Community

 Rob O’Flanagan/GuelphToday

My city, 9 a.m., downtown. A grey and cool holiday Monday. Pigeons crowded on a mansard roof like commuters waiting for a train. Empty sidewalk patios. A few people, out for breakfast or coffee.

My destination is the usual: The Red Brick Café. I’m here to write, but also to meet two friends, fellow writers. We’ll write in more-or-less creative solitude for three hours, and then we’ll have lunch together. A pre-COVID ritual we’ve started again.

The Monday morning writing group began a number of years ago; I joined when we moved back to the city. Time and circumstances mean people come and go, and COVID shut it down completely. But it was a way to begin the week, to focus back on writing, and, at least as importantly, to be in the company of other writers.

We’ve always been an eclectic group, writing across genres; writing for publication, traditional or indie; writing for personal exploration or enjoyment. Not everyone came for lunch every week, but the conversation has always been wide-ranging: Aristotle’s Poetics, Lee Child, poetry, politics, film, television. What we’re reading. What we’re writing.

We are three quite different writers: one a thriller writer, wedded to the three-act structure, fast pacing, clear endings. One is a poet and mystery writer. I write – well, what I write, which is an ongoing saga of conflict and politics in an imagined world. It moves closer to literary fiction with each book. Sometimes we debate structure, style, various ‘rules’ for writing; we don’t always agree. The thriller writer wanted my latest published book to be far more of a classic thriller than it was, and to have a lot less introspection. Good discussion; it made me think about all the possible ways a story could be written, how changing the focus changes the story. But in the end, I left the book the way I wanted it. But it influenced the one I’ve just finished.

Our small Monday morning group is only one intersection in the network of writing supports in my city, and for the most part they flow out from one non-profit organization dedicated to supporting writers. There are a multitude of events, meetings, casual Sunday afternoon get-togethers in cafes, Saturday nights in pubs. I participate in some regularly, a few occasionally, and others not at all. The overall sense, though, is one of respect for each other. We’re all writers, regardless of where we are in our development or interests or route to publication. And we have great conversations.

The sort of conversation social media just doesn’t support. Reasoned, sometimes argumentative, teasing, wide-ranging, following tangents, circling back, but without the binaries and snap judgements that dominate on just about every platform. We listen: not just to words, but to expression and body language and tone, understanding when someone can’t find quite the right words to say what they’re thinking. Something largely missing, and missed, during the months of isolation.

So here I am, writing at The Red Brick. (Where I set a short story recently.) Around me are other writers, one whom I just met on the weekend on the patio here; some are my friends, some aren’t (yet?). Other people are just having coffee, breakfast, talking, reading, working. There’s a real sense of community, even when we don’t know each other’s names.

My coffee cup is empty. Time for another, and a few conversations, no doubt, as I move between my table and the serving bar. How’s the work going? I’ll ask, or be asked. Will you be at….? Have you seen….? And in about 90 minutes, it’ll be lunch time. What will it be today? Aristotle? The Rings of Power? Stephen King’s newest? Or a heated debate on whether a villain has to get their comeuppance at the end of a book?  Whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it.

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