Group therapy

“Sex” she said. “I chose sex.”

As her brief memoir of rediscovered senses reached me from the far end of the dank narrow room, I squirmed in my seat. I didn’t really want to feel somebody else’s longings; but she’d been eager all day to pour out to us. Next came ‘death’. “The latest episode of this tale, came to my door only just last week” he proffered. ‘Oh man’ I thought, ‘I didn’t sign up for this.’

Having recently joined Writers Victoria, I trawled through their list of activities, events and opportunities to find a couple of short courses that might be of interest. Seeking the motivation to write something other than the usual turgid academic tomes, I though I’d sign up for a class to learn from a ‘real’ writer.

This was my first ever writers’ class or group of any kind. I’ve never been taught how to write ‘academically’; few of us ever really are. Somehow we’re expected to discover it for ourselves. Alchemy is perhaps a fitting metaphor.

So, I took a day away from the office and popped over the road. Eager to learn, but a little apprehensive, I walked in on silence. At the head of the board room-esque table on an eerily chilling top floor corner of the State Library sat our teacher for the day. In his heavy military-style coat with high upturned collars, he sat pensively upright unwilling to commence before we were all present. I noticed others had steaming mugs in front of them, and I’d not had time to grab a latte. Normally, I’d ask, but the hush was intimidating. He saw my eyes flicker and broke his meditation; “there’s tea and coffee-making facilities in the kitchen, if you’d like before we begin.” The ice was broken, but I didn’t exactly warm to him.

With us all present and correct, the day commenced with a lecture. No welcome, no introductions. He was not going to consort with us mere students. Having been at his end of the table myself, I found his approach difficult. How were we to learn anything in such a cold climate? I stuck with it though. I listened intently, and toed the line when instructed to write.

After the morning’s exercises, he declared it was time for lunch. We were free, but had precisely 33 minutes. He rose promptly and strode out of the room. Finally I could relax, but the clock was ticking. As the others left, two of us remained. I was on my way out, but warmly acknowledged the lady who had spent the morning interjecting with questions and comments she’d hoped would invite discussion. She was finally untapped. As I tried to slip out the door, I learned about her concerns that we’d not all gotten to know each other, her reasons for becoming a writer, her success in being published in the Age weekend supplement, and her husband’s struggle with testicular cancer. I shared her concerns, related to her writerly quest, and empathised with her personal tale that I would later learn invoked her confronting sexual memoir.

Over a solitary, contemplative lunch the penny dropped. Our teacher for the day had kept the climate frosty with good reason. I’m sure experience has taught him that turning up the temperature in the room unnecessarily welcomes emotion to the table. Those in search of anyone who will listen can open up and flood the room with their longings and desires. He/we had not  the time or energy to indulge those who were there to share.

We are each compelled to write for a multitude of reasons. And writing groups and classes bring us together to not only learn the craft, but to assess our progress. The backstories we bring into the space are so diverse and fuelled with emotion that I now fully understand why they were not welcomed into this room. This was not group therapy.

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