Wednesday, February 2, 2022

My First Writing Friend

Welcome to the first Wednesday of the month. You know what that means! It's time to let our insecurities hang out. Yep, it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group blog hop. If you're a writer at any stage of career, I highly recommend this blog hop as a way to connect with other writers for support, sympathy, ideas, and networking. If you're a reader, it's a great way to peek behind the curtain of a writing life.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

This month's optional question: Is there someone who supported or influenced you that perhaps isn't around anymore? Anyone you miss?

The awesome co-hosts for the February 2 posting of the IWSG are Joylene Nowell Butler, Jacqui Murray, Sandra Cox, and Lee Lowery!

I'm fifty years old. Generally speaking a person doesn't get to live this long and NOT lose some important people in their lives. I've run out of grandparents, though I am fortunate to still have both my parents. I've lost too many friends, uncles, cousins, dogs, and students (because really, any at all is too many). 

But when I consider this question in terms of my writing life, I instantly thought about Jean, my first writing friend that I met outside a classroom. Writing friends are different than other friends--there's a special connection that comes from that shared passion. 

Jean was a little bit older than me, how much exactly I'm not sure. I was twenty-two when I met her, having just moved to Kodiak, Alaska after my college graduation. 

When we became friends, Jean seemed like a real grownup to me, especially when I still felt like I was faking it. (I'm still faking it by the way--I can't believe people think I'm a real adult). 

I met her through the public library, which is, of course, a fantastic place to meet people--it's where the readers are! Jean put up a flyer on the bulletin board about a creative writing group she wanted to put together and I jumped at the chance. I was a poet, then, and craved the community and support I'd found in my creative writing program in college. 

I don't really remember that first meeting that well now, but I remember the feeling of all our long, rambling conversations about everything under the sun. I remember how much and how widely she read, and how strong and sure she was in her opinions. She didn't shave her legs and felt like happiness was more important than being skinny, and I longed to care less what people thought and to do what I felt good about like her. (I'm almost there, thirty years later). 

I remember her warmth most of all, her absolute faith in all of us in that little writing group she created. She just knew we had the ability to create work worth reading, and she made sure we knew it, too. 

It would have been easy to let writing slip away in those years, to write it off as a plaything from my youth, and funnel all my energy into my job. But my relationship with Jean kept writing central to my life, both for my own self-expression and in my ambitions for publication and finding readers. 

Submitting my work to poetry magazines back then meant printing out copies of my poems and mailing them in envelopes with stamped-self-addressed envelopes folded inside so that the journal could respond without cost to them. 

We spent weekend afternoons and late evenings together perusing Poets and Writers Magazine and Writers Market books from our library and goading each other to submit our words for consideration. 

She'd point out a market and tell me that I should send that poem about fog to this one, or ask me if I'd considered expanding that essay about the pillboxes at Fort Ambercrombie because maybe We Alaskans would like it. (She was right--they did! It was my first post-college publication). 

Her own poetry had such range. Funny sometimes. Sardonic. Witty. Shades of Dorothy Parker. Other times enraged, sometimes sad and lyrical. But always always always with such beauty of language and such surprising insight and observation. 

I didn't keep up with her very well after I left Kodiak. I'm really a terrible friend in that way--I always get so swept up in life where I am, that I don't send letters, make phone calls, or go back and visit often enough. But we'd touch base every so often over the years, sending news when one of us had a life change. We never met again in person, and I regret that. 

In her last years, Jean was fighting cancer, but when we talked on Facebook, it was still about the people we love (real and fictional) and the words we would write. 

I was lucky to find her. 

Sometimes when I'm talking about a life of words, I can still hear her laughing. 


  1. I'm so sorry for your loss. It sounds like Jean was a wonderful friend. I'm glad you have good memories to hold close.

  2. That's great how you and Jen were such great friends and supporters of each other's writing. It's too bad you didn't get to see each other again, but it sounds like you did stay in touch. Even if it wasn't as much as you would have liked, that's what's important.

  3. What different writing journeys we go on along the way to believing in ourselves. And what a difference it makes to have someone like Jean with you, supporting and critiquing.

  4. You wrote a great portrait of Jean. She was a person we all would have liked to have known.

  5. What a lovely tribute to your friend. As far as regrets for not keeping in touch regularly, sometimes people only come into our lives for a season or two, but the seeds they plant stay with us for a lifetime. You will always have the fruit of your friendship.

  6. Jean sounds like the perfect writing friend. I loved reading about her. Happy IWSG day.

  7. I loved this piece - thank you for sharing.

  8. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story of Jean. She sounded wonderful. See, this story made me cry. I couldn't write about my mentors but I loved hearing about yours.

  9. That is a fabulous tribute to your friend. She set out to encourage people, and she succeeded! A toast to her!