Day 40 of lockdown and it has been a busy and fulfilling day. This evening I participated in a zoom meeting with a life writing group that formed three years ago, following one of my courses. I hadn’t seen a number of them since the summer of 2017. What a pleasure to be able to see their faces on screen and to listen to them reading aloud their prepared story, with its lockdown theme. I don’t always remember the names of writing participants but I remember their stories. There is always at least one standout piece that remains with me. Tonight it was a pleasure to connect through a virtual window and to discover that their writing is thriving.
I wrote in the morning as well. This was a collaborative writing exercise, something that sprang from the nature writing group that formed after my Karekare course last year. One of the members suggested the idea and began the story. Her nature allusions were beautiful and lyrical, and then the next member picked up and ran with her writing, extending the story a little further while continuing the gorgeous descriptive referencing of the natural world. The underlying theme was the coronavirus and its implications moving into the future.
There are seven of us in the group, one writer lives in Australia. Round the group, we went, each writer referring back to the stories that went before and building on them. And in this way the story grew and grew like magic, blooming into something extraordinary as each writer’s imagination was ignited. Very soon it was evident we were one year into the pandemic, one year on from the start of lockdown and life had not got easier, instead it had morphed into something grim and totalitarian and awful, here in New Zealand! Just this weekend my walking friend said to me, 'If you had written the experience of the last six weeks as a short story, and delivered it to a competition a year ago, the judges would have dismissed it as thoroughly unlikely and farfetched, a piece of nonsense'.
As our tale has developed the darkness has continued and yet there is a story of female friendship here, of old and young and a faithful dog, there is kindness and warmth, and passages that made me grin, when I read them, and this is what is carrying them through. The talents of the women that people the story are inspiring. The places they’d been before lockdown, the things they’d seen, their resilience and self-agency. It made me wonder how a psychotherapist might analyse what is happening here and how this kind of writing might be used as a practice to empower.
I was the last to contribute to the story. Initially when I heard about it I noticed some resistance. Nonfiction is my genre was my first thought. It’s what I know and where I’ve focussed my energies for many years now. People sometimes say to me, ‘Would you write a novel?’ And I respond slightly sharply with another question, ‘Would you ask a watercolourist if they had considered being a sculptor?’ I was pretty sure that leaping into fiction was going to take me out of my comfort zone. And yet why not try it, especially in the time of coronavirus, why not give things a go.
The writing exercise turned out to be absorbing and fun. Only two days ago I’d been complaining about being unable to access my knitting needles, my colouring in book, my piano from storage, when actually there was a new and novel project awaiting my attention. The other thing that intrigued me, as I got into the writing, was how connected I felt to the other writers. Somebody had already commented on how much she appreciated the work that had gone into each of the passages that went before hers. It was something about the act of paying attention to the writing of each individual, their content and style and finding ways to reference it in the continuing story that I enjoyed, the sense of cooperation and collaboration which felt special because the writing life is for the main a solitary occupation.
I have finished on an open ended note hoping we might continue.