After cancer’s chokehold suffocated our future as I once imagined it―growing old with John—I began a memoir and started the Women’s Writing Circle. One of the reasons I started a writing group was to meet new people, get out of my head and listen to other peoples’ stories. A writer is only as interesting as the life she leads and the people she encounters. We ran our writing group out of an independent bookstore with its own coffee bar and opened it to fiction and creative nonfiction writers, poets, indeed, anyone with the slightest interest in writing.
It was a comforting path back to myself—meeting people through stories and lives shared, and using my writing skills. I began teaching creative writing at libraries, at churches, in bookstores. We emphasized that a writer does many things to present a compelling story to her readers, but the most important is conveying her message, her take on the world. Every writer digs deep into her spiritual resources … believes she has something soulful to say. Her journey is not just about her, but about the human condition―a healing journey to make sense of the senseless. Why did John have to die so young? Why was my best friend stricken with Alzheimer’s?
That’s an excerpt from my new book, A Woman Alone. I wanted to share that after Saturday’s read around which marked the 10th anniversary of when I started the Women’s Writing Circle. I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this milestone with cakes or balloons, rather celebrate the way we started—with read around—and testimony from one writer who has been with us since the beginning who said the Circle taught her the craft of writing. What an honor to hear that. Without a doubt, it was one of the best read arounds ever. On a brilliantly beautiful November morning we celebrated our voices and stories. Several of our writers are being published in a variety of publications or querying work after they received feedback in critique. Job well done, talented writers! Your audiences await your voices, your wisdom and your words.
I remember well our first year. Here’s a look back at how this journey would unfold:
The first year, I overcame my fears and took the plunge. I could do this. Along with another writer, I facilitated a memoir writing weekend near Swarthmore College. Several women and I had driven to Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat, in a rainstorm and bumper-to-bumper traffic. Two hours before we left, one writer called to cancel due to a family emergency. Another woman was unable to come until Saturday. Our little group was dwindling.
Yet, once we unpacked our bags, stocked the refrigerator with wine and cheese, dip and diet sodas, my worries eased. We gathered in a room with fireplace, paintings and books. I lit a candle for the read around and we set our intentions, centered on “writing from life”―the name of our retreat―and began our weekend. We committed to the work of getting it on paper, shutting out the world, leaving the “to-do” list behind.
The solitude and beauty of the retreat grounds abloom in lush springtime flowers worked magic. The next morning, the rain disappeared and sun broke through, illuminating white magnolia and pink cherry trees.
Our read round that Saturday night was more than I could have anticipated. Some women had tackled the defining moments of their lives and written about it for the first time. After the reading that night, we gathered in the dark wood-paneled dining room and celebrated.We drank wine and passed around dip and salsa. We knew our little group would never come this way again.
And in so many ways, that night at Pendle Hill sums up our ten years together. Each read around has been special. Each represented the creative spirit taking flight. Each conjured a bit of magic. And each time it ended, we knew we would never come this way again.