How did I read it so wrong?

I’m doing battle with hurt feelings, the feelings I get when someone whom I thought shared my experience of pleasure and goodness in time spent together, does not.

My favourite and much-loved writing group is folding, because there are some who are not getting as much satisfaction out of meeting as in the past.

I had no idea they were dissatisfied but when I reflect on it, I can understand that we spend a good deal of time catching up on how each of us is faring in the world and not so much time on writing exercises and the like.

Groups can slip into sloppy ways.

As far as I can understand, the groups that survive tend to be those that are task focussed, groups that continue to spend the bulk of their time together working on a shared preoccupation, whether we’re talking walking groups, theatrical groups, or writing groups.

As long as the focus stays on the shared interest, such groups tend to survive.

But we can get lazy and enjoy the camaraderie of friendship too much and then spend a good deal of time nattering.

We natter about our writing lives and that’s fine, but it should not become the focus of our time together.

But it has.

So, even as I recognise that the others, or at least a couple of the other writers, aren’t happy with the way things are going and they want change – not a total dissolution, they say, but a different approach with the emphasis once more on the act of writing – I still feel a sting.

I’m trying not to take it personally.

Perhaps because it came as a shock to me, a surprise at least, the degree to which the lynch pin of our group is unhappy with the way we’re meeting that hurts most of all.

It’s a residue of my way of operating on the world. A familiar feeling that I thought I’d grown beyond.

It’s that point of rupture that can happen within groups or between couples when one realises, seemingly out of nowhere, that the other doesn’t share your feelings about the relationship.

I should have seen it coming, some part of me says, I should have known this was the case.

The idea that it came from nowhere, that this friend was sitting there harbouring such dissatisfaction and I didn’t see, leaves me in a state of disbelief. Like I’ve been fooled into complacency only to have the rug pulled out from underneath.

Like one person within a committed couple – and anecdotally it seems it’s more often a man – is devastated when he realises for the first time that his partner is unhappy and wants to leave.

It comes as such a shock. He had no idea. He was busy getting on with what he considered to be his role: bringing in the bread and butter, performing his fatherly duty with the kids, out in the morning back home at night, only to discover that day after day while he was away, his partner– who might also have gone out to earn some bread (though her job paid less, so there’s no butter), but still she’s out to work and trying hard both to earn that living and also to keep the household together, to fetch after the kids and so on with the resentment building up in her day after day to explosion point – wants to leave.

He’s totally bewildered.

Why did she go?

I was away recently at a Freefall writing class. Agonising over arguments with the facilitator about what I sense to be her pressure ‘to show’ more through dialogue and ‘to tell’ less.

She reckons I have a tendency to tell and that I can get lulled by the thoughts in my own head.

It’s not the first time, I’ve been told this. I need somehow to get outside of my head and try harder to imagine and to demonstrate through my writing what might go on in the heads of others.

I can describe their outward appearance, but I need to have them saying things, things I might well need to imagine, given I can’t remember the words real people have said.

That’s okay. I’m happy to make up words but I prefer to make up my own words because they’re closer to home. They’re safer. More authentic.


On the train home one night late from school after umpire practice, a stranger began a conversation with me.

‘You talk too fast, he said. He had been eavesdropping on a conversation between me and my sister. A nondescript man, in dark suit, white shirt and tie.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, and my words held multiple meanings.

An apology, a sarcastic response and a request for clarity.

‘Just listen to you,’ the man said. ‘One hundred words to the minute.’

We reached our station and left the train, my ears smarting from the slap of his words. What did he mean?

My sister was not troubled. Maybe she agreed with him. I did not ask.

When we reached home, I slung my school bag across the floor to my bedroom door and walked past the lounge room to get to the kitchen and a snack before dinner. My father sat in his usual place by the window and my mother opposite. He had not yet started to drink, or if he had, he had not yet drunk enough brandy to turn him from a quiet man into the raving raging lunatic he often times became.

‘A man on the train said I talk too fast,’ I said to my mother. I said it in the form of a question with a rising inflection: Do you agree? what do you think? I directed it towards my mother, but my father responded.

‘Just like a schizophrenic,’ he said, and my mind did cartwheels.

I knew this word from movies where people were sent off to tumbled down blue stone mansions in the middle of some bleak countryside and left there because no one else knew how to handle this condition called schizophrenia, which struck me as a fancy name for mad.

Was I mad? What was mad?

I didn’t feel mad, not crazy mad but I was angry at my dad for making things worse. For muddling me even more.

I could not see myself through the eyes of others and this man on the train had set me thinking, as I am thinking now, about my beloved writing group.

How could I have read it so wrong?

10 thoughts on “How did I read it so wrong?”

  1. How easily our world is shattered by one word or a passing comment. One person, a person who should have little or no influence in our life, has a thought and it becomes the gallows of our self-esteem.
    I have joined groups seemingly over a common interest only to find what most of us were really looking for was a personal connection. The one group that stuck to (stiflingly strict) guidelines became horrendous for me, no matter how important the main focus was. I had to leave. To this day I wonder about those that continued for years, with smiles on their faces.
    By the way, you don’t. Talk too fast that is.

    1. I’m glad you at least reckon I don’t talk too fast, Karen. As for our sensibilities, and tendency to be shattered so easily and unexpectedly, I agree. we are all fragile when it comes to feeling hurt, though some are more thin skinned than others. I try to find a mid way point where I recognise the sting without taking it too much to heart.Thanks, Karen.

  2. Good luck with human relations — I mean, your writers group.

    And insensitive remarks — they sure can linger! I just read a 2 page poem the core of which was a teacher’s insensitive remark the grown up poet remembers vividly decades later.

    I make no claim at being immune to such hurts!

  3. My first marriage broke up something like thirty-six years ago. Once I could’ve not only told you the date but the time to the very minute. Now I’m not even sure which month it was. A few weeks before the actual parting of the ways my wife said she thought we should separate and I have never been so gobsmacked by any revelation since. I never had a clue. Not even the tiniest bit of a clue. I sensed no unhappiness or dissatisfaction or disgruntlement. To this day I’ve no idea how long it’d been brewing but I remember clearly when she filed for divorce and the things she said about me. Could that be how she genuinely saw me? It was an eye-opener I can tell you. In the years that followed however I did start to notice a pattern developing and for all I think of myself as a thoughtful and caring person the one thing I’ve had to acknowledge is I spend too much time in my own head. I really don’t see things as clearly as I should because I’m constantly distracted. “I don’t know what I want but I know I don’t want you,” was what my wife said to me and that still stings all these years on. Everyone was shocked at the news. I remember one person saying he’d thought on us as Victoria and Albert and I remember being a bit offended by at the time but I’m sure no offense was intended. No one else saw it coming either it seems. Every few years growing up my daughter would ask me why we’d broken up and I did my best to explain things as I understood them although God alone knows what her mother told her. One day the question changed: “What were you and Mum ever doing together?” It’s a much better question and one I found increasingly hard to answer. We’ve grown into such different people.

    I’ve never spent much time in the company of other writers and what little I have hasn’t been very worthwhile. If I never talked to another writer bar my wife I’d been just fine with that.

    1. So sad, Jim, that you had no clue about your wife’s distress or only the tiniest inkling. That would have to be one of life’s most painful moments, worse than just hearing about people’s dissatisfactions within a group. At least in a group more than one person shares the pain. And the consequences are not so great, at least not as a rule. Losing a partner rates as one of life’s great miseries, at least in my book. Thanks, Jim.

  4. I’m loving reading the comments here, but I’m so sorry that you’ve had this experience. It made me wince — not because I’ve experienced it exactly, but more because I know that feeling. I hate that feeling, the foolishness thing, the denial thing — like you’ve been blind or something. I hope you can put it behind you, though, and not take it too personally. Or acknowledge the sting, muck around in it for a bit and then form another group.

    1. I’m fast moving beyond the sting, Elizabeth. And you’re right, it’s the denial part that gets to me most, the degree to which I had no clue. Blindsided by the fact that others did not experience the group as I did. Anyhow, life goes on and fortunately I belong to a couple of other writing groups so I’m not completely bereft. Thanks, Elizabeth

  5. Hi Lis!
    I’m trying to remember why I left the writing group that we once attended together.
    It was terrific for a while and I enjoyed it, but think my writing and life became too busy. You were always one of the best things about it! Looking back I think I felt as if I was spending too much time on my crits without getting enough in return from everybody (you always took my writing seriously and thank you) and it was hard to justify the time. That makes me sound so selfish!


    1. I think the writing group you were part of folded, Alison, at least as part of the CAE and then we began to meet regularly- those who remained -as the Tuesday Writers. That group still meet but I left several years ago in order to care for grandkids on Tuesdays. People leave writing groups for all manner of reasons, usually something else takes priority. This ending one came as a surprise to me, that’s my issue but I’m getting used to it. Thanks, Alison. Lovely to see you here.

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