This week I went to my first writer’s workshop outside of those that I’ve taken within the comfort zone of my school environment. I was a bit nervous because I am joining a community of writers that I do not know and I am person who finds comfort in the familiar. But that will in time change. I can be friendly. But I’m also shy, inherently so. It takes awhile – sometimes a very long while – for me to warm up to people.
To read in front of a group of strangers what I’ve written is a formidable challenge. But this is why I joined, to overcome this fear. People's critique of your work can at times be hard to digest; yet, this is what is needed sometimes to move our stories forward in the right direction. If your readers do not make a connection, do not understand what you are trying to convey, then you’ve failed as a writer and you need to know this. But no one can criticize me as harshly as I can criticize myself. I am my own worst critic, my own worst enemy. I can read the end result of a story and that little voice that I know so well begins to speak to me in the language of my familiar: "It sounds rudimentary. It’s garbage. Start over again." This is why I hesitate reading my words in front of others because I always feel that they could have been written better. Each story has its own music, its own language, and if it does not sing to me in a way that can move me, it will fail to move anyone else.
I arrive. I enter this quaint little bookstore which I love and have been to so many times with my beloved. This is our place. It feels strange to be here without him. I ask the young man at the counter where the writers’ workshop is being held. He points to the back of the shop. My chest heaves. It is not the intimate crowd of 20-25 that I expected; it is more like 100-125. My lips expel a great big sigh. You don’t have to read, Rebecca, just sit, listen and learn. That’s all you have to do.
I find a seat. Strange. My heart suddenly feels full and happy and not nervous at all. I am doing that which I love. I am in a place I love with kindred spirits who share the same passion. But my beloved, he should be here as well. He is the only one who has been with me on this journey of mine and to be here without him doesn’t feel right. He must have known I was thinking about him. He texts me: how’s it going? I text him in turn: Come. I’d really like you to be here. No further words are necessary.
I get comfortable. The gentleman next to me has a deep, strong voice and his slow, resonant drawl draws me in. I sense he is not a novice and someone that I should perhaps get to know. Some writers read their stories. I especially liked the story written by the short, elderly man with the kind, smiling face. His tale of olden times when he was a young graduate on a trip abroad in Paris I found different from the usual stories I hear and read. I found his language different – a language written in the tongue of a wise man from a different time passing down his wisdom in an intelligent and humorous way and peppering it with books and music references of the time. It is the kind of story that teaches and makes you want to go and find that book, find that album, because you want to feel what he felt and you want to learn and be informed. I give opinions when asked. Thankfully, despite the shyness I feel, I manage to sound articulate and intelligent. Still, don’t ask me to read and, if you do, I will respectfully decline. I am not yet ready. You can be charming when you want to be, Rebecca, make friends. In friendships you will find your comfort. In your comfort you will find your courage. In your courage you will find your voice and read. You will read your words, Rebecca. You can do this. You will do this. Smart voice. I like this voice. It is forceful and will not cede to defeat.
8:30 p.m. He said he would be here by then. I turn my head and notice him not too far from me, browsing through books; but I know he is also listening to the stories being read. He senses me looking at him and looks my way. We make eye contact. He winks and smiles. My heart warms with the glow of slow, long-embered love. His face speaks of devoted love and support. My familiar is here. I am in a place I love, doing what I love, with the one I love. Perfect.
The workshop ends. I walk over to the elderly man with the kind face and intelligent language. I tell him how much I was engaged in his story and wanted to hear more. He thanks me and said I made his day. He made mine.
I then go over and gently hug my beloved taking comfort in his arms, arms that never deny. I lean my face close to his smelling the scent that unearths memories of young and old love, devoted love, encouraging love. This is where I find my strength, in the arms of my own, in the arms of my familiar. Like my words, he is my passion and my love. Yes, he belongs here.
"So, how was it," he asks.
"It was good. It was very good. I'm glad you were able to make it."
He smiles. "Do I take it I will be meeting you here each time you have a workshop?"
I smile and nod, "Yes. I wouldn’t want it any other way."
He takes my hand and leads me to a section of books he thinks might be of interest to me in the writing of my novel. He hands them to me and, like always, gives me some little bit of information about the author which I did not know. Always the teacher. Always my biggest fan and support system. Always my security blanket.
We leave a half hour later, walking slowly to my car hand-in-hand and he carrying my heavy bag as it is his wont to do. He always eases my burdens. No, last night was perfect. This year has been perfect. I've joined a writer's workshop, something I thought I would never do. I am writing a novel, something I thought I would never do. And I know in time I will have to step up to that podium to read my story and find the courage to overcome my fear. Something that I've never done. But, you can be charming when you want to be, Rebecca, make friends. In friendships you will find your comfort. In your comfort you will find your courage. In your courage you will find your voice and read. You will read your words, Rebecca. You can do this. You will do this. And I will. And, this time, I will not cede to the fear.