Willamette Writers In Waiting

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September 8, 2011 by David Gillaspie

A Really Old Church

The first Tuesday of the month finds a gathering inside Portland, Oregon’s Old Church.

These people aren’t spiritual fanatics any more than they are secular lunatics.

If they are, at least Tuesdays’ group is non-denominational.

These are writers, friends of writers, people thinking about writing, you know, smart people. They have writing in common and meet to learn more from the monthly presentation.

Tuesday night speakers are in the writing life. One woman wrote a play, a musical, and brought two guitars to sing her offerings of the night. She didn’t bring two ordinary guitars; one was an acoustic Martin, the other an electric Gibson.

From these beautiful instruments her musical snaked through the audience giving everyone an unexpected squeeze. 

A local legal writer did his hour one Tuesday and retired to the book signing table in the next room. A blogger from the audience asked if the author had a blog.

“No,” famous author said, “I have a web page.”

“Well,” blogger said, “have you ever had a thousand hits in one day, because that’s what I got today. Probably more.”

The author was a nice man, and said in a nice way, “I get about a thousand hits every half hour. Would you like to buy a book for me to sign or talk about blog numbers some more?”

“A thousand every half hour. Wow. How about your international audience? Do you get foreign languages in your comments?”

“Languages I’ve never seen or heard. Okay, then? Next.”

“It always amazes me they read in English and comment in their native hand. I’m thinking multi-lingual spam.”

“Probably. It’s a mystery.”

“And you’re the man to solve it.”

“Thank you for coming by. You’re holding up the line.”

Last night the President of Willamette Writers took the stage. Cynthia Whitcomb drew a packed house who hung on every word.

(You can tell when the audience listens by the sort of questions they ask at the end. And no one left early.)

She talked about breaking into the writing business, about how it felt when she knew she’d done it.

She talked about the wall between selling a story that gets you in the door, and writing all the other stories that bounced off the wall.

She said it in a way that tranced the room, or at least my part of the bench.

Her pace and delivery sounded like the “I have a dream…” speech. Her insistence felt like the “Ask not what your country can do for you…” speech.

There’s a reason Cynthia Whitcomb teaches writing classes, just like there’s a reason she doesn’t speak at each Willamette Writers meeting.

Her classes are a view into a writing club you won’t see anywhere else but Portland. Local writers with national pull are her friends. They become friends to her classes through the stories she shares. 

During her presentation Ms Whitcomb shared new stories, adding deeper context to her writing experience. She is a woman of the sixties and seventies who heard a calling. You hear it echo in the streets after the meeting.

The Old Church may not be St. Paul’s or St. Peter’s, but the voice that called for action last night came from someone whose life resulted from believing in those actions. 

When Cynthia asked for an “Amen”, one woman threw her hands in the air and called it out.

She spoke for the room.

Can anyone follow her talk the rest of the year?

No, they can’t.

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