By Erika Grumet
A little more than six months ago, well into the COVID-19 pandemic, and feeling the need to insert some structure into my own life, I signed up for a workshop “Feminist Midrash: Femme Fatale or Fierce Woman Warrior.” This was definitely an out of character thing to do; I’d stopped writing anything creative a very long time ago, and suddenly, I found myself signing up for six weeks of creative writing? With all of the ways 2020 was different from other years, why not, right?
A week or two into that adventure, while browsing Facebook one night, I read a post in an alumni group for the hippie, progressive creative-and-performing-arts summer camp I attended as a teenager. The post asked about who was teaching via Zoom and what were they teaching? I read through the comments–many musicians teaching lessons on all sorts of instruments, and one from Adam about teaching writing to kids. As a parent, and someone who has worked extensively with kids, I commented that I was interested in hearing more, and suddenly, after a few Facebook messages and one long phone call, we agreed to meet regularly for writing instruction.
The real turning point came a few weeks later, though, when Adam messaged me on a Sunday to suggest I drop in on his “writing group” that afternoon. First, of course, came absolute panic that I wasn’t a good enough writer to do that, and second was what I answered back, “I don’t have anything to share.” I didn’t share the “not good enough part,” but Adam explained that no sharing was required, just come, join a Zoom chat and write with others for a little while. It didn’t improve my confidence, but I figured that the accountability wasn’t a bad thing, so I joined in, and met Andrew. No writing happened that day, but the conversation was inspiring, and an invitation was extended to return the following day. So I came back on Monday. And nearly every day after that. (As I write this, I think I’ve missed two days of writing group since I began attending, and both of the days I missed, it was because I was sick, not because I chose something else instead.)
So here we are now. About half a year of daily writing, not because someone else has said to do it, but because I chose it. Adam teased one night that I started showing up to the writing group “like a dry drunk trying to get a 30 day chip.” I’m finding myself fueled sometimes by words more than food or drinks. These days, writing is a need, a pleasurable one, but it’s a need that has to be met. I feel uncomfortable or incomplete if I haven’t at least made an attempt at writing something each day. I don’t worry as much anymore about making sure I produce good work daily, just that I produce something.
Creative people will tell you there’s a need to create that’s unquenchable in any other way but creating. For me, I create with words, and the format I’m most drawn to is poetry. Poetry doesn’t require me to concentrate on tying up loose ends or consistent characters. It lets me focus on the picture I’m creating in that one moment, on the things people feel all the way down into their deepest parts and to honor those moments and those feelings.
It’s taken six months, but I’ve (mostly) stopped fighting when Adam and Andrew and Mary call me “a writer,” although they’re still pushing for poet, and I might even use “writer” to describe myself sometimes. I’ve been a guest on the Ivory Tower Boiler Room podcast and now I’ve been invited to join the podcast team. I’m part of a community of people who love to write, and I get to celebrate their successes, and as for my own work, for now, I mostly fret about writer’s block and shovel piles of self-criticism from one place to another. Instead of doing it alone now though, I am doing it in the company of other people who soothe my anxious heart. They’re there when I am struggling to understand my own writing. when I reach out tearfully. They offer criticism kindly and appreciate my growing love affair with my thesaurus. And on the day when I have success of my own to celebrate, they’ll be first in line with champagne.