“Take what you want,” said God. “And pay for it.”—Spanish proverb
I disappointed myself yesterday. It was writers’ group and I was one of the readers, volunteered by a fellow writer grieving his brother’s death. I felt an unspoken expectation we’d both read pieces on death, grief, and life after a loved one exits earth.
I mentally toyed with the pieces I might read, many still rough. I even started a new piece. It was juicy, but it might cause people to question my sanity, so I set it aside. I rejected all my pieces on grief.
Instead, I read one about being raped almost three decades ago. I’ve done extensive work on this piece and submitted it several places. One online journal published it, but I didn’t get paid and they’re no longer around, so how can that count?
I chose the rape piece because it’s farther away than the grief. I told myself it wasn’t ego; I didn’t need pats on the back. I wanted feedback to get it into supreme shape for publication.
Early in the day, I unintentionally opened the drawer where letters holding my dead boyfriend Kevin’s heart out to me in his exquisite handwriting hide. The juxtaposition of beautiful and horrible: because he’s gone. Reading three engulfed me in all the grief I could handle for the day.
While I blog about owning my grief, it still feels very private. It’s still raw, even though most days I attempt to convince myself I’m ok now.
When sharing grief is more challenging than reading about a personal rape, I have a way to go. I didn’t consider maybe sharing my grief in its roughness could be part of my healing.
Instead, as I printed and stapled copies, I self-congratulated my professionalism and preparation on my turn to read, rather than showing up half-assed as I judged a couple writers.
I’ve struggled with this group, although I never had a disagreement or run-in with anyone. I joined the group when I arrived in Columbus three years ago, thinking I was only here for the summer. I never quite got a grasp of what the focus of our feedback should be.
I attended a university writing program and taught writing courses, but this is my first writers group. My feedback tends to be what’s working and what needs work. Maybe I lean too heavy towards what needs work with writers who really just want to hear, “Good job.”
On the few occasions I read, the feedback makes my ego as satisfied as a dog who’s killed a rabbit. But, my ego isn’t going to get me published. I must improve! So, I wrestle whether this is the group for me. In the meantime, I’ve become attached to these folks, even formed friendships.
Still, I considered dropping out. For the last two years, while I was seeing Kevin, my group attendance was sporadic at best. Besides, I intended to move somewhere with Kevin soon.
On my drive to the first writers group meeting after he died, I started crying one of those hysterical cries complete with screaming and pounding on my steering wheel. I had to pull over. I wasn’t safe to drive. I texted to let the group know I wouldn’t be there; I couldn’t stop crying. Maybe I overcompensated for that by my choice of what I read last night.
As my friend and fellow griever read a piece about his recently deceased brother, I felt like a fraud. When this writer cried, I saw his courage.
I chastised myself for choosing wrong, for not risking. When I read my rape piece, people praised me. I wondered: is it courage if you’re hiding behind yesterday’s bravery?
One of the group leaders, Donna said she better understood the vulnerability and denial that can arise after rape. She told me my piece is important and should be in a national publication. Another gal revealed she reads my blog regularly and hopes it can be made into a book.
It’s taken me a day to allow those opinions to penetrate. I spend so much time trying to smash my big-ass ego and live by my soul, sometimes I don’t let the words sink into my heart where I need to hear them. Those gals voiced my grand intentions. The universe mirrored back to me, patted me on the back and encouraged me forward.
Of course, my ego grabbed the compliments, but today my writer’s heart hears them like the first time a lover says, “I love you.” The words penetrate and tell me to keep on my path.
So, I didn’t let myself down. I asked for a pick-me-up without even realizing I needed it. Writing is a solitary pursuit and I like it that way. Yet, sometimes writers need to be reminded we can touch the world. All it takes is a couple of people hearing us amid the cacophony. What a blessing, this writers group.