Thursday, November 21, 2013

What Do You Do?

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.  


  1. This is a good one, Rick. A thought-provoker for all of us.

    1. Thanks, Wendy, for your comment and support. You know I appreciate it.

  2. Hi Rick,
    I think it is great that you are reaching out and joining a writers' group. It should be obvious that I can relate to the isolation and I hear time and time again how rewarding it can be to be part of a writing critique group. Of course, it has to be the right group and you are the only one who can determine what makes it right for you.

    I love the concept of Meetup groups and I have blogged about attending one such gay group. (Only went once--wrong fit.) I also joined a Vancouver screenwriting group but have only managed to attend two events and I found connecting very difficult. I put myself out there but found that the people I sat beside were even more reserved than myself. (Hard to imagine!) I would continue to attend sessions if the ferry weren't a factor.

    I did a quick Google of Meetup Vancouver writing groups. Here's the link: One group looks to be in your area. Still, it might be worth the drive to look beyond. There are some (Vancouver) Main Street writing groups (through Meetup) that meet weekly during the day to write in a common space and share.

    When you sign up for Meetup, you fill out a profile. This frontloads your gay background if you wish to put it out there. As that is integral to your writing, that would probably be important if you want to get the most out of any writing group. You could even create your own Meetup writing group and see what happens. This could be a better way of rounding up like-minded writers instead of posting signs.

    As to your encounter with an older woman--I like phrasing it that way--I would most likely have been in the exact same situation. We make judgments about older people and their social tolerance/acceptance based on the times when they grew up. As well, I don't feel a need to come out anymore. Been there, done that. Wouldn't it be refreshing for someone to ask for once instead of us having to tell?

    The experience allows you to reflect on what you want to get out of a writing group and to consider how much being gay influences your writing. At conferences I have attended, writers, agents and editors repeatedly say that a writer needs to practice his pitch. You need to concisely explain your blog and your novel whenever asked. If that woman (or another attendee) were writing a book about bringing the Bible back to public schools, she wouldn't feel the slightest need to censor herself. Neither would someone who blogged about a love for hunting. To get the most of our writing, we have to get used to disclosing more in writing circles and among potential readers. I am not there yet myself, but I have been using my faceless blog to share parts of myself that are highly personal. When we write from a place of authenticity, we make ourselves vulnerable.

    I do hope you continue to reach out in that writing group or another. There is risk in connecting and, more specifically, in sharing our writing.

    All the best!

    Rural Gay

    1. Wow! What a generous and helpful comment, RG. I'm so grateful you sent it to me again (since I didn't receive it the first time). You've definitely given me some things to consider.

      I was a member of a writing group once before. It was an offshoot of a creative writing course I took in the summer of 1996. The instructor suggested a group of us should continue meeting, to help each other with our writing. I got on board right away.

      Everything was great for a while. We met every couple of weeks, in each other's homes. In total, this went on for just under a year.

      At some point during that time, everything started to deteriorate. We'd show up at someone's residence, and they'd have forgotten we had a meeting (I took transit at the time, so it became a big inconvenience to get to some of these places, especially when no one was there).

      But the worst part was when a majority of the members didn't make the effort to write. They'd show up at meetings to tear apart other people's work. There were times when I felt like I and my writing were being attacked. It became ruthless. I attributed it to the fact that they weren't producing when others were (envy?). I took it for several meetings, hoping it would get better. When it didn't, I left.

      I'm more serious now about my writing than I have ever been. It's what I do, what I choose to do, and I not only want to produce, but also I want to do well.

      Although I plan to continue attending meetings (at least for a while) of the local group I've gone to, I know it won't meet my needs. All they do is gather together, listen to guest speakers, and network. More than anything, I need a critiquing group, where people exchange work, read when they meet, and receive honest, helpful feedback.

      Oh, and I tried to start my own group about a year ago, but that went nowhere too.

      I'd never heard of Meetup Vancouver, so thanks for the link. I've taken a quick look, and I'm not sure I'll find what I'm looking for. One group sounds great, but it's closed to new members, and rules for joining are strict. Most of the other ones seem to be about writers just starting out, and I'm way beyond that. So we'll see.

      And thanks for the encouragement and advice about the encounter with the older woman. You're absolutely right, of course. I need to be less concerned about offending anyone with the fact that I'm gay, and that that influences my writing to the extent it does. But, like you said, I'm not there yet. It doesn't feel like it's something I should "lead" with when I first meet people. I don't know if that's more about me or them. Perhaps once I've gotten to know a few writers first, people I think I can trust. Until then, I guess I need to rehearse what I'll tell people about me and my writing.

      Once again, thank you. I sincerely appreciate your suggestions and helpfulness.