My favorite part of running the Center is the community.
Maybe everyone who runs an organization says the same. The word community pops up a lot in marketing copy and social media posts (even ours).
What does the word community mean?
Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “all the people who live in a particular area, or a group of people who are considered as a unit because of their shared interests or background.” Further, “on social media [or online in general?], a group of people who have similar interests or who want to achieve something together.”
Our similar interest is writing. But what about the “want to achieve something together” part?
Story time. Once, I was in a terrible relationship, the kind where you lose a bit of yourself and don’t realize it until you’ve escaped, some time passes, and you look back with clearer eyes to see what was lost and what you managed to save. I know that sounds vague (this story needs work—if we were in class, I’d hope someone would encourage me to provide more sensory details and build some emotional tension!), but I also know that many of you reading this will relate. When I did look back, I realized that one of the things that kept me going was my writing. Here is where I will be a bit more specific. The other person in this terrible relationship did not value or respect my writing, or any of my accomplishments or recognition related to it, and deeply resented the time and energy I gave it. That resentment ran so deep that it affected my physical and psychological safety. But giving it up was not an option. Instead, I gave up the other person.
Writing saved me. I know people say that a lot, too. In more general terms, what saved me was my insistence upon my individuality and right to exist as I am without trying to be who someone else wants me to be, to communicate that beingness with a wider world, to connect.
The year after leaving that relationship was the hardest of my life to date, but guess what I found during that year? The Center. A group of writers communicating who they are to a wider world, being themselves and connecting with others.
That’s what we’re trying to do together. Communicate. Community.
Our monthly Zoom gatherings—free for all former and current Center students, on the third Wednesday of every month from 7-8:30 PM EST—have become so vital to my vision for what this place can and should be for writers, especially writers outside academic spheres. At April’s Zoom, we had a small group. Another teacher and I had a conversation about looking for new ideas in favorite but finished stories. As always, we provided a writing prompt relevant to the topic, turned our mics and cameras off, and wrote for 30 minutes. When we came back together to share and reflect, one of the attendees expressed frustration.
I just can’t write, she said. I can’t figure out what I’m trying to say. I don’t know what the bigger picture is. I have all these pieces but don’t know how they fit together.
I feel like giving up, she said.
The conversation shifted dramatically. The rest of us understood. We saw her because we see ourselves. We know who we are: People who want to communicate but sometimes can’t, and then don’t know what to do with the big feelings.
How easy it would have been for her to simply not show up to that Zoom. To tell herself that she isn’t writing at the moment, so why go into a space where writing is expected, where others will be writing, where it will be clear that she isn’t writing or can’t write at the moment? Instead, she chose to be vulnerable and real, to trust her community as a safe space for sharing. I can’t speak for her and say that our encouragement or advice helped, but I can say that her face relaxed as we took turns me-too-ing and relating to being stuck and feeling hopeless at various points in our lives.
I can also say that, when I was the one feeling hopeless, wanting to write but questioning how or why, my own persistent passion carried me to the Center, and the writers I found here helped me see that I wasn’t alone, in either my passion or my occasional hopelessness. They helped me not give up.
Community is about showing up for ourselves and others so no one gives up.
We write to communicate and connect. Community, if we’re lucky enough to have one, is where we do it.
Keep writing. And if you can't write (for now), just keep showing up. Don’t give up.
Who or what keeps you going, writers? And how do you keep others going? Share with us in the comments.
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