“Where you’re living is where you’ll be buried. And when you’re dreaming, that’s where you’re born.”
Last year I joined a women’s writing group. When I signed up I had pre-destined feeling about it. I’d been longing to connect with women more and had been looking for a writing group. Plus it was hosted by a woman named Katie, held at her house in Ballard (my neighborhood). All signs pointed to yes.
That first night I walked up the stone steps to a house where a young woman with cherubic features and curly hair—both Earth Mother and angel—greeted me and welcomed me inside. She led me to her kitchen, where other women stood chatting and the tea kettle whistled. Snacks from Trader Joes covered a huge island. Each week, I would learn, would have a slightly different offering. Sometimes cheeses and crackers, delicately arranged on a cutting board. The next, a dish of peanut butter cups or little chocolate mousse cakes. We always had our choice of teas. After a few minutes of visiting, sighing over the weeks we’d had (it seemed Mercury was always in retrograde), Katie gently guided us into the living room to begin.
There were three chairs and a loveseat, all upholstered in different jewel-toned fabrics: a green bucket chair, a purple bucket chair, a peacock blue chair with a wide seat and back (my seat of choice), and an almost midnight blue, velvet loveseat. Katie sat in a different seat each week, making it feel like while she was the facilitator, no one was really the leader. We began with “story slices:” a few sentences spoken aloud about something that had happened to us in the last few days. Next, Katie would read a prompt, usually an excerpt from a poem. We wrote down phrases that moved us. Then Katie would check, “Does everybody have something?” And we wrote, usually for about 15 minutes. Then she asked us to share. After someone shared we could only say “thank you.” No comments or feedback. But because I had an audience of two to three women, I had to try a little bit. I wrote my truth, but a version of my truth that was less spiteful and lackadaisical than a journal entry. It was a little bit polished and funny, but still raw. And a truth that could only be shared because no men were in the room.
“I know this won’t last. And it’s only a matter of time ‘til the sun erases the night.”
Once a week, over a period of six months, I went to Katie’s house to write. I used to say that once I crossed 24th street, I knew I was safe. Like that line from Disney’s Headless Horseman, when the character rides home after seeing the fright: “Once you cross that bridge my friend, the ghost is through, his power ends.” If I could just be with these women, I could breathe.
What began as formal knock in the first week changed to a few friendly taps as I opened the door and tentatively poked my head in, “Hello?” And there Katie would be—grounded and holding space for us. The smell of burning sage signaling we were somewhere else, someplace safe. Each week our hugs got longer; the smiles wider and warmer. When we wrote we knew we could choose to cry or not cry. And sometime between the tears released and the ones held back, everything changed. That summer the writing group wrapped up, I ended my relationship and moved to an apartment around the corner from Katie’s. That is how the writing ended. But it is also how it began.
“The more that I have, the more that I want. When I am empty and broken.”
After the writing group ended, Katie invited me to gatherings of musicians, including her own band, at her house. And it was at these gatherings that the small break I’d had in the writing group opened up like a poppy blossoming in a time lapse video. By regularly surrounding myself with creative women, I continued to release my rage, joy, and sadness on the page at home. I connected with these women. After listening to a 15-year-old with braces play the ukulele and sing about love, I approached her in the kitchen and said, “You know more about love now than I do.” I listened to an 18-year-old sing of breaking up over text, her voice fragile one moment, and angry the next. Hearing these raw voices of pained, slighted, pleasured, driven women, I realized that I had more in common with Fiona, Tori, Ani, and Sarah than not. That by virtue of writing it down and speaking up, I was in their tribe, too. And I was honored to be there. I couldn’t get enough of it. I went to every show I could, at coffeehouses, bars, and Katie’s house. I orbited around her world of women’s voices, strong in their fragility. An echo of the emotions I’d felt that winter and spring finally released in the long, warm nights.
On Katie’s last night in her house, while the U-Haul waited outside, she had a show. After the show I watched her friends carry lamps, side tables, and finally the jewel-toned chairs into the U-Haul. People were still drinking wine and eating cheese as the furniture walked out the door. It all felt like too much: first the ending of the writing and now the house. I joked, “When the chairs leave before you, you know it’s time to go!” And with gratitude of all that had happened in that house, I walked into the darkness.
“The moon never hangs in both skies on the same night.”
Last week, after Katie returned from travelling and now over a year since we met, I went to hear her sing again. Except this time the show was at her music partner’s house. I knew this show would be different. I knew it would be different not just because it was at a different house, but because—for the first time—I brought a man. It was a bold move. The songbirds would be the first of my friends he would meet. And I would be not just be exposing but guiding him into the women’s space. I would be plunking him into this feminine, ethereal, Stevie Nicks-inspired lair of tenderness and truth. What would that be like?
When we entered the house through the kitchen in the back, I was surprised how similar it felt to Katie’s house. The same Trader Joe’s snacks—soft and hard cheeses and peanut butter cups—covered the kitchen table. Glass jars for wine. Twinkly lights stretched across the arched doorways. Everything felt the same, except for this kind man by my side who wanted to be there with me. He hugged the friends I hugged and warmly shook the hands of those I didn’t. We floated in this female space together, and it didn’t feel strange.
“Keep reaching out in the dark for my hand, and I will be reaching back for you.”
The show was packed so we hung near the back. When we lost our seats after the first set, I leaned against the wall on the side while he wrapped his arms around me. He didn’t let go the rest of the night—reminding me of the first time we hung out when he fit my bicycle and said “I got you.”
You might think a man’s arms wrapped around me in an independent lady lair might feel confining—possession wrapped in neediness. But it didn’t feel that way at all. It just felt really nice.
“Don’t forget that you were made to love. Don’t forget that you were made to love her. Don’t forget that you were made to love. Don’t forget, don’t forget me. Don’t forget, don’t forget me.”
This is my truth. My eternal struggle, maybe all women’s struggle: Can I speak the truth while in a relationship? Can I be coupled and independent? Can I love and stay me? You’re damn right we need “a room of our own.” Sometimes we need the whole house. But maybe we don’t need the whole house all the time. Maybe as long we have that sacred space with sacred women, a room is enough. A room to trace our fingers over our smudge sticks and tapestries, blow out the candles, and turn the old brass knob as we close the door. Vowing not to forget.
All italicized lyrics courtesy of Heddwen.