Last night I drove through my old neighborhood. I caught a glimpse of the first house my husband and I had bought together; it still has the goose mailbox affixed to the front porch steps and I could see the fresh green sprouts of spring in the flower beds under the living room window. A couple minutes later I was paused a the stop light in front of the Kroger's we used to shop. It looked exactly the same. Even the parking lot had not changed - cracks and potholes aplenty.
I don't normally have a reason to point my car in this direction. My daily work commute may whisk me by the old neighborhood, but the expressway leaves little time for reflection or even recognition. A quick glimpse of our old rooftop and siding is about as much as I ever see, and that's only if I'm paying attention.
Last night, though, I had a reason to drive through this once familiar territory. A few weeks ago one of my instructors sent me an e-mail asking if I knew of anyone who might be interested in assisting with a creative writing workshop at the city shelter. The group is for 4th - 12th graders who are staying or living in the shelter. The young woman who currently runs the program plans on graduating in May and may be leaving the area as she pursues a career or additional education. Did I have any ideas on who might be interested in assisting and possibly taking over in the future?
Now I've often considered trying to start a writing group in my little hometown. I've considered trying to use my Church, the community center, or even the high school cafeteria as a meeting place. I've thought about posting flyers and contacting the high school English teachers to see if they have any kids they think may be interested. However, I live in a very small, rural community. Even if there were enough interest to make a writing group work, what was the likelihood that the interested parties would be available or have transportation? When I was a kid I wouldn't have been able to get into town for weekly or biweekly meetings. It was too far to walk or ride my bike, and my parents certainly wouldn't have wanted to chauffeur me back and forth. These thoughts and others like them defeated my ambition before it had even fully developed.
Now there was a chance to get in on something similiar to what I had envisioned. The location wasn't convenient, but it wasn't impossible, either. After all, I work in the city. Certainly my husband and I could drive separately once a week, right? But then there was school. Most of my graduate classes have been in the evening, which already forces us to drive separately at least once a week. But, hey, at least gas is no longer $4 a gallon, right?
After talking to my hubby and checking my school schedule, I figured out I could work with the kids at the shelter. So I contacted the young woman in charge and let her know I'd love to participate, but I'd have to wait until after my last class meeting of the semester.
And that brings us to last night and my drive through the old neighborhood. I passed all the familiar landmarks I knew so well and pulled into the small parking lot next to the shelter right on time. I didn't know what to take with me, though, so I took nothing with me. No pen, no paper. Hands empty, I rang the doorbell and was buzzed in. A few seconds later I was ushered into the cafeteria area where there were four or five round tables. A small family sat at one of the tables and at another a college-aged girl all by herself. Seeing the notebooks and pens piled in front of her, I guessed correctly and introduced myself. Within mintues we were joined by three girls and two boys (ages indeterminate, but I'm assuming most of them were in middle or high school).
Once the introductions were over, I was given notebook paper and a pen and told to write. That's the group rule: everyone writes, even the newbies. Some of the kids wrote poetry, some wrote short stories, or at the least the beginnings of what could become a short story. We went around the table saying what we like about each other's writing. The kids were often off-topic and silly, but they were also charming and endearing.
It was an interesting experience and one I look forward to repeating.