I have always been a loner.
As a child, I was drawn to solitary activities like reading, writing, drawing and a game for one called Electronic Detective, an 80s whodunnit game that was a combination between Merlin and Clue.
I still enjoy solitary pursuits. To me, a good book is as enjoyable as a good friend. While I would much rather see a movie with W or eat a meal in her company, I have no problem catching a flick by myself or dining at a table for one.
There have been times in my life when it’s been just me. Single. Single mother.
During those lean times, I have had no one to rely on but myself. I think that’s part of why I’m drawn to the steely toughness associated with being butch. It is an exterior shield from life’s brutalities much like the protective sealer wax sprayed on a vehicle at the end of a car wash.
One of my weaknesses has always been asking for help. Help? Who needs help? Not this able-bodied, flannel-clad butch.
And then I started going to therapy last year, and my therapist gave me a homework assignment to find something to do just for me.
The original plan was an art class. I was going to learn to make mosaics. But the thought of piecing together pieces of broken glass just wasn’t calling to me.
I remembered reading about a writer’s group that met at a local bookstore and decided to give it a go. It was free and there was no form to fill out, so it was already beating the pants off of the art class.
I showed up that Tuesday and surprised myself by writing and sharing something very personal and emotional. I had felt safe among the group members and confident enough in my writing abilities to take a risk.
For the next few weeks, I went to some meetings but not others. It’s not that I didn’t like going or that I was super busy. (Full disclosure: When I didn’t go, I laid in bed and watched old Dr. Phil shows and reruns of Sex in the City.) I liked the people and the writing prompts and the writing that I accomplished within each two-hour session and the way that I felt after each group meeting.
The only thing holding me back was fear. Because what if I committed to this group? I would need to start working on a project of some sort. Everyone was working on something — poems, novels, short stories, memoir chapters. And what if I started something and it flat-out stunk like those detox foot patches that W and I tried? What if I learned that a book is too hard for me to write? Or that I’m not really a writer at all — never have been, never will be?
The funny thing was that the more sessions I attended the more confident I became in my writing and in myself.
Now, every Tuesday, I eagerly show up for group, notepad and pen at the ready. I like being a part of something. I like being a part of a group comprised of people who like the same things that I do — books and writing and writers and ideas and a clever turn of phrase.
I use our weekly meetings as a deadline to write another chapter. I am plodding along.
Last night, I e-mailed another chapter to the group for critique. Right after pushing the send button, I started getting nervous. I mean, what if it wasn’t any good? Scarier yet, what if no one understood my words and they all found it really weird and strange? The morning feedback has once again assuaged my fears. I have learned that when I make myself vulnerable, people relate to what it is that I need to say. For in the end, we are all naked tortoises lying on our backs, our soft bellies exposed to the world.
I think it is an ironic twist worthy of any good book plot: How a loner found companionship in a group of women engaged in the solitary pursuit of writing and found her voice. It had been there all along for she sang in the shower and in the car and to her cats when no one else was around. But it wasn’t until she was in the company of other like-minded people that she was able to sing out loud for the world to hear.