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Writers, Together

October 5, 2016

Writing is a solitary activity for most writers. It’s not a team sport. We don’t wear matching jerseys and go out for beers together after a good day of writing. (Some do start the day with beer, alone, before writing, but it is not recommended.) So the mere act of getting a bunch of writers together to do something they avoid doing most of the time is a heroic one.

Mary Greene is a heroic woman. She has led the Upper Delaware Writers Collective for over 20 years, written several books, edited numerous anthologies for the Collective, all while continuing to work on her craft, seek new experiences as a writer, raise a daughter alone and earn a living in a small community. And she lives in the woods.

The woods around Beaverbrook are her stomping grounds, as familiar to her as the streets of Greenwich Village are to me. Over the years she has seen acres of neighboring woods become second-homes for city-dwellers. Gun-shots are white noise in her neighborhood in certain seasons; bears go berry picking in her backyard. She stacks wood for her wood-stove, cans pickles and summer squash in late summer, if the bounty is willing. In spring, she starts seedlings indoors early enough to yield a harvest in the short Catskill growing season.

Last weekend, after a year’s hiatus leading the writers workshop, she gathered much of the old collective together for a retreat at her Beaverbrook Cottage. Another of her entrepreneurial endeavors, the spacious two-bedroom cottage is an added source of income and is usually booked solid during the summer and beyond.

Twelve women showed up for the all-day workshop that promised a walk in the woods, lunch and writing time. It delivered so much more.

Free-writing is always a gamble. There are times it unlocks a hidden door in the psyche and out pours poetry or thoughts you never knew you had. Other times it spews gobbledygook or verse worthy of a Hallmark card, making you wonder why you ever considered yourself a writer. Knowing this, Mary had asked each of us to bring an object from home that “spoke to us.” I knew at once I would bring the small, framed, black & white photograph of my grandfather and three of his eight siblings in uniforms of the Second World War. The photo captures a moment when four of them had serendipitously found themselves together in London during the war. (Their brother Martin was off in Africa, chasing Rommel through the desert and had missed the Continental photo-op.) My grand-aunts Margy and Nell are sporting their American Red Cross nurses uniforms and their coveted red lipstick, evident even through the black & white image.