When I arrive at the building a few blocks from my downtown bus stop, I punch in the code that unlocks the door (unless it has changed: then I push the intercom button and wait for someone to greet me.) I hold onto the handrail as I walk up twelve dark and dusty stars that open onto a large space of cubicles. There must be forty or fifty staff in cubicles upstairs. These staff help the young adults find housing resources, jobs, and so forth. A therapist has the office with a closed door three doors down on the left.
We gather in a conference room if the noise from outdoor construction isn’t too loud, and the leader reminds the group of the writing group’s purpose (to speak from the heart) and guidelines (to keep all members emotionally and physically safe).
Members of this group have always been smart and thoughtful. They live on the streets for some trauma they’ve experienced, not because they’re stupid. (They’re survivors.) At the point that they come to writers’ group, many of them live in the shelter at the back of this room, a place where they have a little privacy and can leave their things during the day. (They can’t be in the shelter during the day. For the rest of the day, many of them are starting jobs or spend time with the therapist, other programs, and resting, texting, or socializing in the day center.) They always have a free breakfast, usually cold cereal but last week scrambled eggs, strawberries, and pancakes.
To respect their privacy and the group’s confidentiality, I won’t say more about them, but I will share a little of my own story with them.
After my brain tumors and then graduating with a Masters from the University of Washington’s School of Social Work, I have been seeking ways to use my skills and experiences within the parameters of respecting my own disabilities to help others who struggle. Two years ago, I went to a Pongo http://www.pongoteenwriting.org workshop where leaders shared a method of writing poetry with teenagers in the juvenile detention center. I loved Pongo’s approach and wished I had known about it when I was teaching. This spring, through Pongo, I learned about the need for a mentor with this writing group for young homeless adults.
This volunteer job allows me to connect with young adults who write and with the mentors, and I feel like a group member who benefits as well as helps to lead. One thing I love about writing is that I am often surprised by what comes out of me, and so I learn about a self often so far below the surface that I don’t know them (not a grammatical error, but a semantic gender choice for this self.)
For the first six weeks, I said little and never led, but now I sometimes share my writing and lead once a month. I get my ideas from themes for leading from the writers, though the group’s membership may change from week to week, as writers find housing and jobs.
One week, I led with Sandra Cisneros’s “My Name” from The House on Mango Street. We discussed the passage briefly and then I offered several prompts, for a 10-15 minute write. Here’s a prompt: