In solitude, in community

Writing’s supposed to be a solo thing. Right? That’s what I signed up for anyway, something I could do while holed up in my room with nobody but my cat as company, when nobody and nothing else matters but me and the words I put on the page. Something that would go well with my affinity for taking myself out on dates, so that if nothing else I can take out my notebook in an attempt to prove that yes, I am a weirdo who wants to be alone.

But when I signed up I didn’t read the fine print, of course. The part that said that there are a whole bunch of other weirdos out there, and at some point, we will find each other.That’s the funny thing about writing, that it’s a solo activity that ultimately creates community. Like-minded folks find one another. People connect over mutually recognized parts of the human condition, aspects of life you thought only you noticed until someone else reads that line of poetry that makes you go, oh.

Something exciting is happening here in San Francisco these days. At events like Literary Death Match, Queer Open Mic and more, writers and readers and lovers of the written or spoken word are finding one another and creating community. There’s nothing like being in a room where a writer puts her heart on the stage and the audience reaches out to keep it beating.

This Labor Day I was lucky enough to spend time with some of this community at September’s edition of Quiet Lightning, a monthly reading series hosted by the fantastic Evan Karp and Rajshree Chauhan. The event began with a litnic (thanks to Matthew DeCoster for that term) at Dolores Park, where the weather was beautiful and the food was plentiful and the love of writing was in the air. And writers weren’t the only artists to find each other, of course. Musicians also came out to not only provide the day’s soundtrack, but also add to the sense of community that was coming together. Then, as evening set in, the group moved to the Mina Dresden Gallery for the reading. Folks like Andrew Paul Nelson and Katie May and Jesus Castillo (I’d really like to name them all, they were all so great) read back to back without introduction and took our collective breath away, so if nothing else our simultaneous gaps and oohs reminded us that we were in this together. It was really a marvelous day.

I’d like to blog more about these events, as I witness the creation of a community of writers, people who spend enough time alone with their own maddening thoughts (so maybe I’m speaking for myself here) that the chance to come together and share words is an inevitably explosive event. So expect more of these posts. Evan Karp, of course, always does a brilliant job of keeping up with these things at the Examiner, so when I miss out, be sure to check in with him there.

Published in: on September 8, 2010 at 9:33 AM  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well stated as always Maisha. I’m honored to be mentioned in your blog; I’m more honored to know you and your big, beautiful brain and heart!

    • Thanks for your comment, Matthew. I’m honored to know you too! :)

  2. I’m an old soul, and I have been to quite a few “poetry readings” ( for lack of better term). When Def Poetry came, I hopped on the bandwagon, had front row seats when the show went to stage in Philly, and loved it. For me it lasted but a moment. I have since come to shy away from performance-artist-type poets. I guess it’s alright for them, but, I couldn’t “perform” my work.

    The fact of the matter is that I don’t even think that I can do a reading of my own work – I write, but don’t read it (hopefully that’s just stage shyness and nothing else). Kudos to those who can.

    I am too far away to attend the events that you spoke of but I had read about them thru some links on your page. Sounds like a whole lot of fun.

    The closest that I come to making the transition from solitude to community these days is to sit in a cafe with my brother (also a writer) and while the hours away.

    I imagine that the “fine print” will sink into my brain at some point and I, too, will be all the better for it. Great post. Peace.

    • Thanks for sharing about this! I shouldn’t generalize, there are many writers who don’t do readings of their work, and it definitely doesn’t make you any less of a writer. I’ve only recently starting sharing my work; until then it was a very solitary process for me — except I’ve had your same experience of writing beside my brother, also a writer.

      I think ultimately there’s something shared in the experience of writing and reading, and that’s what connects people. I might be better for it because there are great people doing really great things here right now, but I’m pretty sure we all find our way, whether we participate or not. :)

  3. I am Ettore from Sicily and I agree with you: writing is the best way for having friends, but in order to write you have to be alone, you cannot write in the midst of the people. So, paradoxally, from the solitude, loneliness spring the friends. The book I have written, entitled “Travels of the Mind” has given me many new friends, but what matters above all is that it helps people to find a way for sharing with others their love. I’ll deepen the issue “solitude”. Thank you for you beautifil post.
    Ettore Grillo

  4. thanks maisha! it was a pleasure to have you there and to hang out after babylon. i am so thrilled every time a new member enters the community. and so fortunate! see you soon, i know … =)


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