Sunday, 2 April 2017

Group Marathons

Daily life provides me with so much to write about, while giving me lots of reasons to procrastinate about writing.  Writing group, for a couple of hours, puts me in the company of people with a common purpose – to get something onto paper.  It is only once a month, and yet, if the other demands of life have distracted me too much, going to that quiet space at the library with other like-minded people helps me reset my priorites and get back on the writing track.

Katoomba Library kindly allows us the use of a study space – our group is one of the results of a public meeting organised a couple of years ago by the librarians.  One of those librarians collates and publishes some of our efforts in the Writers in theMist blog, on Blue Mountains Library's website and this has led to some of us launching our own blogs and seeking out other places to publish.

People drift in and out of the group, though a core has continued on – there is no constitution or committee, nor any fees, or rules, other than an acceptance of the principle that we are there to create, and to foster creativity in each other.  Sounds serious?  Sometimes it is – some works bring tears, and many bring laughter.  We pick on grammar and spelling, suggest alternative plot lines, and generally get lost in the joy of creative writing.  It is serious, and it is fun – and I wish I had taken my solitary habit out into company much sooner than I did.

We recently had a writing "marathon" day – bringing a plate of food to contribute to lunch, we gathered at the house of one of the group.  The house had the light and airy feel of a place by a beach in much warmer climes - it was the only sunny day in an otherwise rain-drenched month - and we sat down to the long table to write while looking down a wooded gully towards the vast expanse of rugged country that enfolds Sydney's main water supply.

The writing alternated between sessions of working in a group to various prompts, and working on a piece of our own, each in our own corner of a veranda or a sunny part of the gardens.  It is amazing how productive you can be when all the demands of daily life and all the opportunities to procrastinate have been swept away by the commitment to a writing day.

Our first prompt based session took a different approach to anything I had experienced – we wrote while music was playing.  Three pieces – Norwegian, Scottish, and Irish – stimulated some interesting and varied written responses.  I love music, and often have it on in the background while writing, but this was a particularly vivid and poignant selection designed to evoke deep feelings.

It is one thing to contemplate a phrase, or some word, object, or picture, that has been placed in the middle of the table by the moderator for a particular group session – you have time to rack your memory, mentally pick up, examine, or discard, any associations such words or objects produce – and another thing entirely to respond in writing to music while it is playing.  The response is visceral and immediate, swept along by the changing tone and tempo of the piece.   Music, like scent, can reach deep inside mind and memory to conjure images we didn't know were present, or had long forgotten.

What an amazing cascade of memory and association is often produced by the initial evocation – as the first image is drawn out of our mind, through pen onto the paper, it in turn wakes more memories and calls forth more stories – stories we have not thought of for years, or even decades. 

Working on an essay about the history of the Bush Fire Brigade I had spent twenty years with, I decided to jot down the names of a few people I might have to interview or otherwise include in the story. Each would have a few lines summing up who they were and what their part in that history was.

What should have been a page or two became half a notepad, as one name and its story called up other forgotten names, and their stories.  These were names I had not been able to remember previously, but the act of writing part of the story of that group opened the memory files of so many more people and stories, just as unexpected sights, sounds, smells, familiar faces or old movies, can also be windows into the vast storehouse that lurks within our little halls of bone and brain.

One day, perhaps, we will truly understand the human mind – how it collects and stores memories, and how we recall those memories – but, until we do, any talk of uploading ourselves into machine storage and living "immortally" in such a state is quite fanciful.  Which doesn't mean a good SciFi writer can't imagine what such a state might be like.  Anything is possible to a writer - even the impossible.

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