My Support Group Hates Me
Just for fun: Here’s a Contributor’s Note I wrote in a memoir workshop recently. The assignment was to play with a creative version of what might appear in the back if we were ever to publish a book.
“Lynda Smith Hoggan first began publishing poems and articles in Philadelphia in the ’70’s. She suspected that her publications were probably some kind of fluke and realized that she needed guidance. She joined a women’s poetry group. She knew that the budding feminist sisterhood would give her the support she needed.
“Girl, your poetry ain’t,” said the militant black lesbian. “It just doesn’t speak to the depth of my core,” said the overweight vegetarian. “Dear, I’m sorry, but you just don’t write very well,” said the sorrowful homemaker. To each other they made comments like, “I see how you’re trying to connect with the infinite, and you’re almost there,” or “Your imagery is powerful; I feel the dark well of your pain.” For Lynda they had no suggestions for improvement, only blank looks every time she read.
Every week Lynda left the meeting trying not to cry, usually failing before she reached home. She wanted so badly to quit the group, leave those snarling bitches behind, but somehow she felt that quitting would only give credence to what they said.
The last session of the group was a reading at the University of Pennsylvania that was open to the public. To Lynda’s dismay, the room was full. Women and men sat stiffly on narrow wooden chairs, faces tilted upward in anticipation. As the other women read their work, the audience clapped politely, occasionally exchanging a raised eyebrow, approving nod or smile. Then Lynda heard her name. She shuffled to the front of the room as if her shoelaces were shackled together. She stood under the narrow beam of a bare lightbulb like the ones used to grill jailbirds. Her papers shook, rattling like chains against the microphone until she laid them on the podium. Her voice cracked as she began to read.
She did not read poetry. Instead she selected from some prose pieces that she had worked on in a writing class. They were strange, colorful stories about a summer romance with a Mafia hit man, a threesome between Olive Oyl and her suitors, and how some men have sex with chickens. When she finished, the room was silent. Then it erupted in applause, shouts of “Yeah!” and a few people who even jumped to their feet. Suddenly Lynda felt as if the beam were a warm spotlight, highlighting not her crime against language but a ‘get out of jail free’ card that might encourage her to go elsewhere and keep writing.
Afterward, as she stood drinking wine and receiving one after another in a line of congratulators and well-wishers, she saw the women from the poetry group standing off to the side. They watched her suspiciously, as if she had indeed pilfered something. She raised her plastic cup to them and smiled.”
With just a little poetic license, that story really happened. It was one of a series of events that made me think maybe I could put words together after all. I’ve had both encouragement and discouragement over the years, and my writing has sometimes been in fits and starts. Lately there are more starts than fits, and I’m glad I didn’t let that unsupportive support group define me.*
Imagine that you have just written a book. What do you think you would write about in your own Contributor’s Note?
Poets do it metaphorically, man.
*This is the first blog post that I didn’t tie in some way to Licking the Spoon the book, a work in progress about food, sex and relationships. That’s because I have enough done on that book to try to interest a publisher. In the meantime, I’ve moved on to another project on memoir, and future blog posts may touch upon a wider variety of topics. But at their heart will always be Licking the Spoon the concept, a desire to live life with gusto. For me, that includes returning to my passion for creative writing.