This marathon took place at the Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project in Boston on Nov. 22, 2013. Our big group of eight turned out to be perfect for wandering and writing in the two large, gorgeous spaces we visited: Central Library and Trinity Church. It was a special marathon for me, since I got to write in a group with 1) my Marathon Guru, Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project Director Richard Louth, who invented the writing marathon, 2) my Marathon Mamma, Dakota Writing Project Director Michelle Rogge-Gannon, who took me on my first writing marathon ever back in 2006, and 3) Tom Pankiewicz, a long-time writing marathon fan and the former Director and founding Co-Director of the Prairie Lands Writing Project, my new NWP home. We were joined by several new writer friends who helped us find our way, both geographically and metaphorically.
Bates Hall Reading Room, Central Library, Copley Square, 10:47 a.m.
This is a Library from Story and Legend. Amazing contrast between where we were—the Boston Convention Center—and where we are now. The physical and mental shifts disrupts my usual presentation-day conference panic, bringing blessed refuge on a rainy day in Boston.
We’ve wandered into the Bates Hall Reading Room where the classic green lamps line up in comforting rows. Long wooden tables stretch out like pews underneath a soaring, vaulted ceiling. This stunning, hushed space is ruled by an unspoken covenant, pulling on the medieval authority of wood, stone, and brass.
Everyone here within my view has a laptop except for Richard and me, plus one lone woman three tables down, reading and writing notes and catching my weird marathon glance over her spectacles.
A security guard walks through, slowly, like a Zen meditation master.
I cannot ignore the signs before me, propped up in little plastic stands between the green lamps. “Be alert ,” they read in large, worried letters. “Please do not leave personal items unattended, even when photocopying, requesting materials, or making a phone call.”
Be alert, indeed.
Un-alert, we nearly left my writing marathon guru behind in the awful Sheraton lobby. We left a phone message with a rendezvous point and hoped for the best.
Nothing like a little snag to get the writing blood flowing, to make the unfolding of new space all the more magical when we emerged, all eight, together, into this Temple of Words, newly alert.
Alert and grateful. We would not be here without each other, in good and ambling company.
We would not be here now, glancing at our watches, alert to the deadline driving our writing toward our regroup-and-share time.
Oh, my dear group of writers, thank you for your patience and for your warm writer smiles, traded ever more silently as we moved deeper and deeper into the library’s heart.
Other groups had passed us earlier on the sidewalk, clogged briefly with writers emerging onto Boylston Street and heading to Copley Square. Before that, NWP friend Troy Hicks, had passed us in the corridor of the convention center, grinning and smiling. “Looks like a writing marathon,” he said. I could tell that he wanted to come, too, but was clearly off to some conference obligation.
“It’s ok, brother,” I thought. “We’ll write for you, too.”
Trinity Church, 11:15 a.m.
We’ve traded our tables for real pews now, having made our way to Trinity Church, an important stop we nearly missed. It had been so chilly in the damp but beautiful library courtyard that we’d been sorely tempted to take up Richard’s suggestion to sit by a warm fire and have a Guinness at the Irish pub just up the street. But Micha reminded us that we were a mere block away from the church, a historic landmark, and so we moved on toward it in the drizzle.
Another great reason why it’s good to be writing in a group. Yesterday at the plenary session, the new acting president of the National Writing Project said, “We know more collectively because we learn together.” She was talking about NWP, but it’s also true of writing marathons. We know more collectively because we write together. .
As we sit, more writers from other groups come into the church. They take their places a few pews ahead of us and begin to write. Writers at the back of the church.
There should always be writers at the back of a church. Just in case.
Alert. Waiting. Listening. Recording.
Pens poised like antennae to receive the signal,
transmute it through ink–
the Word of the World,
transcribed unto itself.
Note: After I wrote this, a concert started in the church. An all-female vocal ensemble called Lorelei performed, starting with a stunning piece that sounded like Gregorian Chant. Their voices filled the space in a way that left me so awe-struck and moved to tears that I could no longer write. It was a great gift, another testament to the magic of the writing marathon and the way it opens people to experience the world more fully and deeply so that they can share it through writing.