I don’t see the women in my writing group very often these days, but whenever I do, it feels like a homecoming. Last weekend was no exception. I was detained by the worse-than-expected snowstorm that blew up the coast on Friday and so didn’t arrive at our retreat site in southern Maine until well after lunch on Saturday. But the short time I spent in the quirky company of these dear friends was enlivening, enlightening and warmly reassuring, as it always is.
I joined the Bangor-based Seven Sisters back in 2007 after meeting one of the members at a workshop hosted by the Maine Writers and Publishers’ Alliance. I was delighted when they invited me to join, but I did not suspect what an important role these women would come to play in my life.
Back then, the Sisters was a more structured group than it is now. We met for two hours on the third Friday of each month and took turns hosting at our homes. The host would arrange a sociable circle of comfortable seating and a modest selection of drinks and snacks. She was also responsible for providing a couple of suggested topics or exercises to get the creative juices flowing.
“You are sitting on the porch of an elegant antebellum mansion with the four most important women in your life,” one of the prompts might be. “Who are they? What are they wearing? What are you talking about? What are you drinking? How will the afternoon end?”
Or, “Think of a time when you and a friend/spouse/child/coworker had a stupid argument. What was the argument about? Who was stupider?”
Or, “God Almighty has accepted your invitation to have dinner at your house tomorrow, but it turns out that He is a vegan and gluten-intolerant. What will you serve? Which china will you use? Wine, beer or seltzer?”
The short written responses could be wholly fabricated, reality-based, heartfelt or ridiculous. They took the form of haikus, short essays and wild rants. We read them aloud. There was a lot of laughter, and plenty of tears, too, as we shared glimpses into our lives — our marriages, our children, our crazy families of origin, our career frustrations, our dreams, our fears. We wrote our way through all kinds of transitions: jobs lost, babies born, teenagers despaired of, divorces weathered, deaths endured.
The group “critique” was never very literary, I’m afraid; it was unfailingly supportive, encouraging and accommodating. It was often hilarious, sometimes outraged. We were a warm circle of friends developing a relationship of trust and humor, blowing off steam as we filled the pages of our journals with memories, allegations, confessions and speculation.
A few members were always more mature and focused in their writerly aspirations, working on serious memoirs, poetry and short stories between our get-togethers. The rest of us, who rarely wrote except in the group, sincerely admired this discipline but balked at efforts to formalize our sessions, preferring the rich, irreverent, emotional potluck that got served up each time we met.
Predictably, over time the group dynamic shifted and our gatherings became more sporadic. The serious writers started meeting separately to work on their projects. The young mothers had trouble fitting our sessions into their busy calendars. One group member moved away, and then another, and another. New, surprising romances blossomed for for several of us. In general, life got complicated and eventually, about two years ago, we made the hard decision to pull the plug on our regular meetings.
But the Seven Sisters lives on. There are 10 of us now, since no one could really bear to drop out altogether, even when they moved across the continent. Although we haven’t all gotten together at the same time for a long while, we stay in loose contact through Facebook and email. And from time to time, a sub-set manages to convene for a few days of writing, reading, drawing, talking and laughter, as we did last weekend.
It can be a challenge to step away from our busy routines, but we all know that the time we enjoy with our friends, old and new, is time well spent indeed. I am so fortunate that this group of smart, funny, thoughtful women is woven into the fabric of my life.