>It Takes a Village, or at least a Support Group

>I’ve always been a joiner. In elementary school it was Brownie Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Music Clubs. In Junior High and High School it was choir, literary journal staff, newspaper staff, theater guild, and endless committees. College and young adulthood offered more opportunities to belong—sorority, PTA, and again, endless committees, some within our church and others within community organizations. Between the Society for Technical Communication, Home Builders Association (I was an associate member for a couple of years while I was publishing a magazine for builders and architects), Al-Anon, Toastmasters, and book clubs, my calendar was always full. (Not to mention the calendar of services at the Orthodox Church, and running three kids around to all their extra-curricular activities.)

The kids have been out of the nest for several years now, but nothing seems to have slowed down very much. Oh, I choose to slow it down from time to time, dropping off a committee here, not re-upping for a position there. For the past two years, as I’ve been concentrating my efforts on writing more seriously, I’ve tried to carve out more alone time. I think this will always be a struggle for me. The life of a writer can be lonely, and I feel that sometimes. So, I’ve continued to be a joiner, and this week it hit me that I’m a “member” of five “groups” that each meet once a month. The reason it hit me this week is that 4 of those groups all ended up with their meeting scheduled during this one week! Here’s an overview:

Women of Saint John—this is the one group that didn’t have a meeting this week. It’s my church’s women’s group, and while there are many committees and activities that flow out of its basic structure, the one “group” I enjoy each month is the one that meets in the home of one of our members for coffee, tea, and a time of teaching led by our pastor. Afterwards the ladies go to lunch. It’s a great way to stay in touch with women of all ages, from all parts of the city. The teaching feeds my soul, and the fellowship feeds my spirit.

Saint John Dinner Club (met Sunday night)—organized by a couple of women in our parish, these dinner clubs have been functioning for several years, with the groups changing every six months or so. Our current group has 9 people, marrieds, singles, young and old, from East Memphis to Harbor Town to north Mississippi. My husband and I have often remarked that when it’s time to start up new groups, we feel a sadness at leaving the old one! But we also have strengthened friendships with those folks now, so when we see them at church, our lives are more connected. We know what’s going on in each other’s lives, which increases our love and care for one another.

Adoptive Moms (met Monday night)—last April a group of women who have adopted children began meeting each month. Some of the women also have “home-hatched” kids, as one of our group likes to say. But we also have something in common that no one else can understand or relate to, and our support of one another as we try to hold together loving homes for these children who have suffered the loss of their birth families—and sometimes their birth countries—has been invaluable. Amongst the nine women who participate, we have 13 adopted children between the ages of 7 and 31, from five different ethnic groups and four different countries. I am extremely grateful for each of these women’s wisdom, love, and friendship.

Yoknapatawpha Writers Group (meets Saturday)—since September of 2007 we’ve been meeting monthly, usually in Oxford. The core group is 5 writers who met at a writing workshop at Ole Miss in June of 2007. Several others have come and gone from the group, but the core—the original 5 of us who live in 4 different cities—continue to critique each other’s works-in-progress and encourage each other’s efforts at getting their work published. Friendships have formed during this time, and we find ourselves traveling to workshops and festivals together from time to time, sharing our love of the written word.

Memphis Women’s Writers Group (met today)—4 women writers that also meet monthly for critique sessions. This group started up about ten months or so ago, and uses similar critique methods as the Oxford group. We met today, at a Starbucks, and helped each other polish memoir chapters, short stories and poems. Sometimes, like this week when the two writing groups are meeting 2 days apart, I submit the same chapter or essay to each group, and it’s really fun to see the differences and similarities in their critiques.

All that to say it does take a village… to raise kids, grow a church, or write a book, essay, novel or poem. And maybe even to grow into a balanced parent, church member or writer! So, even during a busy week like this one when I struggle to find time to write, I can’t image which meeting I would skip—the time spent with each of these folks is valuable.

I’ll close with some good news which I received this week from Kathy Rhodes, a writer from Franklin, Tennessee, whom I met at the first Creative Nonfiction Workshop I attended in Oxford in September of 2007. In March of 2008 I participated in a critique session with Kathy at the CNF Conference, again in Oxford. (That’s Kathy and me relaxing after a day of workshopping.) Kathy is editor of an online literary journal called “Muscadine Lines,” and she’s going to publish my essay, “Are These My People?” in the April/May/June issue. I love it that this particular essay will appear in this Southern journal, since it’s about a memorable trip with some of my writing group buddies to the Neshoba County Fair last summer. I’ll post the link to the journal again in April when the issue comes out. Until then, visit Muscadine Lines and enjoy some colorful Southern stories and essays! Kathy has also edited a print anthology by the same name, which you can order here, and a book called Pink Butterbeans, which you can order here. And I couldn’t help but notice that Kathy is a joiner, like me. She’s a board member of the Tennessee Writers Alliance and President of the Williamson County [Tennessee] Council for the Written Word. And she’s got an essay coming out in the next issue of The Best of Creative Nonfiction due out in July. Congratulations, Kathy!