The year 2012 is starting out a bit strange for me. My life seems to be slowly rotating away from some things, and drifting toward others. That’s natural, I suppose, but it can also be sad.
The biggest change, and the saddest, is my decision to leave The Barn Owls Writer’s Group. After almost seven years, things had reached a point where instead of looking forward to the Friday meetings, I was looking for excuses to get out of driving into town. There are a variety of reasons why I made the decision to go on a long, possibly permanent, hiatus.
When I first joined Owls, we had eight or nine members (can’t remember exactly). There was barely enough time for us each to read and get a critique of our five pages within the three hour meeting time. It was a vital, enthusiastic group, with high hopes and a real desire to get published. We even put out our own anthology of short stories, and had book signings at the local bookstores. Not long after I joined, one lady passed away from cancer. But the remaining seven held together, gave a good variety of constructive critiques of our work, went to writer’s conferences, went to a presentation on writing by S. L. Stebel, where two of us (myself included) got to have a short bit of writing reviewed by this man. We got together periodically to have lunch before the Friday meetings, and generally had a good time with a strong focus on improving our writing skills. I loved going to each and every meeting.
Over time, one by one, people dropped out, or, I hate to say it, were driven out because of writing style/genre and/or personality conflicts. When Alan, the much loved only male in our group (he always referred to himself as the head rooster among the hens) got sick and had to move away, and then later passed away, the group was down to six, and the spark of enthusiasm seemed to go out. Slowly the focus blurred, and although most of us brought pieces to read and got great feedback, the field trips stopped, no one was going to conferences any more, and the only time we got together for lunch was at Christmas.
With the exception of our leader, and maybe two others, the rest of us were skipping more and more meetings. We attempted to get new members, and had a few show up for awhile, but they either couldn’t commit to the time, or had health issues that prevented them from attending very often and they eventually dropped out altogether. At one point, a younger woman, who had been a journalist nominated for a Pulitzer, joined, but because she owned her own business based out of her home, she couldn’t always make the meetings. She was just the shot of energy, professional experience, and fresh air the group desperately needed. Unfortunately, not all the members looked at it that way. The woman left the group after only a short time. I think she found the meetings boring and depressing.
Then another longtime member moved to the coast, showing up at meetings maybe once a month or so. Now we were down to five. And the focus on writing was pretty much dead. If no one brought anything to read and critique, then dice were pulled out and some kind of dice game ensued. We even stopped doing the ten minute speed-writing exercise, which I had always enjoyed. I was at the point where, as soon as the dice came out, I left. I wasn’t interested in playing a dice game when I could be at home working outside...or home writing. I didn’t join Owls to play dice. I joined to learn about writing, polish my work, and hopefully get published. I still have that dream, and am still working toward that eventual goal.
I missed the first two meetings of the new year—one due to lack of interest, one due to the fact I had to take care of a sick cat. When the call came out to ask who was going to be at the next meeting, I felt a sense of dread. I just didn’t want to drive the eleven miles into town, so that when one or two members were done reading, the rest of the time would be spent playing games. I couldn’t do it. I finally accepted the fact that the group no longer held any interest for me. The dynamics had changed. However, I honor and respect them as individuals, from whom I learned an enormous amount about the skills and joy of writing.
In sending out my request for a long hiatus, I thought I had left the door open for a return to the group, if the focus returned to writing. I made it clear I wanted to stay in touch. After all, these women had been my friends for over six and a half years. But within days, my name was struck from the e-mail list, cutting me off from any notices of activities or personal adventures. That hurt. Maybe I should have expected it, but it still feels like a slap in the face.
Just a week after I gave my notice to leave, one more member, the woman who had moved to the coast, and who had been in the group way longer than I had, officially left. She was instantly cut off from the e-mail list as well.
So, now they are down to four. I hear they are asking around to see if anyone knows others who might want to join. I wish them luck. Maybe if they get new, excited, enthusiastic younger people in the group, things will start clicking for them again. It’s just unfortunate that it took so many of the longtime members bailing out to effect that change.
I will miss the Owls very much. But, I’m still writing. I still have my dream.