Because We’ll Remember You

This weekend I received a note from one of my oldest writing-group friends.  It’s been about a decade, I think, but when I asked my husband, “Do you remember Karen S.?” he said right off, “Sure. She was the girl with the sister who ….”  and he was right.  Just like that.

Karen was in my first nonfiction writing class, back when I had no idea I wanted to be a writer, back when I knew little to nothing about craft or structure or voice or what sells or any of the bullshit I find myself worrying too damned much about these days.  I was 35 years old and taking the class as an elective.  I was taking the class to fill a gap.  I was taking the class for fun.

I remember our teacher, Roxanne Sadovsky, a grad student who also happened to be an awesome teacher; her manuscript was about being a latchkey kid in Los Angeles, a world of Bugs Bunny and I Love Lucy.  I remember the redhead who sat by the window, that she’d just gotten out of rehab, how she would miss so many classes over the semester and how we all worried about her.  I remember a scene of Karen’s family in their kitchen.  I remember the man who sat 2 rows behind me and stayed silent most of the semester until he silenced the rest of us by reading his list, 1,2,3, of what it’s like to be madly in love …. with heroin.  I remember the boy who wrote about John Berryman and we couldn’t figure out why until he finally told his story about walking to the Washington Avenue Bridge in winter (like Berryman) but decided (unlike Berryman) not to jump.  When the class ended we stood in a circle and tossed around Roxanne’s stuffed Bugs Bunny and said our damp-eyed goodbyes.

Roxanne got many of us back together.  Not for a writing group, not for workshop, but for Friday Night Readings.  Every week we would meet at someone’s house, share some food and drink, and read our work.  It didn’t matter if it was something we’d been polishing-up for years, or something we scratched out on a piece of notebook paper that afternoon.  We could read a paragraph or we could read a chapter.  There were no rules, no restrictions, no judgment.  There was no worry about getting published.  Just a quiet room of writers, reading and listening.

My husband remembers Karen because he was there for a few of her readings.  He didn’t know Karen as well as I knew Karen, but no matter.  A decade on, he remembers her story, and her sister’s story, and her family’s story….

Karen tells me she’s trying to get back to writing again, that she’s starting at the beginning.  For my writer friends out there, how about we go back to the beginning and remember why we do this?  Can we forget about craft and structure and voice and what sells and the MyGodButWhatWillPeopleThink and remember why we started writing in the first place?

Tell your story.  Just tell it.  We’ll listen, and we’ll remember you.

Happy New Year, everybody.

Photo by Ilse Bing

Photo by Ilse Bing

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30 thoughts on “Because We’ll Remember You

  1. timkeen40

    Good post and so true. No matter what, I have a collection of stories and tales that are mine. I just hope that someone will remember me as well as Karen has been remembered.

    Thanks,
    Tim

    1. Teri Post author

      Sometimes I’m on a plane and the air gets choppy and I start thinking crazy things like, “Oh man, somebody’s going to find my story about such-and-such and it’s not done! I hope the pilot lands this plane.”

      1. timkeen40

        Ah, but if you are true to yourself, no matter how many you finish, you are doomed to be working on one that is not completed when the “plane doesn’t land”.

        Tim

      1. independentclause

        First write the good stories. Then worry about the order. (Poets don’t tell stories as directly, so we obsess over order. Prose writers need to get over that shit and worry about it later.)

  2. Averil Dean

    LOVE this post, Teri. You’re right, too. Overcoming the shoulds and coulds is one of the hardest parts of writing, but it has to happen if we’re going to write anything worth remembering.

    I’m glad about Karen, and a little relieved on my own behalf. Maybe I’ll be remembered, too.

    1. Teri Post author

      Now that the kids have gone back home and the xmas decorations have been put away (yes, today, in a mad dash, it’s all gone!), I’m ready to get back to work. I took the guest room, which is normally my “office” but had to be a guest room for the last weeks, and got it all ready to go again. I will be back in there Tuesday, all by myself, working. Writing. God forbid I’d be remembered by my current bad WIP !!!

      And you’re already, officially, remembered. Period.

  3. Les

    I get frustrated sometimes when people describe to me what “else” I could do, but in the end, writing is the only thing I ever thought was important to do.

    1. Teri

      There is no “else.” I hear you, as I have a hard time talking to people who don’t understand that. If this is what you can do, it IS the only important thing to do.

      I keep having dreams where I fall off of balconies and out of airplanes, fearful at 2:30 a.m. that I won’t get it done.

  4. girl in the hat

    I’m thinking back to groups i’ve been in and although I can’t remember everyone’s name or face, I do remember what or how they wrote. You remind me that I need to find a good group again.
    I want to remember and be remembered. Maybe if we wrote stories about our biggest secret dreams, they’d feel like they already happened.

    1. Teri

      Sometimes I feel like we spend so much time regretting the groups we don’t join or the ones who don’t work out. And there have been plenty for me, that’s for sure. I was in one group where the leader would email us after and apologize for the brutality. There’s just no need for that.

      I was absolutely spoiled by Karen’s group — Roxanne’s group — being my first. High expectations and all that ….

  5. Lyra

    Just a quiet group of writers…yes, yes, yes. This is it. Enough about what is selling, the state of publishing, the noise, the bullshit, the chaos and the static.
    We have all we need. A space to fit a laptop whether at a kitchen island, a guest room, or on a train and the desire to turn it on.
    That’s it. At the end of the journey, we’ll be able to say, we wrote one damn fine story. The rest is out of our hands and we need to push it out of our thoughts. Clear the space for a book once the laptop is put away.

  6. macdougalstreetbaby

    You wrote a post once, Teri, that I’ll always remember. You went to a wedding. I forget whose but I remember the writing was so beautiful. I’ll have to look for it in your archives to give a proper shout out.

  7. Josephine

    “Tell your story…”

    I’m trying. I promise.

    I love this first writing group you describe. It sounds so…great. (not at all my experience with the groups i’ve visited–excluding our current, slightly expanded one.)

    Happy New Year! Here’s to telling more of our stories next year.

    1. Teri Post author

      I’m trying too. I’m finding the truth to be, in the end, that the ugly truths about myself are far harder to write about than all the other stuff. Mary Karr said this was so, and it is.

  8. Simplegratitude

    Teri, it’s Karen. What a beautiful, inspiring post. I can hear your voice – like you’re sitting here reading it. Our writing group was kind and nurturing. I did a lot of healing through telling my story on those nights. It helped to know that someone there would listen without interupting and that I was loved. The memoir I was writing in those days sits unfinished in my closet (I lost electronic copies of everything a long time ago). It haunts me there…calling out to me in the night. Finish me…finish me… ha ha.

    1. Teri Post author

      Hi Karen — it really was so great to hear from you! I this little blog circle we have a saying: Finish The Fucker, aka FTF. You are not alone.

      That really was a nurturing place to be, our reading/writing group. It spoiled me. Who knew I’d never see that kind of kindness in a writing group again?

  9. LauraMaylene

    At first I thought maybe your Karen is the same Karen I met this summer, who also had a memorable story about her sister. But I think probably they are different people. How amazing, though, that right this second there are at least two Karens out there with their own sister stories that we will probably never forget?

    Those Friday night readings sound perfect. Our attention is really the best gift we can give other writers.

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