This week I taught my last session for the two Brighton and Hove writing groups: The Hatchery and Comedy of Errors. It was lovely to spend a last hour with them, and then say goodbye.
But that reminded me of Alison. When I was eleven I wanted to be a ballerina (not a ballet dancer, note, a ballerina: prima or nothing!) so like half the other girls I knew, I took weekly dance lessons. I was, honestly, crap – a total dog’s dinner of a dancer. Most of us were mediocre. But Allie was something else.
It wasn’t just that she danced well, it was that she was ferociously determined: she couldn’t bear not to get a step right, or not to understand the purpose behind a movement – she had everything we all lacked, poise, determination, talent, grit. She left our class after winning a scholarship to a ballet academy and essentially we never saw her again.
Many years later she contacted me, and we chatted back and forth on email about old times. She admitted that she’d chosen me, of all the group, because I’d given up ballet just before her own departure and she felt for that reason I was the one who would hate her least.
Yes, she said. Surely we all hated the way she’d succeeded and how she’d left us behind?
Nope. We’d loved it. We thought it was great that one of us had made it through and for years, I, for one, had read ballet programmes with fervour, hoping to find her name. I never did because she’d had one injury after another, until she’d been forced to stop dancing before reaching her mid twenties.
Well, she said, we’d probably all feel smug now, knowing she’d failed.
Smug? I was devastated to think that her talent and hard work had never been rewarded.
Any profession is competitive and Allie was projecting onto her old friends the neuroses and bitchery of her ballet school companions. But at our weekly ballet sessions we’d all known she was a different category to us, we weren’t jealous because she worked so bloody hard, and we couldn’t be arsed to even try. We’d championed her as much as we could, but she couldn’t see past her own belief that she’d betrayed us somehow, that in exceeding us she’d put us down, and eventually we lost touch for a second time, because I just couldn’t cope with her mithering on about how much I must loathe her, really.
What’s that got to do with writing? Well, looking around the room on Saturday, I noted which writers had moved on from the groups already. Some had gone because group writing turned out not to be for them. Some had gone because writing, pure and simple, turned out to be too much like hard work. One, at least, had gone because the group wasn’t structured enough to suit her, and another had moved on to writing something so outré that no writing group could possibly help him. For their different reasons, for their personal needs and desires, they’d moved on.
And that’s good – sometimes moving on is what you need to do, and you should never, ever, feel bad about those you leave behind – because most of the time they are cheering for you, whether you hear it or not.
Ballerina courtesy of x-eyedblonde at Flickr