Fueled by the realization that nearly all of my time these days is spent holed up in my writing room, immersed in my new novel and interacting with no one but my cats, I finally admitted to myself that I need to spend more time with fellow bipeds (in other words, I’m on the fast track to becoming That Crazy Writer / Cat Lady whom neighbors pity and children fear, and I need to get out and see people, stat), so I joined a writers’ group.
Yesterday a few of us gathered at another member’s house for a writing and critique session. It was my first time to do anything with this group, and as I was driving over, I got a familiar nervous feeling in my belly. It was like the first day at a new school: What if no one likes me? What if they laugh at me and ask where I got the idea I should ever write anything more complicated than a want ad? What if no one will sit by me? What if they make fun of my clothes – stylish though these thrift-store yoga pants may be?
I’m rather proud to report that I did not turn tail and flee back to the safety of my writing room. I went to the writing session, I met four very nice fellow writers, we talked shop a bit, and we wrote. And we shared what we wrote. And we talked some more. And I left there with a true feeling of having spent time with people who get me. When I mentioned having broken down and cried once after killing off a character, no one gave me a weird look or backed slowly away. They just laughed and nodded. I also left there with a short story I’m in the process of polishing up now and that will be posted here (under “Christy’s Shorts”) later in the week.
It’s interesting, isn’t it, the times when we as adults still get that first-day-of-school feeling? I hadn’t experienced it in some time, probably since the last time I had a first day of school, but it made me realize just how vulnerable we can be, at any age. If I spend day after day in my apartment, just writing, and I discover at some point that I’m lonely, well that’s my own fault for isolating myself. It was a choice I made. But if I put myself out there, out among the living, and I end up lonely, it gets a whole lot harder to convince myself that there’s nothing wrong with me.
Once, when I was about 16, I went with my church youth group to a water park in a town about an hour away from our hometown. It was the usual youth group scenario – all of us piling on the church bus, overloaded with teenage energy and extra buzzed at the prospect of getting out of town for awhile. When we got to the water park, everyone splintered into little groups and took off in different directions. And I found myself alone. It was a little odd, really, because I had plenty of friends in this youth group. Most of them I’d known my whole life. But for whatever reason, on this particular day, everyone grabbed a buddy or two and took off. And, like the climactic scene in a John Hughes movie, the crowds parted and there I was, by myself, feeling horribly and suddenly self-conscious in my bathing suit and towel. The cheese stands alone. I spent the day sunbathing and telling myself it didn’t matter. But it’s now 30 years later and I’m telling you that story, in disturbing detail, so clearly it did.
That “alone at the water park” feeling can still sneak up on me. It’s similar to the first-day-of-school feeling, just a little more intense. I’m sure that somewhere in my mind that day at the water park, I consoled myself with the thought that once I was an adult, life would be all cocktail parties and backyard barbecues with friends, and I’d never find myself standing alone in my bathing suit ever again.
Guess what? Some days I’m still alone at the water park. Some days I’m still standing in the doorway of my new classroom with trembling hands. We all are. We all are. Just something to think about when you look around you at everyone else. At one time or another, we all feel alone. But at the end of the day, I believe in a world where you can reach out your hand and someone will always reach back.
Although I still don’t like water parks.