The Sisters’ Writing Club, the latest chapter in my writing life, is the brainchild of my sister-in-law Nan. She proposed it and all of us signed on immediately. The club invites all five of us to write a brief piece on the same topic every month. We share our pieces via email, then respond with delight to each one as it appears. A recent prompt, “When I was nine…” yielded stories about a cousin‘s baptism (in a river!) in North Carolina, a birthday visit to the family farm in Illinois, a mean but inspiring teacher in New York, and another teacher who was tormented by unruly students despite (or because of?) her great kindness. The geographical differences are explained by the fact that none of us are blood sisters, but sisters-in-law.
There are other differences. I grew up in a family of two, Madonna in a family of fourteen. She can whip up a meal for a crowd without even thinking about it; I stress out. Becky grew up in a house with four brothers (the ones the rest of us are married to) and can tell harrowing tales of trying to stake out a little territory of her own in a house where brothers dangled other brothers down the laundry chute; It was a little quieter at my house. Nan and I lost our fathers early; most of the rest not until they reached their eighties. We have one Unitarian in a sea of Catholics.
There is common ground too, discovered in head-slapping conversations about the family traits that are expressed in our spouses, the brothers – the pursing of the lips, the lining up the bills in the wallet just so, the embarrassing (to our kids) conversations with friendly waitresses. We love each other, always have, since each of us joined the family. But now we get a monthly peek into each others’ lives, past and present.
As you may have guessed, this family is a low-drama, pretty content group. If yours is a mine field of offenses-taken and simmering resentments, you may be having chills at the thought. Unless you want to stir up trouble, a writing club may not be for you.
But if the idea sounds good, I’ve got two invitations for you. First, start a family writing club of your own. I guarantee you will laugh and cry and grow closer. Limiting each piece to one page makes it possible to tackle in a busy life, but know that each piece will become as long as it needs to be to tell its story.
Second, take a few minutes to write your own piece on “When I was nine…” Since we don’t have to worry about about grades, red pens or teachers’ margin notes, we get to just tell our stories however we want to. And let’s dispense with the common belief that “my life is not interesting – no one would want to read this.” Your life is rich with experience and insight, humor and tragedy (sometimes small, sometimes great). One of the rewards of the SWC is the warm glow you get from taking out a little slice of your life for closer inspection. Even if the slice contains unhappiness or loss, there can be benefits to writing it out. The other reward is that people who love you will be waiting to read and respond, and who among us doesn’t want to be heard and understood?
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