Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Joy of the Read-Around


Aspiring writers - whether you are published or not - know that the greatest joy often comes with sharing your work with other writers. They - like no other - can offer feedback after your solitary journey of hand-to-hand combat with words, paragraphs, dialogue and plot. Does this work, you ask? Will this resonate with the reader? The read-around is a lovely exercise of reading aloud what you wrote in an intimate and supportive setting.

The first time I did a read-around was in a convent just outside of Louisville, Kentucky. A writers group was holding its summer retreat there thanks to the Sisters of Loretto. At night as cool breezes shifted the tall grass and Queen Anne's Lace of Kentucky pastureland, a dozen of us would sit in a circle. The nuns would have sung their final hymns for the day. Indeed, we felt as if we were in a monastery, a writer's monastery where the magic and the mystery of our lives were revealed. As night enveloped us, we would ring a bell, light a candle and begin reading to each other. We asked for "readback" lines, sentences that captivated or resonated with humor, poetry or sheer gut emotion. This was our touchstone for more creative work to come.

Yesterday, I sat with two aspiring writers at an outdoor cafe in Tucson, Arizona. The buckskin-colored mountains loomed in the distance against a Southwest turquoise sky. We held our read-around at a little table after finishing a breakfast of crepes and fruit. Once again I was amazed at the joy of the read-around! Of course! Why didn't I see that? Or, does that work better? Thank you. What a lovely way to spend a morning and make the journey of being a writer a little less lonely.

Monday, August 10, 2009

To my sisters in the writing circle


What did I like about the Southwest? That's what my sisters in the Story Circle Network wanted to know. What clues did it hold to who I was and where I was going?
It was the sense of possibility that the West evokes with those high skies, that bleached prairie grass blowing in the wind, I said. I came to Arizona because I wanted that sense of a new beginning, that I could do something new with my life before it was too late. The older I get the more I feel those possibilities dwindling. Women over 50 (I chose that age but it could even be younger) become "invisible" in society. It seems American society in particular has no use for older women. Women have to draw on their own reserves of creativity, capability and fortitude to make it happen against the odds. That's why cottage industries like the Story Circle Network, journaling and memoir retreats, groups with names like Women Writing For a Change, have sprouted all over the landscape. Women want to document their journey, express their creativity, join with other women in sharing the pain, the frustration and the wonder of being women. I know. I am one of them.

Women confront the lonely life more often than men, in my opinion. Bette knew that despite her four husbands. "Marriage," she said in a television interview, "works only when the woman accommodates herself to her husband's personality, not the other way around. I believe that is the only formula for a lasting marriage."

So nothing had really changed, whether I was in Arizona or in Pennsylvania. In the final analysis, it came down to facing Susan,the girl who read the Nancy Drew mysteries, dreamed of Prince Charming and tapped away at the Smith Corona typewriter her parents had given her as a graduation gift from high school because they knew their daughter dreamed of being a writer. Once again, it was the lonely life, the life of the artist. The Lonely Life is the title of Bette Davis' memoir.

My happiness is a sense of purpose, of feeling creative and good about my work because work is all we really have. Bette knew that too. When asked what had least disappointed her in her life, it wasn't her husbands or her children, it was her work. "Work never lets you down," she said.

I want my memoir published, would love to go on and give writing retreats and workshops. I find myself cocooning a lot, pondering, not really wanting to go out and deal with people because they can be exhausting and so predictable. But I still want adventure, a life! What did Rhett Butler say? "Scarlett, you are like a child crying for the moon." That's how I feel some nights when I look at the moon hanging over Sabino Canyon here in Tucson. It can all change in a heartbeat, can't it? I am still a child believing in romance and magic against the odds, against the reality of age and all that comes with that.

So I came out here for an adventure, to make a difference, to feel "young" again, if you will. And for a while it worked and I felt I have done something new and different. I have met new people, tried on another relationship for size, discarded that and come back to Susan. Now it is time to "write" a new chapter. Another year -another year older. I have no idea where it will all lead. But I am trusting in myself to find my way. There is no other choice. My sisters in the writing circle know this. Together we share the journey.