I joined a writer's group on a whim last week.
I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone.
I've never had any trouble being published. Never had any trouble thinking of ideas to write about on my blogs or...elsewhere.
But something in me yearned to go back to those early days, the days when I just enjoyed curling up with a pad and pen to tell myself stories. I hadn't thought seriously about being published then. It was just for the love of writing--I didn't even see it as practice. It was pure, unadulterated infatuation with the written word and where those words could take me.
Back then, I would stay locked away scribbling until family and friends began to worry about it. And it was an addiction--it felt good. The pen in my hand, the words flowing out of the end of it...I was intoxicated by it.
But somewhere along the way--after I was hired at the Chicago Sun Times, I think--I set the pen and pad aside forever. Except to take notes. And I began to use a tape recorder for notes, too, after a while.
So yesterday I bought a little portfolio at the Walgreens at the end of the block where the writing group meets and strolled in feeling a wee bit unsure that I'd made the right choice.
For starters, there were only two members in the room. The man who had organized the group some years ago had had a family emergency, and had emailed the group after I had already headed into town. I live on the outskirts of Tucson, so I left earlier than most.
A few others had also arrived to discover the meeting had been cancelled, but they had left. The two chatting as I entered had decided to wait and see.
I'm glad they did.
The woman who'd stayed challenged me and the man who stayed to complete a timed writing. For fifteen minutes, we were to explore this prompt:
My daughter found Jesus on a ranch in New Mexico...
I think she might have said "dude" ranch, but as I took up my pen, my mind held onto only "daughter," "Jesus," "ranch," and "New Mexico."
And as I am enthralled by all but one of those things—the “Jesus” part kinda threw me-- I picked up my pen...and began to scribble. And I mean scribble.
My fingers are no longer used to doing much more than signing my name with a pen. And also, after my illness last year, my fingers do not always do what I ask. I have to concentrate, very hard sometimes, to form the words.
I decided not to be embarrassed if someone looked over and saw the scrawl. I put my ego--and fears--aside and tried to channel the young girl who had so desperately wanted to "write" before she even knew what she wanted to write. Or why. Or how.
I got my John Boy on--I had such a crush on that kid back when, for being so much like me—he validated my addiction.
And gradually my fingers and my muse loosened up.
This is the story they wrote:
“My daughter met Jesus on a ranch in New Mexico.
He was, she discovered, a member of one of the old families. One of the very old families that had been there before the conquistadors arrived and would be there, he said, until all of the white people had finally killed themselves off as his people had prayed they would.
in the picture my daughter showed me, his white-pupiled eyes, clouded over with untended cataracts, were intense, unsettling. What he could not see he could clearly feel. It was a gaze that I knew would make me uncomfortable and afraid of the secrets he would steal from me.
My daughter said she had felt the same as he sat with his hands leaning on a crooked cane made from a cottonwood root. He loved silences. Paused often to ponder some inner world only he could access. Or perhaps a past he preferred to the present.
He spoke of that past reverently and sorrowfully. And yet there was a calm she rarely felt in the presence of anyone else.
He remembered trails, whole villages that had crumbled to dust decades ago. He remembered most the school the white Christians, the ones who had given him his name, had built.
He was forced with the others to go to a school built by people whose God had killed his own son—or let him be killed—in a gruesome, gory way in front of multitudes.
To him, the name “Jesus” was a reminder not of Christian kindness, but rather of the brutality faced first by his namesake and then by his people.
It was why he pronounced it "GEE-sus," not “Hey-SOOS” in the Spanish way—hissing it like a curse, not murmuring it like a prayer.”
I think I will go back next week.