Once a month, we meet up for coffee. Usually, the cup of coffee extends to several and then often pushes over into lunch. Words spill. The rise and fall of voices. Steady flow of conversation. One of us throws out a sentence into the currents and the others slip into the stream of thought. We tread back and forth around politics, personal life, art, culture, gender, racism, and the focus point for all of it is our shared creative life. We are writers. Women writers. There is a strange magic that begins to run its course when you find your allies—in our case, creative allies. There is a spark. Incantations in cafes. Enchantment over paper cups.
This starts to sound like the plot of a silly modern fairy-tale. It isn’t. I can say this honestly and plainly. I don’t know where I would be without these two women. But, I know that I wouldn’t be writing.
One of them is twenty years my senior. Elegant. A cancer survivor. Married. Mother of two grown children. Beautifully transparent with her feelings and her life. She writes a little bit of everything, but mostly we’ve been working with her novel—a historical/contemporary fiction piece about women searching for their own strength and agency. The other is five years my junior. Stunning. A survivor of a lifetime of struggle. Married. Childless. Guarded until you know her. Her writing also spans genre, but her masterwork is a novel that defies definition with a character who defies the entire world she finds herself in. Me. Tattooed. Divorced. Single mom of three teenagers. Guarded in most ways forever, but open in occasional moments that pass through like weather. My writing right now is mainly focused on a novel about women and voice, violence and the body, sanity and silence.
We have different ages, ethnicities, statuses, tax brackets, zip codes, experiences, bodies, and daily routines.
When I am with them, I am able to sink into that part of myself that few people ever get to know. The dark thickets of my creativity. For every way we are not alike, there remains the common denominator that we are all females and creatives—identities that require more than just a little bit of magic to maintain.
We aren’t raised in a culture that values female friendships. Too often, women are pitted against one another in terms of their beauty, their sexuality, their success, their ability to appear “perfect” and desirable to the male gaze. Women’s primary role is seen as one in service to husbands, children, partners—so, therefore, friendships with other women become secondary at best. Then, as writers, there should be competitiveness and envy between us. I should secretly rally for their failure and my own success, jockeying in place to surpass their skills and publications. But, both of my writing friends had a book come out this past year—I didn’t. I was happy for them in a genuine way, knowing how hard they have worked, knowing that creative fortune favors the determined and they absolutely outdid me in their tenacity and resolve.
The paradigms about what women are like and what writers are like are completely fragmented by my relationship to these two people.
Magic is defined as “the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces…wonderful; exciting…to create, transform, move, etc., by or as if by magic.” The word is one I wouldn’t use lightly. The word is one I would use for what we do when the three of us get together. We create a safe container to allow inspiration in. There is a known, friendly, supportive audience awaiting the words I manage to scrape free from my self-doubt and the insecure edges of my consciousness. My words move and transform and take shape on the page because I can trust that two talented women will receive them for me.
Somewhere in the ritual of coffee cup and notebooks splayed open wide and pens rattling around the tabletop, I know we are influencing our own course of events. Writing is a solitary art. It lacks the swagger of music, the ability to take up tangible space like visual art, and the approachable presence of the stage. Writers are often wildly introverted, so the idea of sharing writing in process—half born and half formed—(and then having to speak about it) can seem like a nightmare. With them it is, instead, a gift.
When I completed my MFA in Creative Writing, words left me. I found myself completely silenced by the intensity of the experience I’d just had and the requirements to work under such restrictive time constraints. My muse rebelled–decided to ditch me and my outlines and run off to Hawaii to drink rum and weave red blossoms into its hair while befriending tropical birds. I couldn’t blame my creative voice for skipping out, but it was painful. I could still occasionally chisel an essay or a poem from the stone block I was living with, but fiction, my wild-eyed sidekick, my first love, had left me.
My notebooks filled with heavy black lines, crossing out whole universes. Voices rose in me then fell quiet like awkward guests at a party, drifting by the punch bowl with nothing to say and a thirst that could not be named. I doubted everything. Especially myself. I was certain that any skill or talent I may have had was spent on a thesis novel that sat like a stone on the page, unyielding. A dead thing. A dead end.
And, that may have been the end of the story right there. The MFA curse come true. Student loan debt. A powerfully transformative experience and then it was over. No promise of success. No clear path forward. But, then, two years into my creative exile, the three of us started meeting up in cafes and emailing our work to one another. Each of them had a longstanding novel in the works for us to begin with. I was untethered from my thesis and wanting to start something new. After a few false starts, I did.
Slowly, with the support and encouragement of these women, a new novel stitched itself together. While it did, my muse started to hear our conversations as she skinny-dipped beneath a bone-white moon. She noticed that I was recommitted to the work again once I agonized over and then scrapped almost two-thirds of the novel, but didn’t give up. I told my writing group members of my plans and they didn’t recoil in horror that I was going to cut so much–they agreed, offered support, and told me to keep going. I am, I told them. I will.
Those words magically brought my muse back to me. She came home not wanting to talk about her time of sea and sky, but watching patiently to see if I kept showing up for the work, even when it felt impossible. I did. I am. But, without our monthly meetings and the emails, texts, and calls, I can tell you in no uncertain terms, I wouldn’t be.
The cups of coffee cool on the table at the cafe. We have spent the morning discussing one another’s work and our next steps. I walk into our meetings with that low-level anxiety creative women know all too well–how dare I say that, how dare I share that, how dare I put that on the page or paint it or photograph it or sculpt it or sing it or let it out into the light? Who am I to take up so much space?
You’re one of us, my writing women tell me. That’s who.
Audience. Friendship. Support. Creative sisterhood.
Read us what you’ve got. We’ve been waiting to hear your work.
Words more magic than these may never be spoken.
Cathleen Delia Mulrooney
Restless. Sleepless. Book-lover. Wordsmith. Deep roots. Prodigal heart. Teacher. Guide. Wanderer. Witch. Tea, tarot, hot baths, stitchcraft. Curator of narrative relics, remnants, & curiosities.
Cat is also a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. Her poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared in a variety of online and print publications. She has been teaching writing at the college level since 2000, and has facilitated creative writing workshops in elementary schools, high schools, prisons, and private organizations, as well as workshops exclusively for women to write their body and tarot-based narratives.