Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


The Burning of the Drafts

It's been nearly two weeks now since the writers gathered at Pamela's house to celebrate the completion of our stories. After a long weekend of final revisions and line-edits, we turned in our articles on Monday morning, and in the evening we headed to South Portland for a burrito dinner and a ritual to conclude the semester.

As the writers arrived, we piled thick sheaves of computer paper in a large basket and a cardboard box. After we had stuffed our bellies, we pulled on our boots and winter coats and took a walk in the snow to visit one of our writing instructors, Michaela, who lives a few blocks from Pam.

You can see Beth on the left cheerfully carrying the basket of drafts. Rebecca carried a large candleholder, which we used to begin lighting the drafts on fire, parading through the streets with our mini-torches. At Michaela's we broke into a rousing rendition of "We love you Michaela, oh yes we do," which effectively drew her out of the house to watch us singing and dancing around a burning pile of papers as a few people played flutes and sticks and shakers.

Our next stop was Munjoy Hill where our second instructor Scott lives. It took a lot of longer for him to come outside (what was he afraid of?), but he eventually joined us and we happily serenaded him with "For he's a jolly good fellow." Megan played fire patrol, dumping an armful of snow on the dying flames and making sure to stomp out every remaining ember.

We were so close to the Eastern Prom that it only made sense to walk down to the beach for a final burning of the remaining drafts. You'd think after two large fires and a lot of small torches the drafts would be gone, but we still had a heavy pile of them (proof of our laborious, semester-long narrative efforts). Down by the water on the slim stretch of beach not covered in snow, the papers met their final fiery end. We tossed crumpled drafts into the flames saying "this one is for all those hours of t.v. I had to watch with my subject" and "this one is for being told [by my subject] that I was a bad listener" and...well, and a few other things I won't mention here.

In the end, the flames died out, and we made our slow trudging way through the snow back up the hill, bidding one another good-bye. The evening marked the end of a shared process--that of discovering and learning to tell good stories--so it seems only fitting now that the evening itself should go down in Salt history as a story of its own.


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