No, this street photo by the artist Marie-Louise Gay is not upside down. Strangely enough, she took it in Havana, close to the Callejon Hamel, an alley in the Havana Centro barrio completely taken over by mad visual artists and people eager to escort you to the far side of the spirit world — and possibly leave you there, to your own devices.
Which makes me think of writers’ groups. Many of us belong to them, but just how can you use your group to your own best advantage? Obviously, the group that decides to come together out of the members’ own free will is better than the workshop formed by random chance. Makes sense, right? But it’s not always true. Good groups are not led with a heavy hand, whether a particularly aggressive member or a group leader (a writer like me, for instance, in a Quebec Writers’ Federation workshop). And, of course, you have to give to get. Thinking of joining a group? You should have a definite project on the go, something you need help with, something to offer the other members. The more specific your needs, the better the experience.
And you have to expect the unexpected. I believe in the “stone in your shoe” phenomenon. Why does my neck ache? There’s nothing wrong with my neck, or my back — it’s the stone in my shoe that’s throwing off my whole body. Sometimes the problem is not where you think it is. A good group will help you see that.
I used to be a very superstitious writer. I was afraid that if I talked about a project I was working on, it would disappear into thin air. So I kept my mouth shut and worked away in obscurity. Not necessarily the best way, it turns out. At various times during the writing project, I’ve discovered that consulation with trusted people can be a Godsend. Of course, you have to have those people you trust, and not just yes-men or yes-women. Receiving heaps of praise is no way to make progress. Lately I made a long trip just to see a psychiatrist friend (but not my analyst!) with whom I often speak of important things. I wanted to discuss my upcoming project. I thought that the project was situated in one place; I had started sketching out the plot lines, the characters, the whole mechanism. Talking with him, I came around to remembering a dream I had in 1992 that actually held the key to the project.
Talking it out saved me from a false start. So much for my old superstition!