We—this group of women I have written with for 39 years— start writing at 2:47 pm, when I usually nap. Not sure how this will go! This morning I read a journal entry from 30 years ago.. 30 years ago today, the writers’ group met at my Valley View Court condo. Cincinnati, my standard poodle pup, was 11 months old. I had barricaded the open French doors to the west so he couldn’t get out. I mentioned in that freewrite that Ben, Jan’s youngest, was the age of my oldest son Jesse had been nine years before when I first joined the writing group.
I was deeply tired 30 years ago. How much of my adulthood did I spend pushing myself? It’s shocking to read, really. That fall I would be heading back into training seminars at the Institute and beginning to see Donald, wondering if I should still see other men as well. I thought so but didn’t.
In the freewrite, I anticipated a vacation, and 3 1/2 weeks off work. Just reading the description of the next weeks wears me down: camping with the boys and their friends at Hende Woods, hiking with Donald in Annadel State Park (where he first told me about what would become our ranch). Noticing the remarkable difference in Chardonnay and zinfandel grapes as we tasted them while walking through the vines of the upper ranch. Traveling to Illinois for at least a week to visit my parents and siblings and Six Flags Over America, theme parks being something that I have always dreaded, but this time wasn’t so bad. Going to the stagecoach stop of Jonesville in the Sierra for four days with the candidate group who had traveled to the Southwest together the year before, then camping in the high country of Yosemite with Inya: all that within the space of 3 1/2 weeks.
The writers’ group has almost always been a space of spaciousness for me. Today Jimalee suggested that we bring items to add to the bed of lettuces from her garden. I brought steamed green beans from my CSA box and a potato salad with the seasoned rice vinegar-soaked Walla Walla onions from the same, along with one of the cucumbers growing in the new planter box in the garden. Jimalee added artichokes and Kalamati olives. She also found a year-old salmon in her freezer which she baked. Most ate it. I did not.
Jan brought Gorgonzola cheese, water crackers and olives; Elizabeth, three cheese ravioli, and Norma, a kind of hard, Trader Joe pastry filled with hazelnut cream. This was our lunch.
As we ate, we listened to Elizabeth’s raucous recount of training her foster 100-pound lab to use a crate by getting in it with him and getting a black eye. We all laughed hysterically again as she described losing her scissors in the recycling bin and then again as she told of another incident when she fell into the bin as she tried to retrieve a section of the New York Times. She needs smaller bins.
Finally, we got to writing. Somewhere far off in the kitchen, I hear a refrigerator running. A crow far off. A clock ticking. If anything, I can tell you this: Time goes by fast. During the 39 years that I have been in this group of women, we have witnessed our children growing from toddlers to parents, supporting each other through divorces, deaths, affairs, law suites, and the birth and growth of grandchildren. We have written our way from being young adults to crones. This group of women has matured me as a writer.
We five sit here today. Jimalee, Elizabeth, and I write on paper. Jan is on her computer. Norma dozes. Within the hour, I have to get my dog Brambleberry from Fit and Furry doggy daycare before it closes, shortening the day too soon.
Thirty years ago, I was also single, then from divorce, now from being recently widowed. Then I wondered what to do with my poodle pup Cincinnati when I was not with him. Now it’s Brambleberry. Amazing how similar and yet how different my life is. The things I worried about then I don’t worry about now: supporting a young family, my training at the Institute, and considerations of starting a relationship with a man almost 17 years my senior. And although I am sleepy at the moment, I am not deep down exhausted.
Elizabeth is entering a new chapter of her life, making room for Brendan. She is also becoming Poet Laureate of Sonoma County. Next week we will witness her induction, celebrating this well-deserved honor. Jan is a grandmother, again, still sequestered, probably more than the rest of us. Norma works on her trust, facing the realities of being 90 years old. Jimalee’s new diet gives her energy, yet she grieves another close friend.
We have a core. We drop into the familiar patterns as if the pandemic didn’t happen– as if we had another 39 years, and time was eternal. Holding hands around the table before we eat, we celebrate abundance, including Jimalee’s hospitality. The familiar scratching of pens and tapping of computer keys, then the announcement by one of us: time’s up. Time to read.
The teapot purrs loudly with warming water, soothing. We will drink more tea. One by one, we will read our lives to each other. We have done this for many years, and we know how to do this now, again. For the moment, we are together in this familiar coterie, resting in the knowledge that life is only in the present.