What we talk about when we talk about writing

Instructions for how to make the most of a(nother) gray Cleveland afternoon deep in winter:

1)  Invite over girlfriends, one of whom brings take-out soup, another who brings big bags of chips, and another who has scored miniature fruit pies from the farmers’ market. 

2) Open red wine, settle on couches, sigh and begin.

These friends are all writers.  One has hit the NY Times best-seller list.  One is chair of the English department at a prestigious university. One is a poet who has won prizes and published books and if you know anything at all about being a poet, you know how extraordinary that is. (One lives in Manhattan where she works for The Honest-to-Goodness New Yorker and so, unless she happens to be in town, we have to conjure up her spirit.) 

We’ve known one another for a long time—sometimes we calculate how long, just for the pleasure of it. So first we talk about things like children and grandchildren (or the annoying lack of them), and about our day jobs, aching knees, men, plans for this year’s garden, what we’re reading,  how we wish we could get on a plane for Italy together tomorrow.  Plenty of gossip (Cleveland is a small town, after all).  

But eventually, and we look forward to this happening, we circle around to our writing.  We don’t show each other work—that’s for other times. Instead we talk about the side of being a creator that doesn’t show up on the page.  About how the new work’s going, or not, and why oh why.  Where we are and where we long to be.  Using our “real lives” in our work.  Once we all confessed to wishing we could write darker stuff.  Last Sunday we talked about envy, and whether contentment was a good or a deleterious state.  We argued about whether, at this stage in our careers, we should know what we are and aren’t capable of or whether, as one of us said, we should always be “wildly hubristic”.  

And we were still talking, even as we licked our pie plates, and even as they shrugged on their coats and scarves and headed back out into the inexplicably warmer, far less bleak winter night.  Those girlfriends–I hate to close the door behind them.

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