We gather to write, every other Tuesday for two hours. But we hem and haw over the coffee, over our coats, over the weather. You’d think we were performance artists suddenly gone shy: do we want to write, or don’t we? Why does it take so long to get settled? Where are these nerves from? We start other topics of conversation until the silence becomes embarrassing. We refill coffee.
The timer is set. A prompt is read aloud and five women write furiously until the bell rings—usually five minutes. We read our writing aloud, each writer taking notes on the other. What emerges is not usually “finished” work but interesting beginnings. The highest compliment is to be forced to read the same few paragraphs a second time.
My writing group consists of one MFA graduate, one MFA wanna-be, one woman who mysteriously writes crime scenes, though she is mother to three young children and has an MDiv from Harvard. And one other writer, and me. All are amazing, funny.
Here is a slice of five-minute writing from last week. The prompt was a line from Seamus Heany, “on one side under me, the concrete road.”
My friend Linda graduated from MIT, a fact she needs to reiterate on any possible occasion, not to show off but to apologize for the scars of anal-retentiveness rewarded far too well. We are driving to a nice dinner, for a break from lengthy seminars. She wears a pleated skirt and silk blouse and her mad desire, when the rear tire blows, is to fix it herself. Because she is from MIT, she is an engineer, and if she can fix it then by God she should fix it, pearl necklace be damned.
Unfortunately, Linda is fast, exiting the car by the side of Topsfield Road at dusk, and I find her emptying the trunk of my Jetta, to find the jack. The two women in the back seat are equally mortified, but it’s my car, and she’s my passenger, and it’s me who must go challenge the merry glint in her eye. I lean down onto the shoulder and whisper firmly, “Linda. Get up.”
I stalled, stalled, stalled right here, distracted by banana bread and gloves on the table and a curl of metal, by the name “Fred” mentioned earlier and all the Freds I have ever known, by the shadow of my writing hand on the page, cast by the angled sun from the French doors. The shadow is blurred because I’m ignoring my eyes as they call for my glasses.
Distraction is my love. Eliot complained of it, but I rejoice. Bread (warm). Coffee (strong, good). A ball of yarn. The scratch of five pens on five sets of paper.
Who cares about my friend Linda, the anal-retentive one?
Me, me, me, cried my friends as I read the last line. They demanded to know more, just when I thought I was very boring. I still think it’s very boring. Writers! One claimed she “was not crying, that’s just banana bread in my eye.” She liked the part about distraction. Writers. We are a strange lot.
We do this three or four rounds, the writing, the reading around the circle, and then we leave, caffeinated and exhausted.