I recently began leading a new workshop composed of students in their 50s and 60s. All have children and busy careers. And I sometimes wonder, as I look around the room, why at this late stage they’ve chosen to write at all. I fear that perhaps I’m giving them false hope. But it’s hard for me to remain cynical when I think about their motives. What they’re seeking is exactly what I wanted: the refuge of stories, which remain the most reliable paths to meaning ever devised by our species.
A few weeks ago, we critiqued a novel excerpt about a trio of fractious sisters who travel to a family reunion in the country of their birth. The author was prone to comma splices and garbled exposition. But I spent most of class gently suggesting that she work to expose the dynamics roiling beneath the family bickering. Afterward, she told me she was grateful the class had discerned what the piece was really about. She paused, shifting from one foot to the other. “It’s tough with my sisters. There was a lot of unhappiness.”
I have no idea whether my student will do the lonely, dogged labor necessary to get her novel published. I’m not sure that’s what matters in the end. What matters is that she and her comrades have found a way to face the toughest truths within themselves, to begin to make sense of them, and maybe even beauty. In a world that feels increasingly impersonal and atomized, I can’t think of a more thrilling mission.
How can this experience be made more accessible to folks who don’t think of themselves as writers, but have this same need? Are there ways that congregations and community groups can offer, teach, model and recommend this way of working through our individual and collective angst? What place does story telling have in our lives? Where are we telling and participating in stories rather than just being passive observers?