On the Bus Vol. 4 – Yogurt, My Monkey Lamp and Writers Groups

I will try to write my blog today even though I am a bit frazzled.

I did my usual 15-minute mediation as we headed into Lincoln Tunnel.  When I finished, I serenely opened my eyes to discover the guy in front of me had his seat all the way back practically in my crotch and was devouring a huge tub of yogurt with granola

Naturally I wanted to hit him on the head with my laptop. My fifteen minutes of hard work to achieve inner peace were completely ruined by the heinous turn of events.

In spite of this major setback, I will do my best to write this week’s bus blog

I started a writers group in New Hope this week.

This is the third writers group I am currently involved in at the same time.  It may be becoming a bit of a problem like alcoholism or sex addiction but with less shame and a slightly reduced chance of contacting an STD

I started Writers Group #1 at work about five years ago.  Well, at least I think it was five years ago.   I am not very good with keeping track of years.   I thought my dog was five years old for several years until someone pointed out that couldn’t possibly be true and I realized she was 13 and near the end of her natural lifespan. That was a shock.

I also still think I am in my 20s

Anyway, after starting the group, I discovered that a lot of my coworkers had rich full lives and were more than the narrow roles they played in the office.   It was a mix of some very good writing combined with a little group therapy. A core group of us loyally stayed together all these 5 (maybe 13?) years. I always go in before the group starts and turn out the overhead fluorescent lights and set up a light blue lava lamp next to a table lamp that has a base made up of a gold monkey with his tail in the air. Creating a safe space is the most important thing I do.  It’s almost like a ring of fire protecting us for those few hours we meet.  Those who drink share a bottle of wine. Those who eat gluten share a pizza. And as the rest of the office heads home, we listen to each other’s stories

Writers Group #2 is a lot more serious.

It’s lead by an author of several successful published books and you actually have to pay to be in it.

This one meets weekly and you are asked to bring in no more than 7 double-spaced pages to read aloud.   If you are competitive like me, you wouldn’t be caught dead bringing in anything even slightly less than 7 double-spaced pages. It’s a lot of work to write 7 double-spaced pages a week. It is also a lot of work for me to figure out how to print 7 double-spaced pages every week and contend with jammed paper and toner cartridges running out of ink. Managing the printing is the hardest part of that group.

Our leader is funny, smart and tough and reminds us that no one reads anymore which is discouraging and probably true.

What can I do?  I have been writing my memoir for a couple years now and am in a serious push to the finish line. When I was in a car accident a few years ago (five years?), the first thought I had as a car headed towards me head-on was “but I need to finish my book”.

You need to take those moments seriously

And even in that tougher, more serious environment we are basically telling stories like we do around the lava and monkey lamp at work ,and like humans have done around the fire for ages.

And I guess that is what I am trying to do with my new Writers Group in New Hope in the back of the fabulous old Farley’s Bookstore with a big fat cat named Butter staring at us judgmentally the entire time (probably wondering if anyone of us will feed him),  I am doing my best to create a safe space so the people in my new town can tell stories to each other. I’m hoping that at least a little bit we can connect to our humanity. After all, that cat can judge us all he wants, but I don’t see him and his feline friends telling each other tales about their painful kittenhood in order to gain a better understanding of life.

And I believe that nowadays, it’s more important than ever that we connect.

The other night my husband and I watched fireworks from our balcony.
As I looked up at the sky and listened to loud booms, a shudder went through me. We convince ourselves we are safe and secure in our country, but what if one day we were facing a real war in our very homes and beloved communities? What if those loud noises were bringing terror instead of joy?   I am an optimistic person but the world feels so insane these days that I can get downhearted thinking about that real possibility.

There is so much I can’t control. So, I guess that’s why I am a little obsessed with encouraging people to put their lives on paper and to share it with the world—or at least with a few other people. I’m trying to do my little part to remind us that we are more alike than we are different. And we have to connect in order to survive and thrive. It feels so vital and important and, really what can it hurt? Well, except for that yogurt eating bus guy. He and I will never be on the same page.

So, I guess I’m trying to say is,   I’m Keith.  And I’m a Writer’s Group addict.   And I’m not looking for a cure any time soon.

That’s all for this week. Tell someone your story and don’t eat on mass transit! See you next week.  Or in five years….

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Keith Hoffman lives with his artist husband, dog and two cats in the small town Lambertville, New Jersey 72 miles outside of New York City. He has completed a memoir entitled The Summer My Sister Grew Sideburns.

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