Last evening, I attended a session of a local writing group, featuring a guest speaker talking about blogging. It's the second such session I've attended. The first was in October.
Since Chris and I moved here in early 2009, we haven't extended ourselves into the community. Other than becoming acquainted with a handful of employees at stores we frequent, and a few neighbors, we've been isolated.
I've thought about connecting with other writers in the area for years, even posting a notice in a nearby coffee shop, in the hope of starting my own writing group (which went nowhere). Then I heard about this writing group and decided to check it out, recognizing the need to meet people who have the same interest I do.
The sessions are informal. They're held in a large lobby, where seating arrangements consist of what's available in the facility at the time–from bar tables and stools, to upholstered easy chairs and sofas, to large, round tables with four chairs around them. Yesterday, I arrived early enough to take my place alone at a large, round table. Who, I wondered, would I be seated with?
Before long, two chairs were taken away, leaving only one to my left. An older woman walked up and asked if anyone was using it. I said no, and she sat down.
I'm not good at small talk, but, after the older woman had settled in, I introduced myself (I couldn't sit there and say nothing, could I?). Once we learned each other's name, I went one step further and asked about–what else?–her writing: what type of writing she does, what she's working on now. I listened to her for several minutes before she asked me about my own writing.
I told her I'm one third of the way through rewrites of a novel. She seemed impressed. Then she asked what genre it is. An innocent, even appropriate, question, given our common interest. But I hadn't prepared myself for it. Of course, the genre is Gay and Lesbian. But, instinctively, I thought I couldn't come right out and say that. Or could I?
Never one to think fast on my feet, I spoke in vague terms, at first–well, it's a little bit of everything, I said. (What? Where the hell did that come from? What did it mean?) Thankfully, I got my wits about me and recovered myself, adding I hoped it was mainstream. Yes, that's it, literary mainstream. (I wish.)
Apparently, my answer made her more curious, because she then asked what my novel is about. Again, unprepared, I came up with the idea of taking the long-range view, from ten thousand feet above. It's about love, I answered. Which it is. That wasn't a lie, at least. It just wasn't the full story. She smiled, as if she understood (she had no idea).
When she continued to look at me, obviously expecting more, I told her it was mostly autobiographical, although it has some fictionalized elements. And, I added, it's really about how critical love for oneself is to finding love from another person. Again, she seemed impressed and agreed. Then she offered, and to keeping love once you have it. I told her, good point.
Whew! I'd managed to get myself out of that one.
For the next several minutes, while the organizers of the group and the speaker played around with electronic equipment, the older woman and I talked about general things.
Then she lobbed this one at me: What's your blog about? I don't know what look I had on my face, but I turned away quickly, pretending to be distracted by something going on nearby. I needed a few seconds to come up with a quick answer, but nothing was forthcoming.
When I looked at her again, I said something, but it was essentially incoherent (and he's a writer? she must have thought). By then, I was starting to sweat, and I found myself flubbing my way through a useless ramble of words. How could I tell her my blog's about being gay, with the intention of helping gay and lesbian people build their self-esteem? The opportunity to drop the gay bomb had long passed.
The older woman seemed relieved to have my attention again, and commented that she thought she'd said something that had offended me. I assured her that wasn't the case.
A short time later, having put two and two together, the older woman asked me where I'd met my wife (there's that word again; people make assumptions–hasn't she noticed the PC term now is "partner"?). I said at a club, which is true. But I didn't meet a wife, I met my husband. And it wasn't a club, as in an organization. It was the Odyssey, a gay club in downtown Vancouver, now closed.
Thankfully, the rest of the evening passed without further discomfort.
But, afterward, I couldn't help but wonder what had happened in my exchanges with the older woman. Why they felt like they'd gotten so out of control.
I had not one, not two, but three chances to be honest with her, to tell her I'm gay, not in a deliberately shocking way but in a matter-of-fact way (a teachable moment?). But I didn't. After the first circumlocution (what's your novel about?), I felt I had to keep the lie going. Otherwise, I would have had to do some backtracking. And it just snowballed from there.
Why hadn't I told her the truth?
Was it because there's a lot at stake for me attending those writing sessions (I haven't even decided whether I'll keep going), knowing I need to meet other people, other writers like me, and needing a place, finally, to belong? Or was it because I didn't want to embarrass myself, or allow my sexual orientation to override anything else that I am–namely, someone who just wants to be another human being, and a writer?
Or was it because, in that split second, I'd unconsciously decided to put the older woman first, not wanting to embarrass her, or put her in the position of having to react in a way she didn't feel comfortable with, or say something she didn't really believe?
Whatever the case, I came away from the session wondering, when you fail to tell someone the truth about yourself, if you're just being considerate of them. Or if you're denying and betraying yourself, and everything you've been through to become who you are.