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On writing community
the reason artists need to gather
The drive home from Youngstown Lit on Sunday started with a full tank of gas and not enough caffeine.
I listened to The Hard Crowd by Rachel Kushner for the second time during the first hour, namely my favorite essay, “Girl on a Motorcycle,” and tried to fight the urge to take photos of the vivid fall oak trees that lined I-76.
When the hour was appropriate, I called my mother. Last Monday, I took her in for cataract surgery, so I asked how she was. She was enthusiastic, explaining that as her eye healed, it was the colors that were the greatest gift—the brilliance and clarity of them changed the way she could see the world. And just in time for a Midwestern fall.
She’s getting her second eye done in a week, so her newly vivid world is only half-revealed.
Because I was heading back from a conference, she might’ve regretted asking me about myself. I prattled on about my time in Youngstown, where I taught a workshop, led a Q&A with the brilliant Alison Stine () and Jill Christman, and read from We Arrive Uninvited (which ultimately sold out - yay!!!) alongside brilliant writers Kim Chinquee and Sarah Freligh. The only snafu was that my author copies of The Glass City arrived too late to have more than two on hand (but I did give away some trees🌳).
Mom indulged my updates. But when I told her how nice it was to be around like-minded writers, I couldn’t quite explain what it awakened. I’d had a similar experience at ThurberCon the weekend prior, where I met with Columbus-based writers and readers in one of my favorite places in the city, Thurber House. Both experiences were like going home. I hope to offer some semblance of this feeling one day with.
Mom told me that a group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope. A kaleidoscope, with its brilliant color and ability to transform perspective, is the perfect metaphor for both the writing life and the feeling when one gathers with others who see the world for its gradients. It’s a way to think of the way we can regain sight.
Not all writing-focused gatherings have the feel that these two Ohio events have. Some feel corporate, cold, and money-grabbing (even if they’re paying you to be there, it feels gross). But these two conferences reminded me of the beauty of community, and precisely the beauty of a community of artists. I was thrilled to find new readers and new voices to read. I was thrilled to write and talk about creativity.
But more than all that, I remembered that there is something that nourishes and sustains artists when we read each other’s works and congregate to share knowledge and resources in a way that is generous and open, that allows all color and nuance and brilliance. A gathering of such writers is, to me, a kaleidoscope.
I am refreshed and reawakened to new possibilities. These experiences remind me of what’s possible when we listen and connect and feed each other without wanting.
Now to bring this energy forward . . .
Prompt: Write a piece that hinges around the word or image of a kaleidoscope.
(PSSST - I added a morning meditation with affirmations for paid subscribers.)