Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rose's Writing Group

As occupations go, writing is either the loneliest or the most crowded. I can’t decide.
For me, when it comes time to put words on a page, it’s just an arm, a pen, and a notebook. What’s lonelier than that? Even if I compose on the computer, a Facebook tab visible, number of notifications indicated, it’s still just me, represented in pixels instead of blue-on-yellow smudges. There is no buffer between self and memory, nor between self and the utterly stupid things I can’t scribble out or delete quickly enough.
But the brain is a crowded place where old boyfriends and childhood playmates and the members of eighties hair bands and Jesus and my mother elbow each other and vie for attention. Real human contact makes things less crowded, I’ve found; when it’s me alone, the brain is a mosh pit teeming with grandmothers and bosses and babysitters and the person I once saw eat a Fudgsicle off the floor of a Chicago train.
The soul selects her own society, Emily Dickinson says, and then shuts the door. At some point, the writer has to select her own society and pull it off to a side room temporarily for conversation. The poem happens in that side room. Nonfiction happens in the kitchen, for me—a few souls engaged in conversation while the writer combines ingredients at the stove. The best fiction can’t be confined to a home, however; its souls take to the streets laden with flowers or hauling a Howitzer, at which point all bets are off.
Like I said, I can’t decide. It seems like I’m dealing with a lot of people when I’m writing, but when I look up from the page, there’s no one, or maybe there’s a cat.
But my soul has made an easy decision about one society, my writing group, which tries to meet weekly and features a handful of badass women who crack the whip of truth to break a sometimes-oppressive silence.
We women—creative thinkers and scholars, all—support each other in our writing projects, whatever those might be (and they run the gamut). We also help each other make sense of workplace happenings, often filtering them through a less masculinized lens than we might find elsewhere in an institution. My writing group makes me feel empowered and emboldened, both on the page and in the hallways of my workplace.

It is worth noting that we meet in a house on our campus where Rose O’Neill lived out her final days, and we call ourselves “Rose’s Writing Group.” O’Neill was known for the Kewpie characters that she famously created in 1909, but she was also a brilliant, forward-thinking artist, writer, and suffrage pioneer. O’Neill made a habit during her lifetime of welcoming artists into her Greenwich Village apartment and supporting them fully as they worked (to the extent that she spent her entire sizable fortune during her lifetime), and when I go to the Rose O’Neill House for meetings of my writing group, I feel this vibe—I know what it means to be lifted up and championed and supported. I am not alone in my creative endeavors.
I guess that’s the difference I’m considering here. The writer’s brain teems with people—this is true—but the world doesn’t much care about whether or not we do what we do. No one is waiting for the next poem to hit the page. No one needs my essays. We could probably go to the smallest village in America and find somewhere within it a novel lying in a drawer. I remember before my father died that he said his biggest regret in life is that he would never get to read everything he wanted to. I share his regret—yet here I am, jotting down letter after letter after letter, making more.
My writing group makes me feel like these letters and words and lines and sentences add up to something, and better yet, cheer them along. When a particular notion makes it from the crowded brain to the empty page—when it takes shape—we are in a territory O’Neill understood well. As she said, “I am in love with magic and monsters, and the drama of form emerging from the formless.”

As much as I am inspired by the intelligence and hard work of my fellow writing group members, I am equally moved by O’Neill’s real-life example—how she sought out the company of creative minds and gave all that she had to nurture them. That’s a model to emulate.

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