What I expected: A tiny, cold tin building where fifteen or twenty people huddled in a circle in metal chairs to read from the ‘zine Jan Haag and Laura Martin put together from the drafts we wrote from prompts during our Friday and Saturday Amherst Writers & Artists group meetings.
What happened: The warm and inviting space was filled with all ages of writers and their supporters: friends, spouses and significant others who knew each other as old friends. I stopped counting at forty people. Local artists’ paintings lined the walls. People helped themselves to cookies and drinks. Latecomers happily stood at the back as Jan Haag, leader of the Friday and Saturday groups introduced each of the nineteen writers to come to the mic and read their own words from The Soul of the Narrator.
How I felt: Anxious. Would I measure up? Jealous, at first. I’m new to the group and didn’t know many people. I started to slide into that old familiar feeling of not belonging when I realized I did belong. Each person there had a first time just like me. Maybe I didn’t know everyone, but I knew my Friday group. My dog story wouldn’t be as good as some of the wonderful poets and writers in the room, but they would welcome me anyway. I knew that instinctively.
I had reluctantly agreed to read my piece at Jan’s coaxing. She said, “We’d really like it if you would read.” I’m uncomfortable in front of a group, but if Jan had asked me to stand on my head and sing opera I would have done it. She has a super power; the power of compassion.
How it ended: I read. People smiled and clapped. I went home and ate chocolate and thought about the writing group that led to my doing something I had never done before.
I’ve been working on writing a mystery series for several years. Very few people have seen my drafts. The process of writing a mystery is all about what happens next. The Friday night writing from prompts is all about what happens now. Even if it triggers past memories or imaginative flights of the future, it’s filtered through what’s in our hearts at that moment. I’ve been known to hide my feelings from myself, let alone strangers, and there I am, every Friday night writing from that place, the heart. Those glimpses of my truth make me a more honest writer, and every writer in our group inspires me with their own soul-filled writing.
It’s clear to me why many of the people who gathered at the Poetry Center on Saturday night have attended Jan’s writing groups for so many years. After a long week, where we are engaged in activities with responsibilities to others or to our outer needs, we can gather to return to our own souls to feel what’s happening now, where it always feels like the first time.