Dana sits next to me cross-legged on the couch, tapping out poems on her laptop. Anne is upstairs in my bedroom in the comfy gray chair, that has a reputation for inducing accidental snoozing. She’s outlining her second book, having submitted to two publishers her first about the post World War II stolen art trade. Aftaab sits at the dining table, shoes off, hands on his computer motionless in contemplation as he inspects his latest poem, with Hannah next to him on a stool editing her fantasy novel about a lesbian werewolf. Others are scattered around my house, as they have been every Monday night in 2019.
This is DC Writers’ Salon, a community of writers who come together to sit in silence, and write. It makes little sense to the uninitiated. “So strangers come to the house of a woman they’ve never met, to write with other people they’ve never met?” people often ask. “Yes, I know, it surprised me too,” I say, understanding their disbelief. “Why wouldn’t they just write from their own couch?” they press. I sometimes play curious, but I know the answer.
I created DC Writers’ Salon on MeetUp in June 2018 to see if I could get people to write with me at my house. I hoped it would feed my extroverted soul. My mom hoped I wouldn’t get murdered. She wasn’t trying to be hip, but the Salon has, in fact, “killed it.” In fifteen months since that first meeting of five, more than 1,800 humans have joined the community of writers. It’s grown to such an extent that, as of this week, DC Writers’ Salon gets its very own home in Dupont Circle to offer more space and hours to support the words that want and need to be written.
Rolanda was attracted to the power of community to hold her accountable to write essays about her experiences as a missionary in eleven countries. Sorrah came looking for an antidote to the otherwise lonely experience of writing stories of being transgender and losing their mom. Kayla is writing a fiction story about a fortune teller, Becca a historical fiction about the Fyre Festival, Ariel a science fiction novel, Ying a technical blog about coding, Sharmila a musical, Allie a screenplay, Megan a memoir; the projects are endless.
Though we live in a time when expression has never been easier, we also struggle to meet one of our most basic human needs — to feel heard and understood. Accountability is unusually hard to come by and we’re beset by distraction and loneliness. DC Writers’ Salon exists at the intersection of these cultural realities. While classes can be helpful, to be a writer means, simply, to write. Most of us don’t need to learn as much as we need space to practice.
Being from Boston, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Cheers theme song. Recently, I’ve insisted on playing Gary Portnoy’s classic at the end of every Salon, as it perfectly captures what this is all about: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came. You want to be where you can see the troubles are all the same.” Writing is a lonely art, but can be fulfilling in the same way endorphins flow when you leave the gym. The release is its own reward. Showing up is the hardest part.
On this particular night, after our usual round robin debrief where we each share what went well this week, how tonight went, and if we have any pickles the group can help us with, Mike lingered to talk about the story he’s been working on about touring orphanages in the Ukraine. We offer each other candid feedback, a reflection of the benevolence that has become a hallmark of the Salon: he says my writing sounds a little self deprecating; I tell him he needs to put more of himself into his stories.
Words make books and poems and screenplays. Community give us the safety and connection that helps us write them. DC Writers’ Salon brings it all together.