I am blessed by having had in my life several configurations of writing circles. I highly recommend them. Wherever I have lived, I have found kindred spirits who write, who listen and who keep me aware of the changing life patterns. Currently, I write with two different groups—my KaBooM sisters in Lexington (all of them publishing writers) and the Crones in Frankfort. (old friends and family)
On the last evening of summer the Thursday Night Crones, as we often called ourselves, gathered. The last time that this journal group met (back in mid-summer), we promised to do it again soon—to not let time get away from us; and we do gather as frequently as our lives permit. It is not the same tribe, but it is the same spirit.
We began in 1992 as a cadre of mothers and daughters who gathered at one another’s homes once a week for about consecutive 15 years. On Sept 22nd we gathered on the porch at PenHouse Retreat Center. Among other old friends, I sat to write with two of my daughters. Alaina is 28, and Roxie is 36. They were 8 and 16, respectively when we began to write together; I was 38. It is hard to believe that this particular configuration of women and I have been writing together in the evenings for 20 years now.
After we write—usually three times all using a similar prompt—I listen to the round of voices, and I feel grateful for the way words on a page have kept us sane all these years. We have shared who we are in deeply personal ways. We have given voice to the wild ones within us, to memory and longing. In our now bookshelf of stacked journals, we have begun to write short stories, poems, novels, to longing through sorrow and ecstasy. We honor the passages, mourn the losses, celebrate the renewals, toast the possibilities.
I’m certain that as I was writing I was not conscious that I was ever working on this or that book; although, looking back on it, I see that those journal pages were a riffle of flowing language that watered three books of short stories. It wasn’t literature I was seeking at the time I wrote; it was sanity and the only way to find it was laying down one word at a time, one breath at a time.
I think of that two decade process of writing as we pause this night during sunset. The group goes outside into the yard at PenHouse to watch the chimney swifts dive down into the darkness of their home at night. (Yes, we have rooms available for the swifts, too!) They become a metaphor for the act of writing as I watch them sweep across the page of sky, gathering night and tucking it under their wings. They fold night into their bodies and carry it with them down the chimney. In the gray evening sky, they look like clots of words being laid down on the page. A few of them straggle along, leaving meditative pauses in their flight, or perhaps line breaks. Then again, the birds as words cluster together, swirl and fall quickly. There is beauty in their patterns.
I know that these birds (and my cronies) will be leaving soon. Roxie and Alaina will come back whenever we meet. Glenda at the end of autumn has to go back to Alabama. She left an earlier configuration of our group to take a job at the university there. Debbie, a visitor to PenHouse and our group, will return to Louisville, but has promised to come back. I have also moved away several times (to Berea and Lexington) and then returned. Several of the other old-time group members are absent tonight, but our gathering whether in thick or thin continues.
This journal writing, like the migration pattern of swifts, also has its season. Now that the light is waning in the sky, the chittering birds will soon leave for the rainforest of the Amazon. Our words, too, go out into the air, floating on currents of thought. We gather in our community, and reach out to continue at times to gather in more. The writing together over all these years has changed us. We have grown, we have flown, and we have returned again. The center holds us together—a communion of ideas among kindred spirits.