In my life I've participated in and belonged to a number of situations that should have provided peers but somehow I've failed to create relationships that support this part of my life. Yesterday I told the last member of a so-called "writing group" that I found his reading 1/3 of a play I've written and commenting that it didn't work not a constructive criticism. His response was that it was what he felt so he should say it. It was a painful conversation. Painful for me because I have to accept I'm not in any sort of community that supports my writing. It is a lonely place and the rest of my world is not.
Of course writers don't really have coherent support structures. We seldom collaborate and unless you are studying writing it's pretty rare to sit down with anyone to discuss something in progress. That has been the true joy of publishing. When you have an editor, you gain a collaborator, someone who shares your vision and who is willing to actively enter a world you've created and helps you make it better. That's why I really welcome criticism, even the harsh stuff. Good criticism is inspiring and always makes me feel that I exist. I have never felt myself to be safely anywhere as a writer. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe we need to remain slightly on edge as writers so we don't fall in love with the sound of our own voices. Still, I get tired sometimes. I want to be allowed into the room so I can improve, so I can grow and change.
On a slightly different note, I reconnected via google search with my first college roommate. We shared a strange apartment, strange because as a freshman at Rutgers I blackmailed my parents with the free tuition. I demanded a trip to Ireland for the summer (which I helped pay for), a car (my parents VW beetle) and an apartment. My Dad went and rented this place in a sort of singles complex called Joyce Kilmer Village. I had AC, a dishwasher and no furniture. It was big, two bedroom and I think I had my own bathroom. People didn't live like that in college. So, Lisa turns up. She's as different from me as anyone can be. A year older, completely princessy and makeup and NEVER cooked and fingernails etc. I'm like this stone cold hippie chick, hair down to my ass, roll out of bed, go to class. Somehow we get along and the fun begins. My crazy Jewish boyfriend, her crazy non-Jewish boyfriend. My parents not liking boyfriend because he's an idiot and wants to marry me, her parents not liking boyfriend because he isn't Jewish. We have sex constantly, she won't sleep with her boyfriend who works at a florist and brings flowers EVERYDAY.
Anyway, I found her because she started a foundation for her son who died of Leukemia at twelve. I hoped it was someone else but his face was her face. I was so, so sorry. I sent a brief e-mail and we started to talk. She just read my book and said it felt like I was in her body. A beautiful sentence-"Having a dead child is the loneliest thing in the world." She said she wondered if this was why we were roommates all those years ago. High praise, amazing praise. I need to see things more clearly. We will have lunch in three days in New Brunswick where it all began.