Recently I rediscovered one of my earliest writings; four handwritten pages, on white blue-lined paper, in pencil and newly learned loopy cursive. Titled A Trip To Maine, my nine-year-old self chronicled a weekend spent with neighbors at their cabin on an island in Maine’s Kennebec River. I don’t think this was a school assignment, just something I wrote for myself, something I felt compelled to do, something which felt valuable enough to save, something I have kept for nearly seventy years.
And now, in the winter of my life, here I am again – writing, almost daily, with joy and passion. I can’t imagine my life without writing. Most days you will find me at “the office, ” aka Tony’s Coffee on the corner of Harris and 11th Street in the village of Fairhaven. The baristas, Kenley, Jen, Tina, know me by name and begin making my latte – non-fat, x-tra hot, no foam – when they see me walk in the door. Latte? I didn’t even know what that was five years ago!
But my life changed the day I went to a presentation at the local bookstore, Village Books, where author Laura Kalpakian spoke about her upcoming course “Memory to Memoir.” I settled into a seat in the second row, next to a woman who seemed to be about my age. For years I’d wanted to write a memoir, a book about my oldest son, Steve, born with Down syndrome in 1966. I listened eagerly as Laura outlined the basic structure of the course: three twelve-week sessions, three hour classes once-a-week, culminating with a evening of public reading held next spring at the bookstore. Laura promised students would learn about creating characters, scenic depiction, dialogue, narrative and dramatic arc. When she finished I turned to the woman next to me. “What do you think? Are you going to do this?” When she answered yes, Shirley became my first “writer friend.” My writing community quickly expanded from that point and continues to grow.
Writing is a solitary task, and the support of a writing community cannot be overstated. Here in Bellingham, I belong to the Red Wheelbarrow Writers and two informal writing groups: Talespinners and a brand-new group of writers, so new that as yet we haven’t named ourselves. Red Wheelbarrow Writers is a loose affiliation of area writers, costs nothing to join and hosts two monthly events: a Happy Hour and a Book Club. Members also worked together to write, edit, publish and produce our first anthology, Memory into Memoir (Penchant Press, 2016) The Talespinners have been meeting twice a month since 2013 and include five individuals from my Memory to Writing class along with an individual from a previous class. Laura Kalpakian continues to work with us at our meetings where we enjoy great pot-luck dinners and share and critique each other’s writing including memoir, YA fiction, poetry and even book proposals. My brand-new group has added the skill of learning-how-to-set-up-a website along with sharing and critiquing our writing. The support I get from each group is invaluable.
As I continue to grow and develop my writing craft I shall always remain grateful to have landed in this small Pacific Northwest city. Yes the winters can be rainy and gray, but the coffee is good, the beach and the mountain are always in sight, and my fellow writers always have my back.