A couple of weekends ago I spent two blissful days with five guys and assorted other friends and family members at a beach house in Alligator Point. The five guys were members of a writing workshop I was in during grad school. I’ve been in a number of writing groups over the past thirty or so years. Each one has its own personality. Each one has its own history. But in those writing groups I have found my deepest moments of intimacy — while still being fully clothed.
This writing group was called the Wings Workshop because we met every Thursday night at a restaurant called Wings N Things. We had our own table that the waitress kept clear for us on Thursday nights. The guys would drink beer and eat wings. I would drink a near-beer (since I’d damaged my liver in my misguided youth) and eat the carrot sticks (since I’m a vegetarian). We would laugh, tell stories, talk about writing and sometimes get into heated debates. Sometimes we’d argue about politics but we only got mad when the arguing was about writing. We were ferocious in our opinions.
Each summer we’d rent a beach house for a couple of days and play guitars and drums and sing old Neil Young songs. Spouses and children would come along. Substances might have been consumed in the wee hours. We’d laugh ourselves silly. On Friday nights one of our group would often have a pool party. Again, the tequila and the guitars and the drums were present.
The spouses weren’t always comfortable around us. We had a reputation for being elitist, insular, a clique. We couldn’t help ourselves. We were a band of brothers (in spite of the fact that I’m a female). We had our in-jokes and our shared heartaches. We all had friends and lives outside the group but when we were together we were like those twins who grow up speaking a separate language.
Part of it was because we had been through so much together. One of our more athletic members (a man who loved to sail and to hunt) developed Guillian-Barre disease and was effectively paralyzed for six months. It took him another six months to recover. A beloved writing professor we had all studied with died of cancer. Then a terrible blow struck when our Harley-riding golden boy died of heart failure at the age of 39. We were devastated by the loss and clung to each other for weeks.
My ex-husband used to call us “the body” after a Star Trek episode in which a particular society is so in tune with each other that they are almost one person and they refer to themselves collectively as the body. There was a certain accuracy to his observation. It wasn’t just the things we’d all been through together that bound us. What really tightened the knots that have not been loosened to this day was the fact we knew each other through our writing. We had read our worst stories and our best stories. We had revealed ourselves through our words in ways we could not do otherwise.
A writing group is more than just some people who critique your work. They are your source of inspiration and encouragement. They become your community. They are your comrades-in-words. And they are your audience. You will never have a better one.