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My Adventures In The Black Writing Club

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Ever since my eleventh grade English class, I’ve been a big fan of pathetic fallacy, and I’ve made a habit of noting it in specific situations. On this particular day, where our story begins, pathetic fallacy was being used perfectly. It was darkest, rainiest day southern Germany had seen in weeks, and fittingly, the day I had been dreading; October 28th. The rain almost made it better. It felt like the universe was at least sympathetic to my circumstances. October 28th was the day I had been asked on a coffee date by RA of my tiny English-speaking Bible school. Now, I am not someone who is habitually scared of coffee dates. I actually quite enjoy them most of the time.

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I love small talk. I also love coffee. What I don’t enjoy are “mushy” conversations. The kind of conversations where both people end up crying and pouring their hearts out to each other. I’ve never been someone to cry in front of people, and I wasn’t about to start. However, my RA had a reputation for getting the girls at our school to tearfully share every burden they had carried throughout their entire lives. They claimed she was the most understanding person they had ever talked to before. I was truly glad for them and that their problems seemed to be solved, however, I was not keen on becoming her next therapy patient. In fact, I was filled with so much anxiety about it that I had stayed up all night strategizing ways to deter the conversation from moving towards the protected parts of my heart. Apparently, my defence mechanisms didn’t work very well. I’m convinced that my RA is pursuing the wrong career, and should instead pursue the German equivalent of the CIA. She told me bluntly within a few minutes that she could see through all of my “walls and sharp edges”. However, instead of prying for the reasons these walls are up, she simply asked me if I had ever written before. Confused by the change of subject, I mumbled something about writing essays in high school. Her response caught me off guard again “not that kind of writing. I mean real writing”. I was so taken aback by the randomness of her question that I completely forgot all of my strategized defence mechanisms. “Writing scares me” I admitted “there’s nowhere to hide”. With that simple statement, her eyes lit up so much that a cartoon lightbulb may as well have popped up above her head. Somehow her lightbulb moment resulted in me agreeing to meet her once a week to drink coffee and write. There was to be no talking, no crying or pouring our hearts out to each other, just writing and drinking coffee in silence. As scared as I was of ‘real writing’, I figured this option sounded a lot better than the one involving tears. With that, we ended our coffee date to take the bus downtown and buy black moleskin notebooks. I had no idea that the purchase of a simple black notebook was going to be one of the most important moments of my life, but that’s often the case with moments. We never realize how important they are while we’re in them.

The next Saturday, we met, as promised, and walked to the same café we had met in a week before. We sat at the exact same table, in the back-left corner by the window, and ordered the exact same drinks: rooibos vanilla tea for her and black coffee for me. We decided that each week “we” (meaning my RA- I didn’t really have a say in the matter, but her use of the word we made me feel like I did) would pick a verse or sometimes a single word and write about it for an hour. The first week we wrote about a verse that says “when you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you”. I silently wrote a story about a father who risks his life to rescue his daughter, drank my coffee, and then after an hour we left. The next week, we did the exact same thing. Except this week, I had been counting down the days until I could open my little black notebook again. Throughout the week, I had gone back and read over my story several times. I had even illustrated it. I didn’t understand why I was so fascinated with it, and I decided I must be missing reading fiction novels if I had read it over so many times. I continued to write about the little girl from my first story over our next few meetings. I began to fall in love with the character I had created. I was able to mold and shape every part of her, and the more I wrote about her, the more I felt that she was part of me. After a few more weeks, the silence we had maintained thus far was interrupted towards the end of one of our writing sessions. “We need a name”, my RA declared. I looked at her for a moment, trying my best to display my confusion and frustration without saying anything, and then continued writing. “No, I’m serious!” she insisted. “We need a code name for this or something. Like a cool club”. Sarcastically, I suggested “the black notebook club”. My RA, who is German and doesn’t understand English sarcasm very well, loved the idea. She modified it to the black writing club, to include the name of ‘our’ café; Schwartz (which means black in German), and it stuck. We even started wearing black to our ‘meetings’, as she called them. We continued meeting every week for months after that. All of our meetings were the same. We would leave at precisely 11:00 every Saturday morning, walk across the street and down the road to Schwartz (with more and more layers as the weeks went on), and sit at our back corner table by the window with her tea, my coffee, and occasionally a pastry to share.

Every week I wrote about my little girl in relation to whatever word or verse we chose to write about for the day. Saturdays had become the highlight of my week. I don’t know exactly why I loved Saturdays so much. Maybe it was the stability of our routine, or maybe that I got to escape from my own thoughts for a little bit. Or maybe it was that I had actually bonded with my RA and enjoyed spending time with her, despite the fact that we purposely refrained from speaking to each other. Most likely it was a combination of the three, as well as my love for the coffee from Schwartz that made me enjoy Saturday mornings so much. On one particular Saturday morning, towards the end of December, about 25 minutes (or half a cup of coffee), into our meeting I turned over the page and was shocked to see the back cover of my notebook. Every single page was filled with a story about the little girl I had created. When you think about this logically, it makes perfect sense that after a few months of writing in this notebook every week, it would be full. The logical solution to this problem would be to go back to the store and purchase another one. Had I been given this problem at the beginning of October, before these meetings started, that is without a doubt what I would have done. I typically describe myself as a logical person. In fact, one of my greatest strengths is problem solving. However, in this particular moment the logical part of my brain appeared to be turned off. It was quite strange actually, it felt as if my entire being was overcome with emotion in a split second. It had been so long since I had felt tears leave my eyes that I didn’t even recognize that I was crying until tears started dripping off my chin on to the open last page of my little black notebook.

My RA looked up at me and, instead of asking what was wrong or offering comfort, she smiled, as if this was all part of a carefully crafted scheme. We stayed at that coffee shop well into the afternoon that day, and I officially became one of the girls that spill out all their problems as they turn into a puddle of emotions, or one of my RA’s ‘therapy patients’ as I used to call them. When this writing club started becoming routine, I thought I had successfully dodged the possibility of becoming “one of them”. Clearly, I had let my defence mechanisms down as I filled the pages of my little black notebook. The way I cried in the coffee shop that day was similar to the way I imagine water would flow out of a dam being broken down for the first time. The wall that writing had somehow broken down had a lot hidden behind it. After I calmed down enough to finally breathe normally again, my RA encouraged me to look back through my notebook and reflect on how I had changed since the first page of my little black notebook. As I flipped through the pages, expecting to observe the technical progression of my writing skills, I began to understand why my RA asked me to write in the first place. As I read through the stories I had written about my little girl, I saw myself. I saw every broken and hidden place of my heart portrayed in my own fictional character. Not only did I see this, but in between the lines of my stories I saw how these places had been mended back together. I noticed the hope that started to pour into the pages, slowly and then overflowingly. I realized that not only had my writing been filled with light, but my life as well. The version of myself that wrote the first entry in my little black notebook, on October 28th was not the same me who finished the last page.

My little black notebook was not only filled with stories but a transformation of a very broken person to someone filled with life. It has been almost exactly a year since I bought my first little black notebook. That notebook did more than give our writing club a cute name (or a cringe worthy name, depending on your opinion of clichés). Every word I wrote transformed me. Writing helped me to understand myself in a way I never had before. It wasn’t the stories themselves, or even the kindness of my RA in meeting with me every week, but the space that writing gave the hidden parts of my heart to pour out into. Despite my knowledge that the café we went to, coffee I drank, nor the notebook I wrote in had nothing to do with the way writing transformed my life, you can still find me from time to time at the nearest café with my brand new little black notebook, where I am documenting the transformation occurring within this season of my life through the adventures of my fictional little girl.

15 July 2020

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