Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Familiar

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.


Lori Skoog said... have to know that you are a great writer! This post was great and I love the relationship you have with your "beloved." It is such a pleasure to read what you have written...! You and Fe are so ready for the big time.

CathM said...

Rebecca. I could totally relate to loads of the things you highlight in this post. In fact, yesterday I went along to a writers group that I started going to in March (still VERY SCARY). I shared a short story which they ripped apart (constructively, I’m trying to believe... lol) – and when I came home I was so deflated, it was only my hubby who could soothe me with his... “young and old love, devoted love, encouraging love. [It 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.” You captured my struggles and reality so beautifully in this post. Thank you!

daisies said...

this was so beautiful and inspiring, it felt so from that beautiful place in your heart. thank you for these words today, i needed them, xo

Beth said...

A perfect evening - surrounded by all that you love - and discovering the path you will take to overcome your fear.

Anonymous said...

Rebecca, you are a natural. This entry is something almost every writer can relate to in some way. God, my OWN chest heaved when I read the number of people in the workshop. I felt your tension and understood. Excellent writing!

Old Grizz said...

You have an easy way of writing. By easy I mean, it is easy to read, easy to understand and easy to like. Do not ever be afraid to share what you have to say.
Old Grizz

Genie Sea said...

Dude! You have never ever written anything that hasn't absolutely captivated me. Remember that. Stuff the rest :) Hugs!

CoyoteFe said...

Rebecca-san! You are my hero ... or heroine maybe. Is not this the next logical step after the gauntlet of all things POD? And, sorry - I give no credit to your opinion of your work, because I know where you live creatively. Take what you will from the group and work it.

Just love that your workshop boasts 100 people! Not to mention how great it is that you and your beloved are so tuned in to each other.

Re: Language Our local paper (Philly Inquirer) is celebrating its 180th anniversary by publishing historical news stories. To say the language is different, more sophisticated, more learned is a bit of an understatement. The language soars withour worrying about whether or not the reader will need a dictionary to understand. Can we move in that direction?

Rebecca-san - Do you know how lucky you are? And, do you know that your luck is of your own construction? Blessed be.

Gina said...


This post was beautiful in so many ways. It made me tear up because I am so happy that you are finally doing what you love! You are amazing and all of your dreams are coming true! What a guy to share it with. I hope that me and my "beloved" can always share the same bond you and yours have. So inspiring!

I love you!


d gypsy! said...


i just got to know that u'd be writing a novel which i would so look forward to read

and frankly I didn't expect that you can be hesitant for a writers workshop for you write so beautifully...

all the bestest... keep writing, tc

Leni Qinan said...

((Hey Rebecca, stop by my blog if you're not too busy. There's something for you there))

Nice song in the playlist (I love Dave Matthews!)

I'm in a hurry now, but I'll be back tonight to read properly.


Genie Sea said...

This isn't an aside, but I had difficulty putting it into words. This story of you and your familiar gives me solace. :)

The Real Mother Hen said...

Oh I feel so positive and loving by just reading this post, Rebecca! There is magic dust in here, I'm sure... you know, my dear, I should say that every word you touch is covered in your magic dust.

This post makes my day. You make my day.

Leni Qinan said...

Hi again Rebecca!

Really, this is thrilling. I can't wait to read about the day you read your work to that audience. You MUST post about it.

I'm very glad for you, my friend. Very happy. It's so different to writing for yourself, or friends, isn't it?

Now you belong to a writer's community, you have a critique group and good prospects (why not saying it?).

We all need te support of our loved ones in these moments, and you're a very lucky woman to have such a nice understanding man with you. He's worth his weight in diamonds!

((Just a little secret: one of my tales made it as a semi-finalist in a contest judged by an editor (300 submissions narrowed to 50, mine is one of them). I didn't expect anything, so I'm quite happy. The results will be made public on monday. It's hard and I won't build my hopes up, but... I'm preparing more submissions to literary agents/contests, so my dear Rebecca, wish me luck!))

((ABRAZOS --- this time in capital letters---))

Paris said...

Loved this post and the fact that you were so open with us and shared your challanges and fears when it comes to your writing. You really are a great writer. Chin up and hold your head high! Be proud of you and your work! =)


Rose - The Center of My Self said...

I know what you mean about being critical of your own work; I will worry a sentence to death trying to convey a feeling and evoke an emotion in the reader. I agree with others who noted how easy it is to read your words. They're intelligent, well-articulated, evocative in a way that draws the reader in easily. In this post, you've taken us from hesitation (being a newbie in the workshop) to pleasure (the older gentlemean's writing) to confident familiarity. I love to read your writing, Rebecca!

b said...

Oh, what a wonderful thing to look forward to...a novel by Rebecca. Wow!


Jay said...

Great job! I think fear is our greatest enemy. There is a great quote from the Transformers movie.

"Fifty years from now, when you're looking back at your life, don't you want to be able to say you had the guts to get in the car?"

I think that quote relates to almost everything.

rebecca said...

Hi Lori! Thank you for those kind words, dear heart. I think I am a 'pretty decent' writer and can hold my own, but 'great?' -- no, there's still too much to learn but it is always my goal. I set my own bar each time higher and higher. And, as far as my 'beloved,' he is my rock and my heart and he most certainly belonged there with me to share in this other little milestone.

Hiya Catherine, my kindred heart! It can be a disappointment when your work's flaws are pointed out but I find that I welcome them because they put me on the right track. The readers, as the POD reminds us time and again, are never wrong. But, I have to tell you, Cath, that you have nothing to worry about because every single piece that I have read of yours is nothing short of professional work. Your writing is so above par and it teaches this kindred writing heart a few tricks or two. We are, like you agree, our own worst critics, so whatever we put out there we know it to be at least a decent piece of work.

Daisies: Thank you so much. I think as a writer we always touch people when it is written honestly from the heart.

Hi Beth! A perfect evening, indeed. My heart is so full of joy right now because I am in a place where I am doing that which I love most.

Hi Ananji: Thank you and welcome! It was pretty frightening when I saw the amount of people but as soon as I sat down, I became relaxed somewhat. I think because it wasn't my first time attending a writer's workshop (I've attended many in my school but with a much, much smaller group), that seemed to have helped somewhat. This one, though, like I said, was the first one outside of my school environment with people I did not know. But that in time will change. Friendships will follow and with it my amount of comfort. =)

rebecca said...

Hi Grizz: Thank you. Your comment, as a reader, goes a long way because, as writers, we want foremost for our readers to 'get it' without too many superfluous words.

Genie, my sweet! You are terrific, you know that? I love you dear heart, thank you. 'Stuff the rest," hehe! Love that! That will become my new mantra when I am feeling a bit unsure about myself.

Felicia!! My kindred, crazy, lovable spirit! Please do not hold me up to heroine status, I cannot withstand the the added pressure! LOL!! You're loving the 100+ people, huh? You would! You are much braver than me. I wished we lived in the same state so we could attend these workshops together; I could use your courage at these times!

G!: Miss you mama! Thank you for that! I think you and my little M will always share that bond - hell, I saw it in living color the day you started dancing in the car and he laughing -- we were right behind you and all you were missing was the disco ball! You reminded us so much of us in our younger years: young, crazy in love and loving every moment! Will have to get together soon...very, very soon!

d gypsy: How are you, love? Hope everything is well with you. Thank you for your kind words. I think every writer sometimes feel a bit of fear and hesitation, no? It just can't be me! Gosh, I hope not!! LOL!

rebecca said...

Hola Leni! Okay, will pick it up as soon as I have the chance and thank you. And, you know what I love? That you left a comment on which song you liked! Yes! A lot of readers usually leave their comments that they like my playlist but never mention the song they heard (I have around 150 on it) and I would love to see what songs are making that connection.

Genie: Solace. And that's exactly what he gives me. Thank you for that because I see that that emotion I feel translated so well.

Hi Mama Hen! Magic dust, huh? Oh, that is such a lovely description. I like that so much. You just made MY day... ((hugs))

Hola again Leni! Yes, it's very thrilling this new phase in my life. I am in such a happy place right now because I am doing that which I love so much and I am finally becoming serious about it. On another note, CONGRATULATIONS! Oh, my goodness, how exciting! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for you! ((abrazos!!))

Hi sweet Paris: How are you, my love? Hope everything is well. Thank you for those kind words and I'm glad my words touch you. Yes, I agree, chin up! =) ((hugs))

Hiya Rosie! Yep, you get it! It is in that conveying that it is most difficult, no? You want to get it just right. Thank you for your kind words. It makes me happy that you enjoy what I write. And, you, dear friend, are such an evocative writer yourself. Your words always, always calm me. And, that is powerful indeed.

Hi Barbara: Thank you, B! I'm having fun writing it and learning more and more as I go along. Of course, I still have those bouts of hitting my head agains the wall when the blank page remains just that: the blank page. But it's all part of the journey.

rebecca said...

Jay: I couldn't have chosen a better line. It's all about overcoming that which you fear most because in the end, I think if you don't do it, you will regret it. And you want to get to the end of your life without regrets, no?

Leni Qinan said...

Rebecca: you don't deserve just a rose but a bunch of roses (*smiles*) and now... off you go to write! LOL

Be well and safe literary paths!


S. Sable said...

Just wanted to thank you for stopping by my blog. I have felt much the same as you, but haven't found a writer's workshop since being out of college. I really should do that even though it is scary. I always get the same feeling that my work isn't good enough, but in the end I guess letting fear have its way is pointless. I can already tell you are a good writer just from reading your blog, so don't be afraid. Your style is affectionate and personal, and that makes it both easy to read and engaging. Best of luck in finding the courage to read to the group.

Rogue said...

I loved this post Rebecca. You are absolutely right; we are our own worse critics. But in reality, there is no "wrong" way to write. Oh sure, spelling mistakes and continuity aside, if you have a story to tell, then it MUST be told. Some of the greatest writers who ever lived never had brilliant educations. But, their stories touched the human soul nonetheless. I have no doubt that yours is a natural abilty. Read you words proud. You deserve it!

Genie Sea said...

I miss you sweetie :)

rebecca said...

Sable: I agree, having fear have its way is pointless and fruitless but I think that the fear of our work not being 'quite good enough' is something all writers feel at some point or other. Too much of 'us' is at stake - our thoughts/ideas and our passion bundled up in words that define us. To be that 'open' with the most intimate part of ourselves IS scary. But, then, it is in that fear that we strive to produce our best work because we our stories are a representation of who we are and we want to shine that which we feel is only the best, no? And, what I am writing is not even remotely close to this 'personal and affectionate' style that I am so accustomed. Sci-fi if you care to believe (on the urging of a college professor) and I am having fun (okay, let's not get carried away, some days are painful). A whole different language altogether, a whole different vibe, something out of my 'familiar.' How's that for fear? And thank you for your comment and welcome!

Rogue: Thank you. In this sci-fi story that I am writing, there are a couple of stories to be told - metaphors for the human condition, a language of my 'familiar.' This story could not have been written by me 20 or 10 years ago because it also brings with it the seeds and life of lifelong learning and observations. Thank you for your encouraging words.

Genie: My sweet, I've been sooooo busy! My beloved is feeling neglected as well. I promise to be a better 'blogfriend' and come and catch up with all your beautiful words.... ((hugs))

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the comment you left on my blog as now I have found yours, and I am hooked.

You are an amazing writer and I love this story. It exemplifies what I believe true love to be and I can't wait to dig deeper and read more.

i also love your inner dialogue. I wish my internal words were as strong as yours.

May said...

This experience sounds frightening, thrilling, exhilarating! Wow, I bet you felt so alive at this moment.

Patty said...

I was invited to join a Writer's Group a while back and I remember sitting outside, manuscript in hand, with fear creeping up in my throat.

A girlfriend who is an accomplished writer was my only means of familiar support but I was terrified. When it was my turn to introduce my book and read its first chapter (which was embedded in my memory) I kept looking up to see the expressions on all of the seasoned authors in the group. No one looked bored/disinterested. What did that tell me, really?

When all was said and done and copies of my chapter were handed back to me, the critique was overwhelmingly favorable.

I later sat outside, again, smiling through tears of accomplishment. Such a small step forward into the world of writing and I was so grateful not to have tripped and fallen.

Beautiful post, Rebecca!

Katie @ Chicken Noodle Gravy said...

Rebecca, I feel such a connection to you and your words...almost as if I could have written this myself. Even the relationship you describe with your beloved is something very familiar to me. Isn't it amazing to have that kind of support, that kind of belief in you coming from someone you love so much?

I think it takes an incredible amount of bravery and determination to join a writing group. I'm proud that you were able to do so and learn so much from the experience.

Thanks for linking up with the Lightning and the Lightning Bug!

PS - If you have a twitter account, I'd love to know your handle. I typically share the posts shared on LALB through twitter. Thanks!

sheri leach said...

What's so weird about this is that just in reading the first few paragraphs I said to myself, this girl is going to be a novelist. You are an amazing writer. I loved everything about this post. I could picture myself in that bookstore - you gave such concrete images. The relationship was so thoroughly expressed with such few sentences. And I could relate to your hesitation to read, that is terrifying. But you really have nothing to worry about - people are going to be in awe of you.

Great post!

Tara R. said...

I liked your descriptions of the other workshop participants, and how you felt at home with other like-minded writers. I felt like I was there with you.

(I found this archived post thru The Lightning)

rebecca said...

@ May: Yes, it was frightening and yet made me feel very alive. You nailed my feelings exactly.

@ Patty: I think that non-writers really can't understand what writers go through in their quest to be published. Family members look at me as if I have two heads and do not understand the fear or the self-doubt. But as a writer, you're exposing yourself fully for all to see; your words are you ultimately, and standing naked in front of others is never an easy feeling. Yet, the recognition by other writers is a different feeling. It gives you more confidence because we are all try to achieve the same thing - not to be boring and for our stories to be engaging, descriptive, interesting and not filled with cliches or have a lazy feel to it. So happy you read your chapter and took that first step.

@ Katie, Chicken Noodle Gravy: Thank you so much for those lovely words. I am loving Lightning and the Lightning Bug. Do you have your Twitter hashtag on your blog? If not, forward me your hashtag and I'll connect with you. Thanks!

@ Sheri: Your comment left me speechless. What an amazing compliment you gave. Thank you so much for this, you have no idea what it meant to me. ((hugs))