My Grandma’s Writing Group

Yesterday I attended my grandma’s writing group, which is hosted at a nunnery. Participating in anything with my grandma generally also involves a vast array of smiling nuns. My grandma used to be a nun, but she ran away with my grandpa early on in her nun years to start a family. A decision which had huge impacts for me, as if she had not run away from the nunnery, I would not be here to write these words.

Walking up the stairs I ran into a nun I knew. She said she was sorry for the loss of my resettlement job, and asked if I had any other job prospects yet. I said I didn’t, but I wasn’t upset about it. I was just upset at our country right now. The nun nodded in agreement, and smiled a world weary smile. Another nun invited me to fill a mug with coffee, and then scooted me into the room where my grandma was holding her writing group.

Walking into the room I was immediately comforted by my Grandma’s smile, and the energy from the other ladies in the room. I had texted my Grandma earlier to see if it was alright if my male friend could join me, but my Grandma said it was not okay. Apparently the group had voted years ago to determine if men could join the writing group, and the outcome was a resounding “no.” Women and women only: welcome to my Grandma’s writing group.

I fall into a big comfy chairs with cushions, holding my warm mug of coffee with both hands on my lap. The group begins with small talk, and a welcoming atmosphere as the last few people arrive. My grandma introduces herself to the group, then we all introduce ourselves. Then we jump into sharing our current writings.

A woman starts out the writing group by reading her beautiful reflection of growing up in Kansas City, Kansas in a Polish neighborhood: celebrating Polish holidays and customs, going to Polish church together. Another woman pulls out all her notebooks from her bag, and shares her writing process with us. One woman who reads a list of word associations and tells us stories of childhood earthquakes. Another woman reads her reflections on her family, and my grandma reads memories of riding her bike growing up.

Everyone else has shared something, and my grandma invites me to share. I don’t want to read my writing aloud, as I have never been good at public speaking, even in front of a few people. I explain this to the ladies, that writing has always been my special way of communicating since it is easier for me than speaking aloud a lot of the time.

I decide to talk about my blog instead, and explain how I started it in Europe while I was studying abroad six years ago. It started out as a way to connect with my family while I was out of country, but I continued to blog when I came back to the states. The blog followed me around my different jobs and homes across the US, and finally it followed me here to Kansas City. Now that I was living in the same place as all of my family, I couldn’t find a reason to write anymore, as I could just talk to everyone in person. So now, six years into my blogging career, I am changing my writing focus and beginning to share my blog with people outside of my close circle of friends and family. I am working to share my experiences with social justice and the voices of the people of the world that I meet.

After my introduction of my blog, my grandma still pressed me to read my piece. I explained that it was just a rough draft, that I had edited the piece since this printing, and it was much better now. The ladies said they didn’t care, they were very comfortable with rough drafts- they were writers too. They ate rough drafts for breakfast every day.

So I began to read, and one paragraph in I was immediately stopped by my grandma.

“You need to slow down. We can’t understand you when you read so fast,” she told me. Turning to the ladies my grandma explained, “She’s always been a fast talker…”

With encouragement from the ladies, I took a deep breath, and attempted to slow my pace down. I read my piece “Inside Max,” about Carp and I’s first experience inside a maximum security prison. Halfway through my piece I used the phrase “giving each other shit,” and as I read this aloud, my grandma apologized quietly for my language to the ladies.

Reading aloud was easier than I thought it was going to be, and after I was finished, I realized that this was the first time I had ever shared my writing aloud in a public space before. It felt good. It felt like progress.

Later, all of the ladies had questions about blogs, how to get started on their own ones and what my own blog address was so they could read it. One woman told me that she thinks it’s great that I’m sharing my experiences with the prison population.

“How would we know about people in the prisons without other people sharing their voices?”

At the end of the writing group, the ladies begin to talk about segregation in Kansas City, particularly for some of them growing up in Quindaro. The history of Quindaro entails self segregation: it was historically a run away slave colony in the mid 1800s. However, growing up later in the 1940s and 1950s, these ladies saw “white” and “black” water fountains and bathrooms as racism reared its ugly head.

How would we know about this history and learn from this history without people to tell it?

We ended the writing group on a lighter note, and everyone got up to leave. A wonderful writer came up to me and said, “I feel like I know you already… We hear updates from your grandma all the time from all your jobs and travels… you have the job, you don’t have the job…”

I smile, and am glad my seeming roller coaster of a career path is being passed around as good storytelling. I thank my grandma, and my whole family for encouraging me in my writings and storytellings my whole life.

Photo Credit: https://thesaintspub.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/nuns.jpg?w=350&h=200&crop=1

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