I began my 3 mile loop around the southern tier of my Long Island peninsula with my trusted girlfriend.
“I’m in the process of looking for a writer’s group,” I say.
“I have one,” she answers, turning her face toward mine. “I’m going this Saturday in the city. Want to come?”
I stare at her, flabbergasted at my good fortune. This group of writing women shared a week long retreat with Natalie Goldberg in a villa in the foothills of a small Italian town, located an hour out of Rome. Their prior bonding was not a deterrent to me, and I cancelled my Saturday plans to accompany her.
We took the LIRR into Manhattan and the uptown subway to the hosting woman’s apartment on 82nd and Riverside. Stepping from the elevator, the hallway had an unusually still quality – like no one lived there. But when we opened her unlocked apartment door we were immediately confronted with signs of life; people milling, talking, laughing, reminiscing. I felt uncomfortable for only a short time as friends rebonded about an experience I did not share. Slowly, as groups separated and individuals emerged, I began speaking with one woman, and then another. After fraternizing for another 15 minutes or so, the woman whose apartment we inhabited called us to order – it was time to write. A prompt was read, the first one being: The last time I saw… With 10 minutes allotted per prompt, heads went down, engaging pens and pads at the ready. Afterward, we read our impromptu writings aloud. No comments on the work produced were allowed or desired. It felt unnatural to me and I had to hold my tongue, smile and shake my head as the others did in silent acknowledgment. It was explained that the purpose of this behavior was so people felt free, unrestricted in their writing. No judgments, critiques, editorials.
Whatever our differing histories, personalities, belief systems – writing bonded us more deeply. It was the attention, and the intention, of the meeting. People shared intimate, personal information, sometimes through writing, sometimes through side conversation. Of the nine women sitting in a circle in a charming living room on the 17th floor, every one was a good writer. Comfortable in our own skin we shared stories of dying parents, lovers past, hated and beloved husbands. The authenticity was so refreshing, I believe we formed a little community strong enough to make a difference.