Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

Welcome to my World---Woman, widow. senior citizen seeking to live out my days with a sense of whimsy as I search for inner peace and friendships. Jeez, that sounds like a profile on a dating app and I have zero interest in them, having lost my soul mate of 42 years. Life was good until it wasn't when my husband had a massive stroke and I spent the next 12 1/2 years as his caregiver. This blog has documented the pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties and finally, moving past it all. And now I’m ready for a new start, in a new location---a continuum care campus in West Michigan, U.S.A. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. (Just remember I'm looking through my prism which may or may not be the full story.) Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

What Happens in Creative Writing Group Stays in CWG

There are three residents out of the fifty-five who live on this continuum care complex that I generally avoid. Two of them joined the creative writing group I started. Our first meeting was the afternoon of my surgery and when my niece and I were on the way to the surgical center we were talking about my expectations and fears about who would show up. I already knew a conspiracy theorist/Trump fan was interested and I wasn’t too happy about that. My niece is a retired educator married to a retired educator and the mother of a talented daughter who writes and teaches high school honors English and writing classes. Cindy (my niece) said something to the effect that we can learn something from everyone, even the people we disagree with and so I challenged myself to work on honing my patience and reining in my quick-to-judge character flaw with him and a woman who talks non-stop about everything but the topic others are discussing at the moment. I started by nicknaming him Mr. DNR instead of defining him by his political opinions. He retired from a high up job in our state's department of natural resources and he's a walking encyclopedic of knowledge on all things water, animals, fish and vegetation related.

In our mission statement it says the purpose of our group is to support each other’s writing goals and Chatty Cathy writes religious songs that her former church choir used to sing. Color me impressed! That’s an experience that is so far out of my comfort zone it isn’t funny but I did go through a short period when I wanted to write country western songs. How hard could it be, eh? Pretty damn hard for someone who can’t sing and who left my guitar lessons back in 1954. Chatty Cathy told us repeatedly that she doesn’t write the songs, God does and she just copies them down. So with an abundance of curiosity I’m looking forward to having a Celebrity Ghost at our table next time, and as a bonus I won’t be the only person after Labor day wearing sandals since I'll probably still have trouble tying my tennis shoes. 

She also said her son writes but when she tried to read one of his books he had a passage in it about a couple playing tennis naked and she quit reading it after that. We have a line in our mission statement that reads: We agree that what others may share in their writings stays in the Creative Writing Group. Look at me! Already I'm breaking a rule I personally wrote. I’m giving myself a pass here, though, because she didn’t write about the tennis game so I'm saved by a technicality. I've read so many naked scenes in romance books I can't imagine being shocked by one. I am SO over my head with this writing group I started. And you may have to keep reminding me it's not a group formed to judge content---like in a book club---but rather to help each other with process of writing it. To be fair, I suppose devoutly religious mothers don't want to think of their adult sons as knowing anything about sex beyond the missionary position to beget those grandchildren.

To prepare for this writing group I reread Stephen Kings’ non-fiction book titled On Writing. We were all told to bring a piece of written by someone we admire to our first meeting to out loud and I picked a passage from that book about how "writing isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. It’s writing damn it, not washing a car or putting on eyeliner...” I didn’t know I’d be reading it out loud to someone who professes to being the writing instrument of God. At our next meeting when we start reading out loud things we’ve actually written, I’m keeping that passage handy because I am vowing to myself and anyone else who cares that I will not to edit my stuff to suit someone who’d quit reading a book by her own son because a character did something immoral in her eyes. My first reading will have some dialogue with four swear words so I’m not sure how that will go over with God at our table, but it’s my writing group. My idea. My jumping through the hoops to get it on our schedule. Somehow I think God---if there is one---is broader minded than to be offended by a few four letter words when the world is full of bigger fish to fry in the departments of sinning and evil doings. 

In addition to these two in the group we have a retired high school teacher who taught English and writing who wants to work on a memoir and a graphic artist who wants to learn poetry writing like I do and a woman who I've admired since the '60s when she wrote a Sunday column for the local newspaper. She's the pastor here and I've written about Ms. Angel before. We hit it the first few times we met on campus including on the bus ride to the Van Gogh exhibit. Then yesterday we talked non-stop for an hour at coffee---just the two of us. We talked God and religion and spirituality like I've never talked with anyone but my niece until now. Want to take bets on whether or not that in a year from now I'm still calling myself an agnostic?

Speaking of my niece: With schools beginning so starts the annual book banners who show up for school board meetings and my niece is planning to be at one to object to the pulling of a book from the eighth grade curriculum, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Crisneros, from what I understand is a coming of age book about an immigrant girl. My niece wrote an open letter to the town newspaper on the subject of book banning to rally attendance at the board meeting so she spent her time re-reading the book in question while she had to wait for me to wake up after my surgery. Apparently this book has been frequently challenged by book banners since it was published and critically acclaimed in 1983 for portraying a Latina girl growing up with domestic violence and racism and learning to reinvent herself to who she would become. Have the book banners read the Bible? I ask rhetorically. It’s been decades since I listened to the booming voice of Charlton Heston reading the Bible to me in my bedroom during my 'searching era' but I recall there being a lot of the same elements in it that book that the book banners get their panties in a wad over their high school kids reading about.

All is going well with my hand surgery except I torn one of my stitches out and it has a tiny infection in it. I’m hoping to get the other hand done in mid October. So, Cindy, if you’re reading this find another good book to fill up three-four hours while you wait.

Other than that I have three neighbors here who are trying to make me feel like a wimp because they got carpal tunnel surgeries done on both hands at once and/or just got a block in their arms when I was put fully under. The doctor didn't give me a choice. I don't know if having my thumb done at the same makes a huge difference or not but I can't image having both hands not at full function at the same time. I keep pointing out to the I'm-braver-than-you-crowd that they still have husbands to do their bidding and one of the guys mouthed in the background that he waited on his wife hand and foot. 

Until next time....  ©

37 comments:

  1. Glad to hear the Surgery went well but that you popped a Stitch, that sucks, watch that the infection doesn't worsen and you take it easier so you're not popping stitches like it's an Olympic Event. *winks* The Creative Writing Group and God being a Ghost Writer, well, LMAOROTF, who knew He'd be an active participant, you sure draw an impressive Crowd Jean. *LOL* Having people you'd normally avoid join your Orbit can be challenging, so I do hope it isn't going to cause problems in a Group you worked so hard to get on Campus. Even as a deeply Spiritual Person, when someone just hammers and injects God into every activity and get weird about it, I just can't... too fanatical about anything, even Religion, is a giant turnoff to me. It also comes off as rather fake, like who are they trying to impress or fool? Anyway... I wouldn't have gotten both Hands done at the same time either, tho' I did get my Lasik done on both Eyes at the same time, which many don't, in case of a complication, just becoz I knew I probably would chicken out doing it twice... tho' the procedure and the recovery were not horrible as it turns out, Eyes Heal amazingly fast and rather miraculously so, who knew?

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    1. I wish my eyes healed fast. I still can't see out of one eye from my cataract surgery. Saw better before it. I can't control who can join the group and who can't so I'm kind of LMAOROTF, too, because it is funny. Or maybe karma for avoid certain people.


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    2. Fellow cataract surgery survivor here. Have you considered YAG?

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    3. I don't think I'm a candidate because of my Macular Pucker. It really limits what they can do, but I have to go back next month and I'll ask. Thanks.

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  2. Your niece, Cindy, seems like a wise person. I like what she said about being able to learn something from everyone. It's ironic that those two people you've avoided have joined your creative writing group. Human nature really is a mystery, but there's usually a reason why people think and act as they do. I'm glad you're enjoying time spent with Ms. Angel. Your question about whether or not you'll be an agnostic a year from now, made me smile. Sometimes the things we think about make us uncomfortable. We know that all that we've seen and heard has helped to form what we believe. Even though I'd like to be open minded, most of the time I'm set in my ways and think I'm right, lol.

    As for the "I'm braver than you crowd," I simply cannot imagine opting to have both my hands operated on, unless there was no other choice. Even if a person has a partner to lean on, most of us want to try to take care of ourselves. I'm glad you're recuperating, Jean, and hope you continue to do well.

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    1. My niece is wise and kind and smart and a bunch of other adjectives. She's the daughter I wish I had.

      I'm pretty set in my way to when it comes to religion but I keep thinking about people who make death bed conversions and wondering if that will be me. The answer is 'no' every time I ask myself that question...still I wonder why I ended up in a place with such a high percentage of religious people. The other day I was at a lunch table when it came up that Ms. Social Worker told them she was an atheist. I already knew it but one of the ladies said it gave her nightmares that night because it upset her so much. And I'm thinking, "How can someone else's belief cause you that much stress?" There was quite the discussion on why she'd say something like that. I said absolutely nothing.

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  3. I kept smiling as I was reading, thinking of all the posts we'll be reading as you balance acceptance with oh-for-Gawd's-sake frustration with attendees and the discussions that ensue. I remember my mother-in-law attending my hometown book reading after one of my 90's era young-adult novels was published. The bookstore was in a mall. She accosted women her age out in the mall, trying to coerce them to come inside and buy a copy of my book, offering the high praise that it "didn't have a single curse word in it." She didn't mention the trait I was proud of: an ability to build tension while always working toward a theme that teens needed to make their own dreams come true. I cherished her support. She didn't often offer support. I look forward to hearing stories from your war front.

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    1. That's a great memory of your mother-in-law. She was clearly proud of you. I wouldn't expect a non-writer to pick up on the trait you was most proud of but that's the kind of thing a creative writing group would discuss. Lots of people here have no concept of what a creative writing group does. A guy last night listed a bunch of authors he likes and wanted to know if we'd discuss any of them in the group. I told him it's not a book club, you'd have to bring something you've written to discuss. "Oh, okay, then I'm not joining."

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  4. My money is on you still being agnostic after a year! It's so annoying when people are convinced that their way is the only way, the right way, and everyone else is wrong.

    I have a couple of friends who are Trumpers. The thing is, we had never really discussed politics until Trump came along. It has altered our friendship a bit; I go out of my way to not discuss politics. But I still question, how could someone so lovely, end up being a supporter of someone as hateful as Trump. Sigh...
    Carole

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    1. I, too, have a hard time understanding how otherwise nice people can support someone so clearly evil as Trump. People who go to church every Sunday and wear shirts proclaiming 'Be Kind' or something similar.

      I really don't think I'll turn Christian in a year but I could almost see me changing my label from agnostic to spiritual. I need a better understanding of what 'spiritual' actually means to the massive of people who call themselves that. I guess I'm still searching for a label.

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  5. You're not a wimp. Just sayin'...

    Your writing group sounds interesting and so does your approach. Especially to the others. I remember thinking once, "You can pick your friends but you can't pick your colleagues." Same goes here with your group but yes, you might well learn something from them. And by the way, I suspect God has probably loosened up his language after watching the travesties of many thousands of moons of history (not the least, the past administration).

    I hadn't read that King book but I love the quote. I've be writing that on the cover of my notebook!

    Too bad you don't have a media discussion group. I'd love to hear what your more Trumpian members think of the terrific new Ken Burns series on the U.S. and the Holocaust. Rick and I decided that if you updated the wardrobe from the 1930s/40s, pretty much it could reflect almost to the letter everything being said and done today by many in our country. Highly recommended. (You can stream past episodes on PBS.org.)

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    1. I've seen that Ken Burns series advertised and I need to see it. One of the guys in my writing group wants to start a group to discuss current events. That would be interesting. We touch on them in book club from time to time.

      God may have loosened up his language but West Michigan hasn't all that much, at least where I'm presently living. Last night I let loose of a loud "F" word and I'm lucky no one was around to hear it. I needed to go over to the other building during heavy rain and thunder and I didn't want to take the elevator in case the power when out so I took the staircase and accidentally walked up when I met to walk down thus the loud swear word. LoL

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  6. When I first read this, I thought your writing group guy was Mr. Do Not Resuscitate. LOL. The DNR background sounds much more interesting. As for someone getting their songs directly from God, well, it is W. Michigan. Should be interesting to see what writing God sends her.

    You are a brave woman to take on a creative writing group. I do predict you will hear some wild stuff. As for the pastor, I find that people of sincere religious belief are often very intriguing to me, probably because of my strict religious upbringing. (DH says it was akin to brainwashing, but I struggle with that characterization.) Anyway, religious/spiritual folks often surprise me by being quite open to discussions that I wouldn't expect. We have a good friend who was a priest for years, and he is such a great conversationalist. Never preachy, just interested and interesting.

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    1. You are right about the DNR I would probably rename him again.

      Boy, you and I think the same about sincerely religious people like the pastor. I'm intrigued too by priests and nuns. Talking to Ms. Angel she really does believe there are many paths to God and is accepting of other religions outside of Christianity. She's a fascinating person, was told she couldn't be a pastor when she was young and going to college but never lost the dream. After retirement she went back to college and got her divinity degree.

      Many religious leaders have studied the great philosophers and how various religions have formed around the world. I loved those kinds of classes and think studying philosophy is akin to studying the history or morality and our value systems. I guess I'm not so much a non-believer as I am an anti the types of Christians who believe their way is the only way and those who don't believe in Jesus as their Savor will go to hell.

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    2. Yes...we completely agree! And I think the world lost so much for so long by refusing to let women be ordained. Some of the most thoughtful, deep thinking people I've met are women.

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  7. Jean, one of the things I adopted early on in my Creative Writing I and II classes was quite helpful. After each person read their work, everyone automatically applauded. It allowed an immediate positive response and the author was put at ease. That also dispelled any awkward silence before it even had a chance to occur. You may want to try it.

    As far as the Spirit Writer...wow. That's a heck of a creative process. Why is she even a member of the group? She doesn't need Inspiration, and certainly no one would presume to critique or edit God. LOL.

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    1. Thank you for that tip and I will enact it. I know what you mean by the awkward silence that can happen after someone reads something so I can see how this would be helpful. Did you tell your students to do it or just have them learn by seeing you do it?

      Spirit Writer---that's a great nickname. I was blown away by someone claiming to be the writing instrument of God. I seriously doubt anyone COULD critic her songs without a background in music. She says she has "perfect pitch" and will sing rather than recite them in group. As for why she joined, the cynic in me says its a way for her to define herself on campus as a person with musical talent but maybe that's just me projecting my reasons for wanting to be in a creative writing group. LoL
      Either way, she is now defined by her motor mouth which I suspect is an impulse control issue due to a stroke. People avoid sitting next to her for that reason. She has a full time caregiver living with her in one of the most expensive apartments on campus but no one really knows her because you can't hold real back and forth conversations with her.

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    2. Jean--I explained our response to the students in order to make them feel better about reading their own stuff in front of their classmates. They always felt intimidated by that part of the class. I started out reading their work for them, then after two assignments, they had to read their own. It was to make the room an inviting and nonthreatening environment for their work. I had lots of little tricks like that for critique--had to. Teens are surprisingly unwilling to offer criticism of each other's writing, and they aren't too great at being specific in their positive comments, either (yet they want that for their own work).

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    3. I'll bet your students appreciated all your little tricks. I have gone through a lot of critiques in painting and drawing classes and the professors always founds something good to say before suggesting any changes to improve a work or to ask why we chose certain colors or whatever. I'm hoping that experience will help with the writing group. And I was in one writing group where we critiqued each other work. We had a guy in the group who never had anything good to say about other people's writing. I'm hoping our mission statement of "giving and receiving thoughtful feedback" will set us up for mostly positive responses. I figure if someone gets mean spirited in their critiques like that guy was we can point to the mission statement and say something like let's keep it thoughtful and helpful.

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  8. With only 55 residents, you sure got the whole range of people! And then to have two of the three least interested join your group!?? Good grief but it really is funny to read about. Will you let her "sing" her writings? She should start her own group!

    I don't know how you do it!

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    1. I think having the two of the three join is karma for something. LOL Of course we'll let her sing her writing. It never crossed my mind not to.

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  9. That's going to be a real challenge! We're looking forward to hearing about it.

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  10. Sounds like you have your hands full with the writers group. I think if will be interesting and certainly not boring. I got tickled about your guest spirit. Sit close to Ms Angel. She would be a great buffer. Had to laugh at the friends acquired when you gave of the husbands of the "braver than you" girls an atta boy. Easy when you have live in help.

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    1. I really do have a challenge ahead of me. But the only think I don't worry about is that I can hold my own when it comes to creative writing that I can share.

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  11. Murphy's Law is in residence everywhere, so that's why these 2 showed up in your writing group. Not karma at all.
    Did I count right? There are 6 of you in the group? That sounds like a manageable number.

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    1. Yes, it should be a manageable number. I didn't want more than seven.

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  12. I grinned when I read your comment about the non-stop talker. I had the experience of being with one of those for several hours on Sunday, and by the time the afternoon was over, all I wanted to do was escape. The person certainly was knowledgeable, and provided a lot of information about the natural environment we were in, but goodness! Even if I asked a question, she never stopped talking long enough to hear it.

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    1. At lest your Chatty Cathy had interesting things to talk about. My husband talked a lot so I have a high tolerance for talkers but with him you could ask questions and hold a two way conversation and most importantly you can tell a spouse or good friend to give it a rest and they will shut up for a while.

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  13. "Chatty Cathy told us repeatedly that she doesn’t write the songs, God does and she just copies them down." Does that make her a transcriptionist? Or if she's putting her name on them wouldn't that make her a plagiarist? I need clarification.

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    1. You are too funny. I will be sure to look on her sheet music to see it is says "written by Chatty Cathy, inspired by God" or if it says "written by God transcribed by Chatty Cathy".

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    2. OMG the wicked humor and hilarious comments about Spirit Writer from your Dear Readers has me LMAOROTF, great way to start my Morning!

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  14. When you said you nicknamed the man Mr. DNR, the first thought that came to my mind was "Mr. Do Not Resuscitate"🤣. Some people are just here in our lives to teach us lessons...like patience, and silence, and forbearance. At least that's what I tell myself...

    Deb

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    1. You're not the only one who thought that. I clearly didn't think through that nickname. LoL I like what you said about some people just being here to teach us lessons. I'm going to find a way to work that into a conversation.

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  15. Here I am, with my insight about your writing group. I've been involved with two writing groups, and this is what occurred to me. In both cases, I've had no other involvement (or minimal involvement) with the people in the group outside the group. It makes giving and receiving feedback a whole lot easier when you know you're not going to end up eating dinner with the person who just tore your major character or your basic premise to pieces.

    Living in such close quarters with your other group members presents some distinct challenges. I've tried to think how I'd deal with it, and I'm really not sure. For me, I suspect the best way would be to discipline my mind to focus on the writing, and not on the author -- while encouraging other group members to do the same. Easier said than done, of course. That said, I have been remembering a favorite Ernest Hemingway quotation I've had on my blog since day one:

    "What difference does it make if you live in a picturesque little outhouse surrounded by 300 feeble minded goats and your faithful dog? The question is: Can you write?”

    Maybe it would help to think of your group as the outhouse and the other members as the feeble-minded goats! Would that help?

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    1. I'm just now reading a book of Hemingway quotes about writing. I have not found that one yet. LoL

      You nailed it on the unique issues the group will face with us all living so close. We think we have the mission statement written is such a way that we're setting the stage for critiquing in a constructive way. Oddly enough---or maybe not---the people who express the most interest in trying out the group are also in our book club here so we already know how we each think about literature and writing styles.

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