by TWC Founder/Director Judith Lindbergh
Well, this was not exactly the festive 10th anniversary year we’d expected.
Yes, back in January 2020, The Writers Circle celebrated its 10th anniversary. We made a big deal, including a big celebratory party with hors d’oeuvres, live music, speeches, readings, and a cake with our logo sugar-printed on top.
Just a few weeks later, whisperings of a virus hit the news. By early March, we were warned to start disinfecting our locations. We bought Lysol wipes and cleaned doorknobs, tables, even floors. We were taking all the necessary precautions to keep our students safe.
Then things started really closing down.
I had been lucky that winter. A dear friend who lives abroad asked to join one of my classes. I’d enthusiastically agreed and bought a decent table camera and mike so we could use the free Zoom setup and have her “in the room” at St. George’s Church in Maplewood, NJ, every week. Little did I realize that the arrangement made me well-prepared for what came next.
I will never forget that Thursday, March 12, when I realized we had to do something and fast. The free Zoom license wasn’t going to be enough for more than twenty classes taught by almost twenty teachers, many classes held in different locations at the same time. So I did a crash course in small-business videoconferencing options while Michelle organized the number of licenses we’d need. We scheduled teacher trainings to make sure everyone knew how use the technology, then emailed instructions to all the students and parents in preparation for that Saturday when nine classes would run, three at a time, for kids and teens.
Then we held our breaths. And surprisingly, things went pretty smoothly.
We had no idea that March 14 was the beginning of ten long months and counting of teaching online. We came up with all kinds of new programs to keep the community going, starting with the awesome Book Doctors’ first-ever online Pitchapalooza in May, plus a whole round of short sessions and unique workshops, and more library and school events than we’d ever done before! We were suddenly able to invite special guests from afar, like the fantastic Jane Friedman who spoke to nearly 100 of us in October.
We discovered we could add teachers to our regular staff who lived in Brooklyn (yay, Kris Waldherr!), upstate New York (hugs, Libby Cudmore!), and Toronto (welcome, Lisa Levy!) Before COVID, we never would have attempted that.
And then there was the Summer Intensive. How we missed our annual three weeks on the beautiful campus of Drew University, playing Frisbee, holding classes in the sunshine, our massive gathering hall activities, and the bus trips to NYC and beyond. All of that, swept away by a virus that had transformed life as we knew it and left us all in perpetual familial contact and the stasis of waiting. How would we replace it with a virtual event that was anywhere near as fun?
But with the support and creativity of our wonderful instructors, staff, and interns (never underestimate the capability of smart, enthusiastic, talented teens!), we pulled off an Intensive that was as weird and wild as ever, including virtual tours to the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall, and art museums around the world.
Somehow The Writers Circle managed not just to survive but to grow. This fall, our in-house advertising team (me and my husband, voiceover actor Chip Davis) pulled together a little promo showing the expanded diameter of our writing community. “Now the whole world is part of our circle”–including students from Europe, Canada, and–yes–Tasmania!
And though we’re all itching to get out of our houses (and praying for our beloved host locations who are struggling to survive these endless days), we are grateful for the resilience of The Writers Circle’s community. So many of you have shared what our classes have meant to you: as something to look forward to, a chance to interact “face-to-face”, to laugh and be creative, to forget the loneliness of our daily existence, to encourage and keep one another moving forward with deadlines and assignments, goals set and achieved.
Writing is a blessing in so many ways, perhaps now more than ever. We have learned that it can sustain us through anything, even social isolation in the midst of a pandemic that has stopped much of life in its tracks. Writing can be done in solitude, but shared in community, even if through the Zoom-screen. And writing connects us, because it expresses our hearts and draws us together. Strangers have met online and learned to support, appreciate, and love one another, even if they’ve never actually met.
In fact, in Jill Smolowe’s Memoir Writers Circle this year, two students discovered a connection through writing that led to something much more – a marriage proposal! In the midst of the pandemic, true love was born right here at TWC.
So, at the end of the hardest year in most of our memories, when things have been bleakest, our community has thrived. We celebrate all of you and what you have shared and given to one another and to us – the work of your minds and hearts, your friendship and support, and truly – literally – your love.
Here’s to 2021. May it be the opposite of its predecessor. At the very least, let it be healthy and calm. And let it, eventually, when it is truly safe, bring us together in person again.