Tales of a wandering lesbian

Group therapy

A friend of mine invited me to attend a Write Around Portland writing work shop this morning.  It was in response to a comment I’d made about how much I love writing.  So I felt like maybe I should try the exercise in group writing, and not run away and cry in the corner, remembering the decades of rejection that I have stored in the back of my consciousness from other group writing experiences.

Seventh grade English, for example.  Or college.

I chose Business as a major, yes because it was a “marketable degree” but also because it was one of two majors that didn’t require the writing of a thesis.

Law School was fine when I was able to write by formula, but the heartbreak that came from undeveloped ideas and half-formed theories tossed onto a page and desperately rearranged in an attempt to make something, anything coherent still makes me cringe when I think about group writing and the feedback process.

But I’m not one to run from discomfort.  Oh no.  So I put my little laptop in my bike bag, knowing that I’d probably have to write by hand, but wanting a reminder of my new, comfortable writing near me.

I walked into the back room of the restaurant where the group was meeting a couple of minutes late.  I smiled at my friend, and grabbed a cup of coffee, pastry and a journal.

The little spiral notebook made me laugh.  The other writers had fancy journals and favorite pens.  I had the ballpoint I’d stolen from the US passport office a year ago.

Over the next two hours, the 14 of us wrote three, timed, freewrite pieces.  The kind of thing that is supposed to flow freely from your deepest, darkest inside.  The kind of thing where you don’t take your pen off of the paper.  The kind of thing where you write the entire time, no matter what.

The only thing is that I don’t write like that.  I type.  Partially because I can’t read my own handwriting.  It’s the only thing I ever got below an “A” in while I was in elementary school.  Handwriting, no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I practiced in the books with the guidelines like miniature roadways, the dotted lines marking the approved mid-way of the letters, no matter, all I ever got was a “C”.

The other thing is the fluidity with which I type.  I’ve had more than one person note the flourish I put on the end of a well crafted sentence.  The upstroke of my right hand as I type a period with my ring finger, and a return with my pinky.  It’s musical.  Evocative of a certain fabulous pianist.  I love to write, and I love to type.  In fact, typing games have long been my favorites on computers, from the Texas Instruments keyboard through Facebook.

So I found myself this morning, without keyboard, in a group writing workshop.  It was my love of workshops, and my love of writing that kept me seated, even as my hands and voice shook while I read through the bits of dialogue that I was able to scrape together during the 5 minute writing sprints.

“We believe in positive feedback.”  That was one of the guidelines we were given.  And there was much of that.  We were gentle with each other, and with ourselves.  The self-imposed vulnerability of the exercise was remarkable.  The group of 13 women was joined by one lone man halfway through.  Someone who chose the “other” prompt when we were given two at the beginning of each write.  The absence of men was noticeable.  Something I’d planned to write about before he appeared.

Instead, I sat tight and wrote using the prompts – simple phrases designed to open us up and get us writing.  From the time our facilitator said, “go” until she said, “finish up the thought you’re working on,” I wrote.  In my barely intelligible scrawl, I wrote.  It was like seeing myself in an old photo.  The lines were familiar, friendly.  I had forgotten how much I enjoy the freewrite.  Although my typing is similar.  I rarely edit, more than moving paragraphs around.  Maybe that’s a mistake, but I enjoy sharing what comes to the surface without the polish that fear of exposure can bring.  It’s a kind of therapy for me to allow myself that level of authenticity.  And in that spirit I’m sharing the three pieces from today’s workshop.  The first two were 5-minute writes.  The last one-minute.

Today’s writings were unpolished.  And familiar.  I hope they are as enjoyable for you as they are for me.

Prompt:  The look on her face…

The look on her face when I told her must have been priceless.

“She asked if you and I were dating.”

“What did you tell her?”

We were riding next to each other, our bikes singing in unison.

“I told her that you’re my friend.”

There was the awkward silence that always signals discord, misunderstanding, fear.

“Well, I thought we were.”  Her disappointment was palpably masked.

“Oh!”  I wasn’t sure where to go.  The bikes seemed to be running faster, hurtling along the river-side trail.

“I was actually going to ask if the two of you were dating,” she was laughing a little.

“Not sure,” was about all I could come up with.  Truthfully, I didn’t know.  I didn’t know what it meant, what the rules were, when it moved from biking buddies to more.

I turned to her for a moment.  “Funny.  I was going to ask you the same thing.”

Prompt:  Once the fire was out

“Where were you?  We’ve been trying to reach you?”

My mother’s voice was the kind of panicky usually reserved for the middle-of-the-night phone calls.

“I was in nature.  I’m sorry.”

The voicemails were stacked thick when I reached the parking-lot after the weekend gathering mushrooms on forest service land.

“Kristin, please call us.”

“Kristin, where are you?  Mom’s trying to reach you.”

“Kristin, there’s been a fire.”

My entire family was calling, thinking that I was simply on a binge of self-absorption, ignoring the pestering buzzing of my phone.

“I was gone for one day, Mom.”

“But we didn’t know where you were, and the fire almost took the cabin.  We had one hour to clear out.”

Thoughts raged as I shoved aside my defensiveness and tried to comfort my mother through the phone.

“How can I help, Mom?  Should I drive over?  I’ll leave now.”

“No.”  She was breathing again, her words heavy.  “No, it’ll be fine once the fire is out.  I just wanted to hear your voice.”

Prompt:  Summer didn’t…

Summer didn’t know if she was dating either of the women.

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August 19, 2010   3 Comments