On Writing Groups, Goodbyes, Courage, and Hellos

In this post I alluded to some changes in my writing life.  They are not happy changes..... at least not yet.  In August I learned that the group of poets I've been meeting with for the last six years will no longer meet.

We called ourselves The Mondays, since we met on Monday nights, and we became a tight knit group.  I remember the first time I showed up at the Mondays' meeting, nervous and hoping I wouldn't be the worst poet in the whole group.  Turns out I didn't need to be nervous, and even if I had been the worst poet in the whole group, it wouldn't have mattered.  The Mondays weren't about competition, we were about collaboration, generosity, and sharing the journey as writers.  Our motto was:  We'll critique your poems and make you laugh about it! (at least, that's what I think our motto should have been if we'd had one).

The Poet A.O.D., who has made several appearances on this blog, is a Monday, and we were lead by the wise and fearless Tom Ruud, who had a light but precise touch in his critiques, and who always knew just the one thing (word, line break, reordering of stanzas) that a poem needed to really work.  I'll always be grateful to Tom for encouraging me, and all of us, to embrace the title Writer.  He said, Don't wait for someone else to call you a writer.  He said, If you are committed to your writing and to the writing life, claim that life; call yourself Writer.

So I did.

Through what Tom referred to as "our slow wasting," we gradually lost members.  Barbara retired.  Todd enrolled in an MFA program.  Janine's husband enrolled in seminary in NYC, so she went along (who could blame her, really?).  Patrick went off to DC.  Chuck's travel schedule was hectic, and he kept getting calls from Al Gore that he just had to answer (who could blame him, really?).  We found some new members, who were also wonderful, but attendance was sometimes spotty and schedules became difficult to coordinate.  Tom shifted into a new phase of his life, and well....... there it was.  No more Mondays.

When the nail-in-the-coffin e-mail arrived, I gasped.  Then I cried.  I trembled.  I grieved.

And I wondered where to turn.  I knew I needed a writing group if I ever wanted to write a good poem again.  Workshopping and critique are just critical to my (and most writers') process.  Some of the Mondays thought they might still try to gather once a month or so, but that wasn't frequent enough for me.  I wandered around the house for a few days, bereft.  Then I knew I had to screw my courage to the sticking point and find a new group.

I decided to contact Deborah Keenan, who I'd taken a class from at the Loft last spring, and who I knew runs a private group herself.  She was the only other poet I even know in my area.  But I was scared.  What if she didn't remember me?  What if she didn't appreciate being contacted by someone she barely knew, someone who was asking for a favor?  What if she didn't have any room in her group, or worse, what if she thought I wasn't good enough to join?

We have a saying in our family that we use when someone needs courage:  Put on your brave heart, we say.  So, I put on my brave heart and wrote her a note asking if she had any room in her group, and if not, did she know of another group near South-of-the-River that had room for an orphaned poet?

After I wrote and addressed the note, I set on the table where we always put outgoing mail.  About a half-hour later I decided not to send it.  But it was time to cook dinner so I didn't take the time just then to tear up the note.

Then Husband came home and said, "Oh good, you wrote to Deborah Keenan.  I bet she'll have a place for you."  "Yeah,"  I said, "I wrote it, but I'm not going to send it.  I've chickened out."

Husband picked up the envelope and put it in his work bag.  "You're sending it," he said.  "I'm sending it."  He mailed the letter.

And it turns out that Deborah does have an opening in her group, and my first meeting with them is tomorrow.  I'm nervous and worried that I'll be the worst poet in the group.  I'm afraid they won't like me.  I'm tempted to bring a poem that I think is pretty good, so they'll think I'm pretty good.  But in the spirit of generosity and authenticity that seems to come naturally to most writers I've met, I know I'd better put on my brave heart, and bring the draft of the poem about the Annunciation that I wrote yesterday, and that I'm not so sure about at all.

I will miss the Mondays as a group, and each one of the Mondays, and all the fun and learning and laughter we shared.  I will miss Tom, who was my first true writing mentor.  But I'm hoping the happy ending of these sad changes starts tomorrow.  I'll let you know.


CitricSugar said...

I like the idea of a brave heart.

It's sad that this chapter of your life is closing but this is a new beginning. Write about it. It might go horribly, true, but then, it can just as easily go brilliantly!

Your husband is wonderful for stealing your mail and steeling your courage.

Stephanie said...

Good luck! Sometimes a change in your writer circle is just what you need, even if you don't know it.

Ms. WK said...

Can't wait to hear how it goes!

I off-the-cuff wrote a paragraph today in front of my second hour about how songs can remind us of certain memories... mine was about a dock in Charlevoix with my best friend.
"WK, are you still friends with her?"
"You know I am"

Minga said...

You never would have let one of your children off the hook if they were nervous about trying something new. The mother in me, says 'go for it', learn from it and decide after awhile if it was the right decision for you.

Molly said...

Thanks everyone for the encouragement and good wishes. You are all right, of course, about my husband being wonderful (CitricSugar), about change being something you need even if you don't know it (Stephanie); about not being a chicken (Minga).

Ms W-K, I know just the dock you're thinking of :)