NWB (The Group Formerly Known as NWC) Epistle #1


Resources for writing, including a Webster’s unabridged dictionary from 1937.

Ladies, we have discovered ourselves. We thought we were a club. And we are, but turns out ours is not just your usual club for lost souls, but is in fact a gathering in the bardo. Is this a step forward or backward? I think it’s neither – more like a clarification of purpose.

As an introvert, I have rarely been comfortable in group settings, so this is one of the few clubs I’ve felt at ease being a part of. I don’t want to knock clubs – I have been in a few book clubs and have found them rewarding, a great opportunity to read things I may never have found on my own, and to learn from different perspectives. We ourselves have been a book club, during times when writing took a back seat (mostly my fault I know, during my year-long hiatus), and we’ve read some wonderful books, the most memorable for me being “How to Be Both” by Ali Smith. A book that not only sparked amazing conversation about the story, but about how to approach writing from wildly novel angles. Even when we weren’t writing together, we were talking about writing.

Coinciding with this realization of our dwelling in the bardo, we’ve once again committed ourselves to writing, following the advice of a variety of books and writing friends that recommend you sit down and just write, no matter what it is, every day. We’re holding each other accountable, and after a bit of catching up each week, we write for one solid hour together. We don’t usually discuss what we write, we just write.

Last week, I didn’t have a topic already in mind (well, I could have worked on my sweater story, but was so tired from not sleeping the night before I didn’t have it in me), so my writing meandered aimlessly from things I ate last week (veggies, peanut butter) to the group of nearby firemen (whose hotness later inspired one of us – not saying who – to contemplate heading home to set something on fire), to puzzling over why the old “popcorn” ceilings I grew up with had sparkles in them and how much poison I likely absorbed from that bizarre confection. Not a productive session in many senses, but at least I was writing. And hey, I just used some of that writing…

Of course, we also discuss the art of writing and how we might learn its mysteries. I bring this up because yesterday I unearthed from a neglected corner of my room a book on writing I had picked up not long before my hiatus, whose covers I had never cracked:  “The Writer’s Portable Mentor” by Priscilla Long. I don’t recall where I heard of it, but I remember it was very well reviewed and recommended. Finding it again felt like one of those messages we get from the universe, if we’re paying attention.

After blowing the dust off of it, I started wading into it. Just reading the first chapter, my mind was already starting to race in a million directions, so I’m slowing it down a bit. I’m only going to focus at the moment on her advice to develop your own lexicon. This list can be words you like (“treacly”), words to replace words you use too often (“ruminations” instead of “thoughts”) or words specific to places & times that you inhabit (popcorn ceilings). You can also go out and catalog things you see, like types of plants and birds, or words related to a topic of interest (for example, plant-based dyes). Your lexicon becomes a resource for becoming a better, more descriptive writer.

Oh, and did I mention just plain reading the dictionary? In “The Way of the Writer,” Charles Johnson recommends reading the whole thing, a task he’s completed. Why didn’t I know, in my book-devouring youth, that lexicographer was an actual job? That’s part of how I ended up in this in-between place, I was too afraid to trust my inner voice and deepest passions.

I guess it’s better late than never, right? Abasia: inability to walk properly due to lack of coordination of the leg muscles. Wait, what happened to aardvark? Had they not yet been discovered?

Perhaps having our own lexicon is just one of the pieces we need to come out the other side of the bardo, transformed into our final state. Meanwhile, we can continue to give sustenance to each other, through laughter, ruminations, poetry, bawdy stories, reminiscences (including 70s television shows), grimaces over treacly (ha!) music at the cafe, discussing books we’ve read or have just added to the pile, sharing our writing attempts, and whatever else we can to bolster ourselves during times both good and bad. If that sounds like marriage, well, we’re not neurotic wives for nothing.


3 thoughts on “NWB (The Group Formerly Known as NWC) Epistle #1

  1. Jeanie, thanks so much for this post. I was wondering how long we’ve been at this–three years? five years? I remember our first book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (which was picked by SWATACG , or She Who Assumes The Alias Chemical Ginger). The movie came out some months after we read it, which was 2011–so it’s been at least six years! Time flies when you’re having your soul nourished.

    (By the way, that author’s next book was a fantasy novel, of all things–should we consider it? I’d think she’d have some interesting twist on the genre.)

    I think your strategy of lexicon and dictionary is inspired. You sometimes berate yourself for being too linear. But it makes sense for you to collect words; it’s like you want to make a mosaic you can’t imagine, but in gathering and sorting stones and tiles for it, you’ll find slots for them in the mesh of your imagination, and some luminous image will emerge. (As it so often does, like the leaf-sprout shadows on windblown sheets.) Your highly organized mind is large part of what makes your voice so lucid, so why fight it?

    CG and I would probably agree that you’re our bard of the Bardo. Your struggles and growth over the last three years show us that our neurotic state is transitory. I think we just needed George Saunders to name it for us, which is a powerful thing. Naming gives you a handle on something, like how a cavedweller put a handle on a sharp stone, and got an axe. (Oh, and what a great NWB field trip that was–sushi pigout, and Saunders at Town Hall! Maybe we should plan something special for our 10th?)

    Finally, if you’re not saying which of us wanted her Hibachi hosed, I won’t either.


  2. Thanks Ed! Such a fantastic reply, so much to address! Six years – damn. How do we slow this train down? Not enough time for all our explorations and mental meanderings. Our 10th would be 2021…that sounds like a plan. 😉

    Love the idea of the lexicon as forming a mosaic. It may be the most non-linear thing about me, how much I love words. I do hope someday I see them come together in a luminous image, but it’s fun to collect them in the meantime.

    Not sure if I’m the bard, but since I’m the only one of us with a blog (HINT), perhaps I just get to assume that role right now. What then are your & CG’s roles?

    Hibachi cone of silence…


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