Monday, September 23, 2013

A Community Supports a Writer

Every life has many layers.  No more important is the layer of community. At Shirley Showalter's book launch for her memoir Blush:  A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World held in Lititz, Pennsylvania, the community was out in force.  They had come to support their hometown heroine, a writer, the rosy-cheeked little girl they remembered who by her own admission wanted "to make a splash in the world." 

I had traveled to Lititz for this special celebration having met Shirley through an online writing group. The communities we form online, while not face-to-face meetings, have become very powerful for the memoir writer.  I had become intrigued by Shirley's story of faith, family and community, and impressed by her generosity in greeting and acknowledging other writers through our online forums and blogs.  As such, I invited her to write a guest blog post for the Circle.

I  traveled to Lititz, which is about 50 miles from my home, because it is important to me to support other writers as they support me.  This is the essence of our Women's Writing Circle.  Supporting and finding in community the validation of our words and the risk-taking to dare to make our own "splash in the world." 

I was fortunate that two women from our Slants of Light anthology, Harriet Singer and Jan Backes, both of whom have been loyal attendees of the Circle over the last several years, decided to go with me on this warm September night.  Like most people, the three of us were intrigued  . . . fascinated with the culture of the Plain People, the Mennonites, and the story of a young Mennonite girl and her struggles to come to terms with the seductive call of  the "glittering world."  The girl, now a woman, had come  back to her hometown of Lititz to celebrate her journey through memoir.

Susan, Jan and Harriet
Shirley in bright red and black jacket and black slacks warmly greeted us in the cream and white foyer of Lititz Mennonite Church.  After we had embraced, she and I exchanged copies of our memoirs.  Since our life stories are held within those pages, no other words needed to be spoken.  

The book launch was a celebration of remembrance, worship, singing and prayer. When the Mennonite pastor officiating asked the question, "Who knew Shirley when she was in elementary school?" dozens of hands in the congregation went up.  Likewise, when she asked who knew Shirley in high school?  . . .  more hands . . .  Who knew her when she was president of Goshen College, who were her students there, who knew her when . . . . more hands, more hands. This gathering of about 200 people obviously had a shared history spanning generations.

Our little contingent from the Women's Writing Circle was also touched when the pastor announced Shirley was donating the proceeds of her book to the Longhouse Project of the Hans Herr House.

Lititz is in many respects a surreal place, albeit with the distinction of being voted "America's coolest little town." Almost frozen in time with its clapboard houses and narrow streets, the town evoked memories of when I went to my grandparents' home in Germantown, Pennsylvania. At the big kitchen table covered in shiny flowered oil cloth, we ate cold cuts and homemade coleslaw and potato salad for Sunday night supper.  Relatives from Germany lived within a 10-mile radius of each other.  Eventually, my relatives moved on, or moved away, sometimes as far as California as in the case of my own brother, Andy.  My father, Andrew Weidener, went to Maryland for his first teaching job and then to Philadelphia's Main Line. Germantown became merely a touchstone to his past.


Caring about each other and our stories is the essence of authentic simplicity and love.

Although there is great satisfaction in finishing, publishing and being acknowledged for our work,   if there are any instructions on writing and life I can offer, it is this:   We cannot do this without the love and support of community, whether it is the family, the neighborhood, the church or other writers.

For this is truly the reason why we create our stories. Whether it is a family legacy, a childhood history - or like my memoirs - stories of love, passion, loss and renewal in adulthood, none of us could do this without the backing of a strong community.  The support of well-wishers makes this a journey not of the solo traveler, but about all of us.

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