foundation -- a literary foundation in existence for the past six months that has already hosted more than 40 events.
Girls' Club recognizes the power that a community of writers brings, and it hopes to add more events like these to the roster. "We realize the capacity for multidisciplinary projects to reach a farther audience than just visual art," says Rupert.
With more workshops and exhibits like "The Moment. The Backdrop. The Persona.," Matheric hopes to add to an already growing list of local writers.
"In the last five years alone, South Florida literary arts have really landed on the international map," she says. "We have inaugural poets, Guggenheim winners, MacArthur Foundation 'genius grant' fellows, Pushcart Prize winners, among other literary prize winners living in our communities, shopping at our Publixes, and fitting into the hustle of South Florida; however, they are giving back to the community by enriching others through readings, discussion, lectures, college-course work, events, and other activities... We've always had a lush literary landscape here in South Florida, but thankfully these organizations are bringing it to the forefront and making it accessible to the entire community. This was something I did not have access to as a kid growing up in Deerfield Beach."
"The Moment. The Backdrop. The Persona." The first lecture and discussion takes place Thursday, March 19, from 6 to 8 p.m. with a partnered workshop on Saturday, March 28, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Girls' Club, 117 NE Second St., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-828-9151, or visit girlsclubcollection.org to register.