Fear, Truth and Community: Discoveries in the Roundhouse 

Beautiful light shines through glass bottles embedded in the wall, upstairs in the Roundhouse at Pompanuck Farm, Cambridge, NY

I spent yesterday gathered with fellow artists and writers at a creativity conference prior to the fall Bedlam Farm Open House. It’s an event Jon and Maria have decided to hold annually. There were workshops on writing, intuitive sewing, photography, batik making, and cultivating creativity. Our group was small, myself and about ten other women attended. We had each come with our own unique questions, eager and ready for answers.

A few of us were further along the path toward developing our talents, while some were just beginning. I was looking forward to meeting others, to learning more about writing, as I always am.

In Jon’s workshop we spent a lot of time discussing blocks to writing. Most of the women who were struggling to put pen to paper spoke about fear. They worried what their families and friends would think if they wrote about the truth of their experience, and what other people, in general, would think of them. They also talked about the lack of time, other life priorities, and not feeling like anyone would be interested in their stories, or that they believed they had nothing valuable to say.

They were concerns I’d heard many times before, echoed mostly by other women.

In our weekly writing class Jon is always encouraging us to tell our truth, to be authentic. He also believes we all have stories to share, that they are important. He doesn’t like to hear anyone speak ill of their work or diminish the value of their own voice and experience.

As I sat listening to Jon’s response to these fears in the workshop, I was struck by the idea that most women might have even more difficulty overcoming fear, their worries, the other demands on their lives, than men when it comes to writing. Whether by nature or nurture, or by being systematically trained to put their needs, their voice, aside to focus on others, I think women generally have a tendency toward caretaking, nurturing, protecting the feelings of others, that becomes an even greater obstacle toward writing the (sometimes very ugly) truth.

I realized, too, if that was the case, that I felt pretty lucky. The difficulties I had with my father growing up are easier to write about now that he is no longer alive to be hurt or offended by anything I say. I can write about his alcoholism, his verbal abuse, the hard things I remember without any real fear of repercussions.

I sat there thinking I wouldn’t know what it was like anymore to feel the same kind of fear many of the other women were voicing. Even the idea of not believing I had anything valuable to say or good stories to tell, were notions that no longer resonated with me. I understood what they were saying, and I felt badly for them. But I felt strangely guilty that I didn’t seem to be in the same place, that my circumstances seemed a bit different.

Making time for writing and struggling with life’s other obligations, yes, I still deal with those issues. I think I always will.

But I write this blog and enjoy it. It doesn’t feel like homework or a chore. I don’t know what I would do without it now, really. It’s my own little slice of the world, and I’m grateful for it. With Jon and Maria’s help, I even self-published my very first book this year, bringing the intangibility of my words into physical being. And rarely, if ever, do I feel there’s nothing I want to write about.

I wished I could transfer my feelings about writing, my circumstances and freedoms, to the other women in the workshop, the ones speaking of so much fear and doubt. I wished I could wish their hesitation away, or wash it clean so they were free to start anew.

But no one else can do it for you.

Drifting along on that current of feeling different, I had grown a little impatient, somehow frustrated, and wanted very much to identify again with the other women in the workshop. We were a community after all (or on the way to becoming one), sharing our love of writing, seeking encouragement, empowerment, a path to follow.

I made myself remember when (not that long ago) I hesitated to put my own work out there, to let my voice be heard. I mentally took myself back to the days when I scribbled poems in notebooks and hid them away, worried sick someone might find them. I listed the fears I knew I still had, catalogued the things I would yet hesitate to put into words. I thought again of my friend Maria and Jon, who finally took me by the arm and dragged me out into the light, pointing (if not nearly shouting) the way.

I had needed someone like that, someone who had gone before me, saying, yes, you can do this, too, you actually need to. And I had come a long way, but not all of it.

And that’s where I began to find common ground again. Back in that small place, the tiny part of me that longed to hide, remain invisible, that I still experience sometimes to this day. I had needed a kindred spirit (or two) to lead me away from that place. Maybe that was something everyone in our group needed, too.

I spent the rest of the workshop listening attentively to Jon speak and answer questions, cultivating the ground I’d rediscovered. He was the one, I understood, who could help guide the way for everyone. He was good at it already, and he seemed to enjoy the job.

At the workshop’s close, we all agreed it had not been long enough. We talked about meeting again soon, keeping in touch, the importance of having a community of fellow writers and artists to support you. Writing is such a solitary and sometimes lonely act that it can feel like nothing short of relief to finally come together with others, to gather face to face. It was a step I think we all agreed would help us learn to speak our truths, face our fears, and let the words begin to emerge at last.

A greater lesson I learned from the women around me is that wherever I am on the path, someone is always walking far ahead or coming up behind. But I am never, ever alone. It’s a thought that will comfort me long into the night, when the words just aren’t enough.