Pen Friends (by Shauna Leishman) March 2019

Last night, my newly six-year-old friend, who is fast becoming the most profound person I know, said to me “you want to know how it feels to write a book?  I can tell you what it feels like, writing a book“.   “Sure“, I said, having always skirted around the subject, writing here and there but never a book.  She had just exhibited her growing adeptness with words on a magic scribble pad, letters disappearing almost as fast as they were written in a careful, even script – “I am God” (meaning to say ‘good’), “I lik soop“, “I luv yoo“.   She says “Writing a book feels… Hot … sweaty … and annoying, yes, it’s annoying.”  My jaw dropped in wonder as I sense that she has nailed it once again.

I had just taken her to her weekly swim lesson where I’ve sat alone for over a year now, never chatting with other mothers or scrolling on my phone. Watching her frolic in the waves each week, watching her learning to navigate her beginning journey through life with a purity which takes my breath away.  She deals with loss, betrayal, mommy being mean, friendship ups and downs, sibling wars, love of her dolls and cat, and enjoyment of parks and beauty and music, just like anyone else.

Last week, sitting at poolside, my eyes fell on a beautiful skirt, unlike the usual gear of swim moms and dads, and with interesting boots underneath, on a new woman who I’d not seen before.  She was reading an orange – no, Tangerine – book. This being something I’ve been known to do (be seen in public reading a book), I asked her about the book and she eagerly started chatting with me and within maybe five sentences in, I mentioned being in a writing group and she told me she had written a book.  Impressed, I asked her about it and she showed me pictures of a children’s book with beautifully executed illustrations.  She said she was making more on her book, percentage wise, with self-publishing, than a well-known author she knows, who has a publisher and only makes 6% per book.   We had great fun chatting away, the children were completely ignored and the 30 minutes flew past in a flash.  This week, she brought me a copy of said book. Hardback, impressive, lots of writing, aimed at ages 4-8, and gave it to me inscribed.   Being a collector of beautiful, illustrated children’s books, I was delighted.   I invited her to go with me to my writer’s group that evening but she said she needed more warning, due to childcare issues and promised to try the following month.  And off I went, to finish my evening with that meeting which for me, has become a beacon of light in an increasingly mad world.

I read a newspaper daily, I Facebook, I encounter stories of travails on every side – health, financial, relationship breakdowns, untimely deaths – my 25-year-old daughter’s best friend is dying even at this moment and she is flying around the world to hopefully reach her before it’s too late for a goodbye.  I am jolted each week by some trauma in the news or in an encounter in my life.  Chaos rules, misunderstandings obfuscate, leadership is missing, technology runs everything, disintegrates or is hacked, constantly.  I dive into novels which takes me away – often into times and places that also seem to be a very difficult time to live in, where a murder or loss changes a life, even without technological complications (I love historical novels).  I make things with my hands, embroidery, knitting, cross stitching, sewing, while musing about life, meditating through the busy-ness of the hands while the mind is free and sometimes, listening to a podcast or the radio.  I watch TV and marvel at the stories and times shown there – the perfection of some series, turning away in revulsion from many, many more.   I’ve been going to a weekly writing group for some years – which has been running for at least 25 years – and have greatly enjoyed my time there but lately, since last summer, it seems to lurch from one distressing complication to another.  No longer is it a simple joy and every week, I wonder how much longer these lovely elderly ladies and one gentleman are going to be there.

I’ve curated my email inbox so that I rarely get spam or junk and mostly appreciate everything that comes through or quickly unsubscribe if I don’t.  I am sometimes distracted and don’t read the messages that come through from VRWG.  Recently had a laugh when, after neglecting to read the minutes of a meeting I’d missed, I discovered by chance, the dates of the regular First Monday of the Month meetings were being changed for a few months.  Upon inquiring of Marian, if what I was seeing was correct, she told me what the reason was and I thought about how all those who don’t read the messages, who missed that crucial informational meeting – were going to be caught out for a time. Last week, I read the minutes of a management meeting which was held the week before the regular meeting.  And was suddenly struck by a joyous revelation.  Which was further followed up in the March meeting, which was the annual AGM, which yes, admit it, can be tedious to get through at the best of times.  But everything in life, I’ve found, that is worth something, has those detail duties that must be done and so it is, so it is done.

In these times of darkness and confusions and sheer stupidities almost constantly demonstrated by those in charge – VRWG is anything but.  It is done right.  It is administered with wisdom and sensitivity and conscientiousness.  It is growing ever larger because it offers a moment of connection, a sanity, a community of like-minded people who have one thing in common; they like to write.  We all tap keyboards or scribble.  We all know that pleasure that comes of bringing images, thoughts, stories, plucked out of nowhere and somewhere and being made manifest into something to share, to enjoy. Some of us even know the hot, sweatiness of writing a book. I know I will find mental stimulation, humour, kindness, thoughtfulness, friendly greetings, connecting chats, and even when leaders are missing, it comes together, it is run and done right. People say my name. It is organized and works right. It is a joy. And I’ll be forever grateful for having it in my life.

Shauna Leishman, 12th March 2019

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