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Tag: writing group

We are The Champions

When I began talking about a Door of Hope writing group book, people told me the book had to include my voice. Feature my voice, even. This was not what I wanted. Specifically, I didn’t want to be the well-off white woman who began working with those who had no shelter and immediately had the bright idea to write a book about her experience. What I wanted was for people to read the book, get to know the writers, and shift their view of “the homeless.” Specifically, I wanted readers to eagerly approach the authors at book signings and start talking to them as if they knew them. I wanted the book’s readers to love and appreciate the authors as much as I did.

But how to structure the book? I went around the block several times over this but eventually landed on a group memoir: WRITING OUR WAY HOME: A GROUP JOURNEY OUT OF HOMELESSNESS. Chronological chapters tell the authors’ stories: When We Were Young, As We Grew Up, What Sent Us into Homelessness. The wonderful review done by Chapter 16.org noted that this structure gives the full picture of the authors’ lives, not just the “dramatic second act” when they experienced living on the streets. How grateful I am for this insight. Because homelessness is only one part of the authors’ fluid lives, an overwhelming, proud-to-have-survived part, but nonetheless only a part.

And now the Community Alliance for the Homeless has given me an award for my work on the book. Yesterday, I received the Memphis/Shelby County Homeless Consortium Champion of the Year award.

Champion Award
Champion Award

As I am in New Orleans recovering from hip surgery, I couldn’t be there in person to accept the award. My good friend and proud homeless champion Marisa Baker accepted for me. And here’s the group photo of all the winners:

2015 Homeless Consortium Awards
2015 Homeless Consortium Awards

I love it that the book is literally standing in for me, accepting the honor. So very fitting. For the award means my decision long ago to focus on the writers’ voices was the correct choice. The Champion choice. The one most supportive of those who have experienced homelessness in their lives. For they, the authors, are the true Champions.

 

To honor this award, please go to Amazon and buy a copy of the book. Read it, then pass it along to whoever you feel led to share it with. Thank you!

This morning at the church service attended mainly by those living on the streets, one of the guys told me about two recent incidents when he’d been told he was an inspiration. He began the story by saying, “I’m not telling you this to to be bragging.”

I’ve known him for about a year and a half. He wasn’t telling me to be bragging. He was sharing this development because such amazing moments require acknowledgement and respect.

To be minding your own business, going about doing what you feel you’re supposed to be doing, and to have someone tell you your action—or the very example of your life—helped them make a life-changing decision: how wonderful is that? Not only did you have an impact, but the person cared enough to take the time to tell you. In the sharing of such moments I can’t help but detect a certain amount of awe: can you believe I was lucky enough to impact another person in a good way?

Yes, if you’re a first grade teacher or a parent. For the rest of us, it’s a little surprising.

I know the feeling because in the last week, when three members of writing group had the chance to name someone whom they admire or who had a positive impact on their lives, they named me.

I am not someone who hears compliments well. I shrug them off, if they even penetrate my brain. Sometimes I think: well, they probably felt sorry for me and thought I needed a pick-me-up (don’t analyze my psychological (ill) health—it’s shooting fish in a barrel.)

The point is: the third time someone from writing group took the time to claim my influence on them, I heard it. I heard them say I was loyal and nonjudgmental and quietly assertive (how Southern is that?) and a follower of God and (hallelujah!) funny.

I share this with you with the same awe I saw in my friend’s eyes this morning. Damn, he seemed to be saying, isn’t this the coolest thing?

Yes, yes it is.

Thank God Dogs Gotta Pee

Thank God dogs have to pee.

My time at my dad’s family reunion this past week was invaded by the Door of Hope book, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness. Calls from TV news anchors; an interview with Leonard Gill of the Memphis Flyer, which resulted in this great article:

MEMPHIS FLYER

All wonderful stuff but, for me, stressors. Even now, I am continuing to prepare for the Launch Party tomorrow.

But, thank God, you gotta take a break from whatever is going on in your life and WALK THE DOG!

So, back home, how happy I was to put the dog on the leash and walk the edges of the island where cicadas sing and turtles slip into the murky harbor water; where the mud rises damp and the dog tugs on the leash to get at all the fresh smells; where ‘dappled’ doesn’t begin to describe the shade and the delighted cries of birds fill the air.

One of the Door of Hope writers wrote about how God was so smart to make us critters with long-lasting bones so that millions of years later we can re-construct an image of what once walked the earth. I think God was so smart to make dogs with eliminatory systems that force me into the natural world every day, to enjoy, to relax, to love. To remember that, while I am living on this earth, I need to enjoy it.

here’s to creative synthesis . . . .

Becoming a Writer

Way back at the beginning, I was puzzled about how 15 writers and a nonprofit could publish a book. What would be the arrangement between the authors and the nonprofit? What about the understanding among the writers, some of whom had many entries, some of whom had few? How would we make this fair? The questions overwhelmed answers.

My former-lawyer self said, we need to work this out before we move forward. We need to know what the deal is. We need to be able to describe it and have everyone buy into it. We need to know on the front end what we are getting into.

I tried that for a while. Then, in November of 2012, I realized that the process of figuring it all out would, ultimately, smother the book. If we defined our relationships first, we would never get past the deal-making to the creating of a book. We needed a book first, then we would figure it out.

This concept was a**-backwards, to a lawyer.

I asked the group, are we ready to get started? They said yes. Are we willing, I asked, to move forward trusting that we can work out the details later? They agreed. So we set the Book Retreat and began putting our book together.

This is the moment I quit being a lawyer.

I’d already given up my power suits. I’d told nonprofit boards that I would no longer offer legal advice. I’d even relinquished my law license. But that month, when we put art first, I became a former-lawyer. I became a writer.

here’s to creative synthesis . . . .

The entries are from 2008. I had been involved with writing group for a year. Each week, after we met, I came home and wrote into the journal every significant thing I could remember having happened. The journal helped me process the chaotic hour that was a weekly writing group of men and women who had experienced homelessness. I am reviewing the journal to draft a template for “What Worked For Us When We Did Writing Group.”

The pages are hard to read. I can only read a few at a time. Memories come flooding back. At least three of those who were writing with us during that period are dead. I recorded their dialogue. They, and the times, come alive as I read what I wrote. I loved the group and the process of becoming accepted by them. They each gave me particular delight.

On these pages, I recorded when W. asked me my name. This is astonishing: at one time W. didn’t know my name. We have now been through the terrible period of W.’s arrest; his interminable trial appearances; his incarceration in both jail and the mental facility for evaluation; his release when the DA realized the woman’s physical description of the man who stole her pocketbook had nothing—nothing!—in common with W. But in June of 2008 he didn’t know my name.

Humbling that, six years ago, the Executive Director of the Door of Hope was asking me if we had enough writings for a book. Tomorrow, we hold the final meeting necessary to send our manuscript to the publisher. Six years after I recorded the words. “Do we have a book?” the answer is, “Almost. Almost.”

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The Silence of Joy

Writing Group is often hectic. We have, on average, 14-16 writers every Wednesday. Many of us only see one another this one hour per week. We use the time to catch up on the progress of the cancer treatments. Whether the child-custody hearings were held. How the visit with the grandbabies went. The latest on the wait for housing. What, if anything is new on the Writing Group’s book. Oh—and we also write.
It’s easy, in this swirl of activity, for important things to fly right over my head. When I first began with writing group, I kept a journal. When I got home from group, I’d write down everything I could remember that happened while we were together. So very often, a crucial request or a key piece of information about someone’s life popped back into my head, until then totally forgotten.
Over the years, I’ve become more accustomed to the flurry of activity, and I no longer need the journal (I hope!) I’ve learned to pay better attention when someone is talking to me. To focus and really listen. Absorb what they are saying. When I look back on these moments, they feel like prayer.
Of course, things still get lost. Today, the lost thing was found. Between the writer who had the need, another writer who had a notecard, and me who had a stamp, we sent a note to her son. A written note with an envelope that was addressed. This accomplishment filled her with joy. Her joy filled me with joy. That she’d been waiting all week to finish this task fills me with shame. Shame at what I think is important. Shame at what I demand out of life before I call it valued. Shame at the hurrying through of important moments as if they were the same as every other minute of the day. They are not. They are the presence of God in our world. Stop. Listen. You want to know about the sound of Advent? It’s in the silence of joy.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

A Sister Sledge Moment

“Like an adopted family,” A. said.
We were bumping along in the church van. Ten of us crowded the back seats, plus the two church members driving the van. We’d eaten lunch, opened gifts, and enjoyed Christmas caroling. Now we were finishing up our shopping spree at Wal-Mart, returning home. As we traveled through the beautiful tree-lined streets of Germantown, W. asked, “You don’t go to church there?” She had assumed I was a member of the church hosting the writing group on this wonderful outing.
“No,” I explained. “They joined us for writing group one time and sent a note afterwards, saying how much they enjoyed it. So I asked them if they wanted to get more involved.”
“And it was happily ever after,” D. added.
“Yes,” I said.
That’s when A., gazing straight ahead, said, “Like an adopted family.”
I don’t know A.’s story except that, like all the members of writing group, he has a personal experience of homelessness. At one point, after writing with us for several months, he decided he wanted to be a writer. This happens often. Someone who has no history of writing attends writing group for a while, and the writing catches fire.
Of all who have experienced this thrill of discovery, A. is the one who came most intimidated by writing. A quiet man, he sits, then offers observations that make me say, “Yes! Exactly that!” Once, when we were discussing writing group, he said, “It’s like we’re writing our dreams.”
I hope our adopted family holds together. I hope A. continues as a member. In any event, I’ll remember everyone on the van smiling at his purchase of a space heater, impressed with what he’d snagged at Wal-Mart. Enjoying the connection that’s a mix of fondness and joshing, being impressed and enjoying. The peculiar love that signals: we are family.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The red table runners glowed, the tiny gold trees sparkled. The voices rang out in clear, clean notes—some among us could sing—and the warmth of the group welled up in me to the point I needed to leave the room. Not because I’m ashamed to cry in public, but because, over the years, I’ve grown tired of stifling the emotions Life knocks loose in me, grown weary of my self-scolding: no one else is crying, buck up! Instead, when I want to experience what is coursing through me fully, I often excuse myself and let the tears flow as they will. Today, at lunch, I stayed.

We sang, “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,” and even though the smiles of the group enjoying each other in a safe, warm place as if they’d never known it otherwise almost tore me apart, I stayed.

We listened as Reverend Richard Smith recounted his story of first meeting the group, and even though the ghosts of those no longer with us rose before my eyes, I stayed.

We ate a meal that wasn’t pizza or bologna—”don’t nobody feed the homeless nothing but bologna sandwiches”—and even though Major explained to me how she did what the other group leaders asked her to do, “but it isn’t El-len Pre-witt,” I stayed.

I stayed because I could not leave the presence of the group, this marvelous thing that exists with no more substance than the people who make it up and yet more than that because people come, they go and still the group continues, yet never would have been if Joe Porter hadn’t said, “You should go to the Door of Hope and start a writing group,” and yet still would not have made it into this world if I hadn’t gone to the Door of Hope and June hadn’t let me do it and LeRoy hadn’t sat down and started asking questions and Roderick hadn’t stopped me on the stairs to ask, “Tell me again what is that ‘backstory’ thing you said I did,” and Tommy hadn’t arrived a beautiful writer and Judy hadn’t decided— finally, finally—that we weren’t out to do her any harm and William hadn’t taken to the written word like a duck to water and Robb hadn’t sung his Glory of God onto the page every week—if the group hadn’t made itself a group, this atmosphere of love, joy and thanksgiving never would have shone into the world.

So close we came to never being.

So incredibly lucky we are to continue being.

Thank you to Germantown United Methodist Church for being our benefactors. For providing the cozy room and gold Christmas trees and writing journals and the spinach cakes that became the talk of the lunch. Thank you for being with us for almost two years, the angels on whose wings our spirits soar. I cannot thank you enough for what you have given us: the opportunity for our group to live its life to the fullest.

© 2017 - Ellen Morris Prewitt | EllenMorrisPrewitt.com