Today I’m going to share a lesson that took me years to learn.
Some may read this and think it no big deal. Perhaps you already do this, no problem. But for me, opening up to others, living truthfully and being honest about who I am and what I love to do (write!) have been monumental challenges. From a very young age, I learned to keep things to myself and not share too much of myself. It was always too scary to do that; so, as an act of self-preservation, I didn’t! As a result, people have been surprised to learn that I write and that I’m much more sensitive an individual than I’ve ever let on.
It has taken me years to let down my walls and allow people into my life, but doing so has reaped great rewards, many of which have come in the forms of great female friends and supportive writing groups. Last night is a great example of both.
I belong to a large consortium of female writers here in New Jersey called Women Who Write. They’re one large group of many smaller critique groups who meet regularly to support each other with our writing. I only belong to one group which consists of just three women. We recently lost a member because she moved out of state. :o( We miss her. But the larger group as a whole invites writers to come speak to us and/or run workshops. Last night I had the privilege of attending a memoir workshop led by NY Times bestselling author Christina Baker Kline, who wrote the Oprhan Train. I read this book last year and loved it. If you haven’t read it, go get it. Beautifully written, interesting piece of relatively unknown American history. And from a writer's standpoint, Ms. Baker-Kline couldn't have been more generous of time, energy and spirit. She was engaging, encouraging and I gleaned some great tips from her. I hope to be just like her when I grow up and become a published author!
Last night was exquisite not only because we had a famous author in our midst who shared her expertise and helped guide us along our own paths, but because I was with a diverse group of women ranging in age from I’d say early 30s to early 80s. The amount of life experience in the group was overwhelming. I love being surrounded by supportive females who are all traveling similar but different paths and sharing their experiences. One component of last night's session was that we all had to read something we wrote. Ms. Baker-Kline made us stand up and read—a request to which most of us responded with chattering teeth and quaking knees. We’re writers, after all, not public speakers. A number of women shared stories of immigrant parents making new lives for their families here in the U.S. Many shared both happy and sad stories about their childhoods and families of origin. One woman started her story with, “I was born to a mother who shouldn’t have been a mother.” It was all I could do not to honk into my Kleenex as she continued to read. Several women could barely speak above a whisper they were so uncomfortable. A few even broke down and cried. When it was my turn to stand and read, all I could think of was, “When will I be finished? Where’s the end?” But as I sat there, watching all of us squirm, I thought, what better place to stand and share such personal stories than with this group of women who support you? It felt like the safest place in the world. A cocoon of comfort and security in a conference room in the New Providence library. Who knew?
I almost didn’t go to last night’s workshop because I’ve been sick with a stomach bug from which I’m still recovering. I am so glad I went. The experience was emotionally enriching and I learned so much communing with these other female writers. All of us different and unique in our own ways, but of one group and striving for similar goals.
It was one of the most rewarding nights of my life as a writer and it had nothing to do with my actual work. And to think, if I wasn’t open to others…if I still wrote in secret…if I never shared anything with other writers….if I never submitted anything for publication…where would I be?