A Wiser Circle

by Annette J. Wick, from Women Writing For a Change (WWFC).  Read during one of WWFC’s readaround

Never, never rest contented with any circle of ideas, but always be certain that a wider one is still possible.” – Pearl Bailley

I sit with these words, alongside the joy of facilitating this circle of writers has brought. I reflect on those words, and say, yes, a wider one is possible.

Many months ago, I was asked to take over our (WWFC) relationship with Starfire, and facilitate writing circles for those young women (and sometimes men) who wanted to pursue the art of writing, and make it more integral to their lives.

Innocently, I told our director, “I’m not used to working with that demographic.” That was the term I naively called some in the audience today. “That demographic.” I had worked with cancer patients, grieving widows and those afflicted with Alzheimer’s. In my own circles, I had sat beside alcoholics and anorexics. And still, I said those words.

I took on that role, at first limiting our group to only Starfire students. We had a healthy circle, with many writing prompts, but still the circle felt empty. Words fell flat, they were not reaching their intended audience. Not because of those who arrived each week, their contribution was solid, but because I was missing a piece to complete this puzzle called a circle.

After that first session, I agreed to open the class to other partners within Women Writing for a Change and the greater writing community. We had two writers sign up. One , a young woman, home-schooled with grandparents in France, and another woman who worked in radio and publicity, immediately connected with our Starfire group. One winter day, I ran into circle members on the streets of OTR, at the Streetcar groundbreaking, and inside Findlay Market. Ironically, it was at that time, my husband and I signed a contract to purchase a home in OTR. Suddenly, we were traveling similar paths.

From there the class transitioned to another group of partners, one of which included my mother-in-law. She had never looked at herself as a writer. But as she attended each session, alongside Starfire members, she began to see herself in a new light, light that was emanating from the courage put forth by the Starfire members, who routinely put down on paper and shared aloud their family woes, lover’s quarrels, dreams of working in film, and desires to be accepted.

This most recent session, we cast an even wider net. Part of Starfire’s mission is to connect with people and places where everyone’s gifts are recognized and valued. More of this mission was being heralded via our partner, Courtney Calhoun, whose wondrous work connected each Starfire member, in some small way, to others in our circle.

To date, coffee has been shared, movies taken in, words have been written together, words have been spoken aloud at open mics. A connection in gardening is still in the works, as is working with children’s authors, and attending senior capstone projects. We have, in a sense, created our own community through hospitality and inclusion, cornerstone practices of both Starfire and Women Writing.

On Monday, I visited Starfire late afternoon, as members were preparing for their return to home. I was greeted with hugs, Tiffany and I discussed our shared discovery that the Great Gatsby film starred her favorite Bollywood actor. I ran into Vonceil, a student from a past circle, and she excitedly talked about her capstone involving Spoken Word poetry. That day, I happen to notice that a local coffeeshop was showing a film, based on a high school spoken word contest – The Loudest Bomb. I jotted down the information for Vonciel, and promised to see her perform soon. Lauren peeked her head out a meeting, to just say, “Hi.” Margot greeted me with a hug, and noted my sling from surgery was gone. And of course, Michelle waited patiently, as I greeted many of her peers, before we set out on our own quest for the West Side. She put up with plenty of my cussing that night….

I revisit my words, “that demographic,” one more time and realize I too am differently-abled, perhaps smaller minded that my partners at Starfire. For they take on each attempt at connection, each writing prompt with zeal and truthfulness. They find the connection, they include me. It is NOT the other way around.

I have learned much in our time together. The question of being intentionally inclusive rises up in me each time I am also with the Alzheimer’s population. I practice it within my writing circles with them. I practice it with my own mother and her companions at her care center. But the rewards don’t come first, understanding does.

In a recent writing session at the Alois Alzheimer Center, I was using a Christmas theme. Stockings lay on the tables, a few Santa figures loomed at each end. Christmas carols were sung, memories were written down. In the tradition of Women Writing for a Change soul cards, I close even that circle, where they can’t recall the words just written, and ask, “How did you feel being in the circle here today?” Some answer, “It was really nice.” Some repeat the theme shared in their writing. But Doris, one of our newer members, said it best, “It was good to be together today.”

In light of recent tragedies and stressful circumstances in each of our lives, it is possible to come together in comfort and joy, and connection and courage. But it is NOT possible to do so without the intentional creation of circles that support our work, our lives.

The quote at the top of page is incomplete. “Never rest contented…be certain there is a wider circle.…” I would also add, a wiser one.

katie bachmeyer