It started as an idea shouted out through a mask.
Across the single redwood -lined road going through our neighborhood. Peggy Berryhill, General Manager of local public radio station KGUA-FM, 88.3 Gualala, California and her partner, Susan, were walking up the hill with their dog, Bouncy. I was running with my dog, woof! , down the other side. Maybe twenty feet between us and about fifteen feet of elevation.
I had been thinking about collaborating with Peggy and KGUA-FM. Peggy and I often talked about writing during my volunteer days for KGUA when we first moved to this remote part of the northern California coast, over five years ago. Now, a couple of weeks into shelter-in-place, with no exit in sight, a collective writing project was timely, necessary.
The idea was simple.
Invite everyone to become a KGUAWriter.
We post a weekly prompt on the KGUAWriters Facebook page. Send it out on a members email blast. Post on the local ‘town’ pages including Point Arena Updates and Gualala Trading Post. Alert the local paper, ICO. Use the power of our intimate word-of-mouth messaging. Push pin or tape bulletins on store front boards and windows. Remind people on KGUA-FM, the go-to for all things relating to all things here.
Motivate folks to submit. Gather the work. Air the work. Read by Peggy and me or recorded in the author’s voice on KGUA-FM, 88.3, Gualala, California. No experience necessary. No skill required. No judging. No competition, Write what comes to mind from the specific prompt. Spontaneous. Send it to email@example.com
Works are not posted on Facebook.
That’s how we do it here, along our stretch of the coast. We rely on each other. Through fires, floods, storms, power outages, downed trees, eroding bluffs, store closures, volatile tides. Where landlines are still a necessity. Where we have miles of hikes along the San Andreas fault. Where internet boosters are placed like nests in tree tops sharing space with ravens and woodpeckers.
We welcome and adjust to Mother Nature’s moods. To live and breathe the magic of our place. To listen to the soundtrack from the sky, the trees and the ocean. To know we can count on others more than we know about them. This is what we do.
When asked where am I from, I say one-third New York, one-third Washington, D.C. and one-third San Francisco. Now, living in a town where the local grocery story owner, Barbara, calls to check in if I haven’t been in for a few days. Where urgency, identity and priorities take on new meanings.
It is a town, where a local business owner once told me, People know more about me than I do. Where the local hair-cutter, still with a red and white striped round-light outside the door, said,” You do know about medical helicopter insurance, don’t you?” I didn’t.
A town, where it took almost a year to figure where and how to get mail and packages. FedEx doesn’t deliver to the post office. UPS may leave things at the neighborhood real estate office. US Postal service doesn’t deliver to the house.
Now, with two postal boxes and a customized shipping address, we don’t get as many unable to deliver slips.
Peggy and I bounce off of each others ideas. Her with a strategic journalistic mind, always editing. Me, holding up a brain cluttered with voices, rarely thinking before I speak. I would say once upon a time. Peggy would ask, who-what-where-when?
Each of us fortunate to be married to people who set our anchors, give us rope, reel us in and test the air before we set sail. billy and Susan, the powers behind our individual curtains.
A week after our roadside chat, KGUAWriters came alive. Ten folks joined the Facebook page. A few curiosity driven emails. Our structure built on, let’s see what happens.
Peggy had an open slot. Thirty minutes, April 6th, during the second half of her trademark morning show, Peggy’s Place. We could read what we had. Talk about the concept.
Years of workshops, writing programs and involvement in writing conferences have given me one-on-one exposure with terrific authors and writers. All of whom influenced me. Some who mentor me in a moment, on the spot or along my own writing journey.
From them, notes upon notes of prompts and exercises, nuggets of learning fill a variety of notebooks. All with shared priorities. Motivating people to write. Encouraging them. Using techniques to minimize insecurity, lack of self-confidence, feeling not relevant. I draw from this trove daily.
Through writing people start to feel inclusive. Having something to say. Become at ease in their vulnerability. Welcome their own story struggling to come out.
In 2000, I was invited to a reading. In front of a crowd of sixty strangers. The only person I knew was a friend who suggested I go to this meet and greet weekend shortly after I moved to San Francisco. I told him, I couldn’t do that. Get up and read? Read what I wrote? No way!
He asked me to read my piece to him. I struggled to keep saying, “NO,” as his words grew to show me reason. Give me courage. Illuminate the responsibility I have. Even now, twenty years later. Words I share to help others who say, “I can’t.”
I haven’t spoken to Ed in eighteen years. I don’t even know where he is. But I recite his words every time I tremble before reading to others.
You have to read this. You have a way of saying something that everyone in the audience is feeling but cannot say. You need to say it out loud. For them. For people who want to be heard but are afraid. For people who are sad, vulnerable, feeling alone. You are saying what they are thinking. With that, they feel less alone. Less helpless. They feel heard. They are comforted in knowing that their story is not just their story. Your words can help.
It felt as Ed was scolding me, but there were tears in his eyes.
The first week, eighteen submissions came in responding to Prompt#1-WORD! What is the word that explains you? 200-400 words.
We went ‘live.” Peggy from her studio in town and me from a makeshift desk studio in a quiet walk in closet. Connected with each through Zoom. We gave hand-signals to each other. Try to read each others expressions on ‘how are we doing?” as we read. Selected which pieces she would read and which I would by holding up a sheet of paper against our screens.
And emails and postings.
People were feeling connected. Worthy. Accountable. Included, Less alone. Secure in their story.
We became ‘The Town That Started Writing.’ All of us contributing while not being able to, or allowed to leave our own four walls.
Seven weeks later, anonymous writers became identified. Writers are joining us each week. Everyone talks about emotion. Writers are inclusive. Equally split across demographics and cultures.
KGUAWriters is a fixed segment on Peggy’s Place, Monday’s at 9am.
On the last episode, May 18th, twenty-five writers submitted. Sixteen recorded their own ‘story.’ Seventy people in the Facebook group. This is not a Facebook driven project. To accommodate everyone with updates, craft letters and information, we also have an email list. Writers from the Bay Area, Delta Peninsula, Maine, Washington State, Oregon, Montana, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Canada contributed.
People are regulars. Weekly or as frequent as they want to be. Maybe just once. So many have expressed a sense or gratitude in giving them ‘this space.’ Believing in them. Letting them know that their words are important to share. Seeing how relevant everyone is to everyone else.
How less alone they feel. And we are all creating. Making art
Our town. Relevant to everyone else. The Town That Started Writing.
PS- ‘Thanks,, Ed.”
Coming soon: Our prompts. Our writers. KGUAWriters Hour on Peggy’s Place. Monday’s, 9am PST. Streaming live at kgua.org. ‘Listen Live’. For info or to join the email list send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org or check the Facebook Page, KGUAWriters. Join us.