If there’s something I like to do and there’s no group around that’s doing it, I’ll start a group. Dancing, hiking, reading, Toastmasters, storytelling, writing. Lately I’ve spent a lot of time with groups connected with writing. And the main activity has not been writing–it’s been sharing writing and storytelling with other people–writers, readers, and regular people. Come on, you know writers are not regular people. But that’s material for another post.
Why be a part of a group? Or many groups? Well, for one, I like being with people. They are endlessly fascinating, quirky, inspiring, exasperating, fun…the list goes on. I also admit that part of this group-joining thing is because it’s easier for me to get going on activities. If a group is already in existence, I can send or receive one group email, or one Facebook post and the event is out there. My calendar is more easily controlled if I know Tuesday is Eastside Writing Room, or Wednesday is Toastmasters. Other days are open for other groups, new groups or yes, something spontaneous.
Over time, being part of a group is similar to a family – there’s a certain dynamic, there are personality types and there are spoken and unspoken ‘rules’ of the group. I gravitate to groups which have structure and yet have leeway for flexibility in the structure. Some groups last only as long as one event but there’s still a certain structure. I’m comfortable with that and find people in those groups are okay with structure too. Our latest sharing event was Writers Read. Over the last year and a half, we’ve presented events that start and end on time (no taking hostages in running overtime), refreshments keep folks happy, stories are neither shocking nor insipid–you get great entertainment. Writers Read has gained a reputation of being comfortably reliable and consistently in good taste. What keeps it from getting stale is the rotating group of writers and their never-ending talent for presenting original ideas.
The personal and emotional benefit for me of being in a group is that the level of connection with people is more than surface. Sure it may start at “What’s your name?” “What do you do?” or the Tucson opener, “Where are you from?” If you’re from Tucson, be prepared for me to really look you over from head to toe. You are a rarity. Then we skirt, delve, or dive right into “Why did you write this story/get interested in clogging/start improv?” “How did this event impact your life?” “What drives you to write/practice yoga/race cars/paint?”
This emotional impact is especially true in writing groups. Most especially true in writing groups that center around memoir or lifestories. It’s personal–very personal. There is a level of caring and respect which keeps members safe in their sharing and that in turn keeps them coming back. This seems to hold true even when we writers take our personal stories on the road and share at public events. Writers Read is set up as a small-medium intimate setting, with time to interact with the audience. People come with expectations of a warm reception and easy entertainment; readers and listeners leave having connected with human beings who are curious about life and kind to each other. Hokey? Maybe. Enjoyable? Absolutely.
At the most recent Writers Read, our hosts Kate Preble and Phil Bryson of BREWD, a coffee lounge on Sabino Canyon Road, created a special menu for our theme, “Summer Sizzlers.” Cool refreshing drinks were offered along with their caprese salad, quiches, and paninis. BREWD took on a writing venue atmosphere with a few rows of chairs up front along with grouped café tables. My writing colleagues, Kathy McIntosh, Sally Lanyon, Traci Moore, and Deborah Knox shared stories of true events. Okay, Traci’s was fictional, but one has to wonder is there not a seed of non-fiction in the fiction? Each story brought chuckles of identity, nods of appreciation, and comments afterwards that convinced me this kind of connecting serves a social purpose. People are connecting, not isolating. The atmosphere is inclusive, not exclusive.
“This was such an enjoyable evening.”
“This story reminded me of my childhood.”
“When’s the next one?”
“I’d like to be a reader at your October event.”
“It reminded me of my summers.”
“I’ve felt that way too.”
Differences among people are often disturbingly rampant, often necessary, and certainly stimulating, but I think the understanding that we have a commonality somewhere is a starting place for friendship and acceptance. It may be true that “we are more alike than different.” Sounds good to me.