A Connection Through Words

Our world is intricately connected via a web we cannot see. Social media, cell phones, computers – connecting us in the most intimate, yet most impersonal of ways. For all of this link via technology, so many of us feel utterly disconnected from each other, disconnected from the humanity of interpersonal relationships.

After taking some online writing classes and Zoom workshops, which certainly were convenient but again impersonal, I decided several years ago to make the trek an hour or so south to Boston to take a multi-week writing workshop. I expected that I would learn about the process of writing memoir. What was unexpected was the connection I would discover with five of my classmates, a bond created through words and story that would last for years.

The sharing of our words in the weekly class meetings described aspects of our lives that other people we have known all our lives likely don’t know. This created a unique sort of intimacy, connecting us in ways that friends and family might not understand. At the end of the class, six of us decided to continue to meet weekly to share writing, gain feedback and continue our memoir process. With this sharing of our deepest truths, along with being writing colleagues, we have become friends who have revealed the stories of the past, along with the joys and challenges of the present. During the pandemic, at the suggestion of one of our members, we met weekly via Zoom to continue our work and our connection.

Memoir tells a snapshot of a lifetime, an event, a theme plucked from a life story different from an autobiographical retelling of a lifespan. What stories did we chose from our decades of life? One, the years of being an assistant and friend to a famous linguist. Another, the exploration of family history, seen through the lens of hiking and meditation. A tale of a woman in South Africa who created a soccer program for older women, changing their lives and changing the world. Another, the journey of a chronic health condition and the courage to deal with both the physical and societal effects of the disease. A story of religious exploration and the dynamics of a family life. And my own, a relationship with my brother discovered through our words and the words of song in the here and the hereafter.

I have sometimes wondered how six seemingly discordant memoirs related to each other, and six different authors found the space and care to ponder each other’s work. Yet, at the heart of all of our memoirs is the sometimes-nebulous connection we as human beings seek. Whether the relationship with family or workmates, a global one through sport, or the union with oneself and the medical community, at the heart of all of our stories is this desire to be seen and known for the truth of who we are. Connection.

Our Page Six Writers’ Group continues. (Our group was named Page Six because we would share five pages of our writing during our class meetings and always wonder what happened on page six.) Three of our members have had their books published. Three of us are in various stages of revision, or in the process of deciding whether to publish at all. Sometimes the writing of a story is enough, without the need for others to read it.

The members of our group are intricately connected now, but in the most personal of ways. Our work would not be what it is without the interactions between us in this group. Our stories together a tapestry, weaving our stories of the past with our relationship in the now.

susan schirl smith
Susan Schirl Smith is a writer, photographer and holistic nurse based in New Hampshire. Her essays have been published in Cognoscenti, Pangyrus, Silver Birch Press and The Journal of Holistic Nursing. Her photography has been featured in Barren Magazine and L’Ephemere Review. Smith’s current manuscript is Desperado, a memoir of her brother. You can follow Susan on her website or Facebook.

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