88: My Ohio Friends

88: My Ohio Friends

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

My Ohio Friends

The language of friendship is not words but meanings.

~Henry David Thoreau

It was a humid July morning and I was somewhere in the middle of Ohio. I had left Connecticut questioning my judgment in signing up for the Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Back in March I’d eagerly signed up for this conference where there’d be nothing else to do but focus on my writing. Now it seemed audacious to think I could stand alongside these confident writers. I wanted to stay in my boxed-in room at the Days Inn. Instead I got in the car, looked at a map, took a breath and headed for the conference.

That first morning, back roads led me by fields of swaying corn, like gentle arms pointing me in the right direction. Down a long hill, then up another, and quite suddenly I was in an oasis of thick oak trees. Though lush and green, it didn’t keep me from feeling as if I was still the little girl entering fifth grade midyear. I even think my hands were shaking.

Our conference was held in the forest preserve of Glen Helen, where a bike and walking path allowed for an easy stroll into town. The morning consisted of four lectures on various forms of writing as well as a three-hour workshop in the afternoon. One could sign up, with about twenty others, for lunch with one of the lecturers, an opportunity for some casual time with a writer of merit. Timidly I wrote my name down, though what I would say to an accomplished writer eluded me. I started off by myself into town.

“What do you write?” A voice on my right startled me.

“Fiction,” I blurted out, though the truth was I’d never written fiction before. This conference was a testing ground for my first story. Saying the word, though, ever so slightly empowered me.

“What about you?” I inquired.

“Young adult. Well, I try. It’s something I’ve been working on.” She laughed. “I’m Pam, who are you lunching with?”

And just like that we began nonstop chatter about writing.

Me: “How long have you been writing?”

Pam: “Forever.”

“Are you taking a workshop?”

“How many words are you turning in?”

“I was fascinated with the lecture on poetry this morning.”

“Oh, didn’t you love the one about avoiding writing? How great to hear that.”

“Do you talk out loud when you write dialog?”

“How did you know? My family thinks I’m crazy.”

No talk of last names, no “where are you from?” or “what do you do for a living?” No husband or children talk. This was all about something we couldn’t really speak about to anyone else. There’s such joy in being able to share an energy that usually takes place in solitude. This person I’d only met four minutes ago knew instinctively the fears and aspirations I thought only I harbored. And off we went to lunch.

Pam is a woman at ease with the earth. Her close-cropped sun blond hair, shorts and sleeveless shirts, and tanned arms spoke of days spent outdoors. Her story, an intricate thriller, made me want to shout out, “What’s next?”

Yellow Springs is a village of shops, galleries, and more than one bookstore. Wildflowers seemed to be everywhere. After lunch Pam and I walked the small streets with dripping ice cream cones. We also ended up walking back to Glen Helen with two other women.

“I dread reading my work out loud today.” That was Mary, still in her twenties with an open, inviting smile. We discovered we were in the same workshop.

“We’ll sit on either side of you, not to worry.” That was Ann, also in our workshop, neatly pulled together, so proper looking, but with quick humor and lofty, dark writing.

Twenty-four hours after landing in this serene little town, the four of us went for burgers where a sign outside the restaurant proclaimed: “Every Visit Is Special.” By now I’d heard Mary’s story of a burdened immigrant family and Ann’s of a dark, stormy love. Writing is personal. We share reluctantly and with misgivings. Handing over our private thoughts is a decisive move. Though that’s what the four of us did that evening. We began to reveal our creativity and in doing so we solidified our friendship.

We continued each day as we sat on the steps at Glen Helen with coffee in the morning. We did it with a reassuring hand on an arm when we read our stories out loud for others. We did it with a deliberate voice when commenting on each other’s writing. We did it, here in this special village, at this conference of like-minded people, together for only a week, forging friendships to last much longer.

We have a little online chat room now where we join up for an hour or so every few weeks. It’s been going on for years. We start with talk of families and eventually end up speaking about our writing. We read each other’s work and we’re honest in our critique. We encourage, offer suggestions, and in between make jokes unique to us. When we sign off, we know we’ve been someplace special, as only good friends can understand.

I look back on my first day of the conference but I don’t regret my apprehension. I learned from it. Dare to step out of your comfort zone. Fly off to Dayton, Ohio or wherever. Take a chance and seek out others whose interests are yours. Look what happened to me. Here’s to my Ohio friends.

~Priscilla Whitley

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners