In the Suburbs / 25 years of sharing our writing and our lives
Last Sunday was our regular monthly writers group meeting in Fairfield. As I looked around at our great group of writers, mostly from Fairfield, and listened to their always stimulating and thought-provoking pieces, it struck me that we should also have been celebrating our 25th anniversary as a group. But dementia must have set in and I forgot to bring it up.
No matter. This group of talented people has come so far that the number of years we’ve been around means nothing, compared to what members of our group have accomplished.
There have been many ups and downs with this group since 1994 when four of us organized the group, which we first called Pentimento and later the Phoenix Writers. At the time, I was teaching two creative writing classes for Fairfield Continuing Education.
Millicent, who is nearly 94, and had been in my continuing education class, helped found the group and still drives her convertible (in nice weather, of course) to meetings. Aside from being a wonderful writer, she is a true, young-at-heart treasure of Fairfield - a photographer, doll collector and gardener.
This special writers group has created a memoir all its own. After a few months of meeting in each other’s homes, our three members suggested that we expand and weren’t sure whether to advertise or promote. I encouraged a press release with the caveat that we had no idea who was out there. So we selected the apartment of one of our members for the launch of the larger group and sent the release.
Two weeks later, there were easily 40 people there at the meeting. To be candid, the night was mostly a free-for-all, but we managed to get everyone introduced, learn what their writing genre of choice was and set another date for a meeting, out of our member’s apartment. This eclectic group included a wide range of ages and a mix of talents, including screen writers, fiction writers, poets and memoirists and personal essay writers.
By the third meeting, which we were now holding at the Fairfield Woods Library, several members of the group had already dropped out, some writers couldn’t stand being in the same room with each other and our core group of four wondered what kind of a monster we’d created. Before the next meeting, perhaps 10 of the 40 original interested writers remained and we needed to find a new place.
We took a quick assessment of who was left, found a new spot at the Cambridge Manor nursing home and set every Wednesday for our meetings. In those days, we were a group of 10 and we were dedicated. I can’t remember all the names but I know that part of the colorful group included Irma, Pat, Stacey, Joe, another of my former students, Fred, a journalist; and Dorothy. Within a year, Ardeth and Lance joined the group. Fred left soon after. We lost Lance to cancer soon after that.
Things seemed to be going along fine, I thought, until I misread the factions in the group. One evening, Stacey got up and said that the group thought I should step down as leader. All I could do was laugh. “Leader?” I said. “I’d be delighted to step down since no one is paying me to put up with the grief I face at these meetings.”
My response set off a heated discussion and within an hour, Stacey, Dorothy and Pat opted to continue the group and the rest of us left. Within two weeks, however, Ardeth called and asked if we could try again over coffee with other members who wanted to come our way. Our first get together was at Home on the Range in Fairfield and the rest is history.
Over the next several years, Todd, then a Staples High School English teacher, joined us, a friend of mine Bob, a published writer, started coming, Terri, a brilliant women’s philosophy writer came along; and then Todd married Joann, a retired principal and a beautiful lady. Shira, a wonderful humor writer joined us and we really started looking forward to our group meetings and sharing. Joe, whose dialogue was as sharp as his tongue, got married and moved to Florida.
Today, our writers family table still includes Todd and Joann, amazing short fiction writers; Millicent, of course; whose memoirs and short pieces are sensitive, sharp and touching, Ron, a budding fiction writer and Judith, whose writing touches on so much of our country’s challenges; Teri, who writes the most wonderful poetry on top of her women’s philosopher books; Ardeth, whose writing and poetry is touching and sensitive and me, the continuing columnist who still dreams about writing a book..
Newer to the group are Gerard, a published and meticulous writer and Rich, who is writing the great American screenplay.
I toast you and I value you as colleagues and friends, my fellow writers. May we enjoy 25 more years together.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.