For much of my life, I’ve found it hard to make friends. Its not a statement written to elicit sympathy, its a fact. University was a lonely time, the years following not much different. With my closest friends far from my door, loneliness was sometimes impossible to counter. I found myself shrinking, making a smaller version of myself to become more acceptable, more palatable, less me, since, in my mind, I must be the problem.
That all changed when I stepped into a glass fronted conference room in trendy Hackney last October. The venue was all show, no substance beneath its exposed pipe-work and hipster coffee, but the table, glass-topped and filled with books, was surrounded with comfy chairs ready for eager writers to sit and create.
To say I was merely nervous would be a lie, I was excited and incredibly anxious. I knew the next 6 Saturdays would be inspiring and helpful, instructive, but I couldn’t have guessed the profound effect it would have on my life.
Nine more women gradually filled up the table, took a seat self-consciously and prepped notebook and pen on the polished wood, and the conversation turned to books. As the weeks went on, we shared our work, sometimes with pencils and pens to edit or suggest, sometimes with party poppers and noise-makers celebrating triumphant sentences. Our laughter rose to the roof and strained the plate-glass windows, and gave the baby disco next door a run for their money.
When the last class rolled around, and we parted ways from the pub after lunch, we all knew it wasn’t the end of the story (and yes, that pun is very much intended). With a selection of dates scattered in diaries, we made promises to keep it up, to motivate each other when times were hard and celebrate when success called.
That was over a year ago, and we’ve managed it. Not only have we written, laughed and read more, but we have found something else: friendship. I wouldn’t have, couldn’t have imagined a year ago being a part of a group of such incredible and inspiring women and having the privilege to call them my friends. Having a community (a creative collective, as one member so perfectly put it) not only helps with the practical aspects of being a writer, but lifts you up and keeps you going, keeps you writing and inventing and staring into space following white rabbits.
They do not see me as small, or quiet, or nervous because with them these shrouds disappear. With them, the loud and happy girl who shrank like Alice through school and university, through depression and fear, recognises herself again. Each time I sit with them, as we eat cake and discuss books and writing, I grow. Little by little, these women, these writing Grrrls, these creative companions give me back my confidence and zest for life; they chase away the anxious demons that whisper in my ears and keep me from being the woman I know I am, not the woman who has become so tiny that people don’t see her at all; they call me friend and my heart sings, breath courses through me and I know I can continue, both with writing, and with life.
To all the Grrrls, and to the woman who brought us together too, thank you, from the farthest reaches of my mind and soul, thank you for seeing me, for accepting me, for being my friend and for being such incredible inspirations in everything I do.
Long may we continue.