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.