“I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you…”
-Lyrics from “For Good,” Wicked
I first met Katherine Cerulean in July 2013 at The Coffee Shop of Athens, once our Athens Writers Association’s home away from home, before they closed their doors in November 2014.
Little did I know when I walked into that coffee house that my life was about to change.
I had been living in Athens, Georgia for a year and a half, and I was struggling. I was struggling to find my own life in a part of the country where I’d never visited, much less lived. I’d never lived outside of California, and I was 40 years old when I moved to Georgia to join my husband, who had recently achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a tenure-track professor.
Still, I had to find my own way, my own life, my own friends, in Athens. As optimistic as I was when I arrived, and as hard as I tried to fit in anywhere, with anyone, I kept falling on my face – and that was hard. Many times I felt like giving up, but I kept looking for new people to meet, new groups to join. I’d made a commitment to my husband, and to myself, to make it work – this was the life I had chosen. There had to be a place for me. And I’d come here to pursue my own lifelong dream – to finally give myself permission to become a full-time writer.
My first attempt at joining a critique group in March 2012 was a disaster. I was the poster child for blowing a first impression. In the middle of the meeting, I burst out with a comment about how everyone only had negative things to say about other people’s writing, and proceeded to bluntly tell them that they were discouraging other writers by not focusing more on praise.
Talk about putting my foot in my mouth.
I’ve since learned how to catch flies with honey instead of vinegar here in the South, and in general, but needless to say, I burned that bridge with that writing group. To my credit, I went back to two more meetings, and to their credit, they were polite, albeit not particularly welcoming. Who could blame them after this stranger from the west coast lectured them on night one? After that, I decided writing groups were just not for me…
…until Katherine Cerulean…and The Athens Writers Association.
I missed their first meeting in March 2013, but really, the AWA did not take off until August, the second meeting I attended. At that point, I met more writers, who are now a part of the critique group I’ve been working with for five consecutive years. Katherine named me, Rob White, Jennifer Innes and Elsa Russo her co-founders, a title which I am proud to bear and strive to live up to in everything I do with, and for, the writing community in Athens.
I can’t say that I “became” a writer that day, but in many ways, it feels true.
Sometimes in life, it takes someone, or something, to turn the tide of the storm. For me, Katherine was that someone, and Athens Writers Association was that something. Everything in my life literally changed from that day on – I made friends, I had a purpose, I had a life of my own to compliment my husband’s life in Athens. I felt different – happy, fulfilled, important…and what I put out into the world began to come back to me. I began to see how I was making a difference in other people’s lives with my positive energy, my encouragement of other writers, my moral support, my participation in our workshops, events, public readings, and publications. I got my first editing client through my AWA critique group, and then yet another career I had sort of begun with my husband’s manuscripts, took on a life of its own, in a new direction, that has shaped me into a full-fledged editor today.
When I think about my life in Athens, Georgia, I have so many regrets, none of which I want to mention, but I will never, ever regret the AWA. It has been the best thing that could have happened to me, and I know it is the reason I came here.
A friend once told me that people come into your life for a reason, as the song, “For Good,” so beautifully says. Sometimes it is just for a season. Sometimes it is for a lifetime. But when they come into your life, they are meant to be there, with you, at that time. It is not always clear until years later, long after they have left you, why they were there, but you will know…they came at the right time, at the time they were supposed to be in your life.
I know that Katherine, and Rob, and Jennifer, and Elsa, and Nancy, and Charlie, and Zhanna, and Greg, and Danny, and Lisa, and Par, and Sharon…and all the writers in our beautiful community came into my life for this short season, for the very purpose they were meant to be with me. For it is because of them that I have blossomed, and I know as I move on, the petals on this beautiful, glorious flower I have grown into will never wilt. They will always be with me, and I will always be writing.
Last night, Katherine read a beautiful tribute to her life in Athens, and at the end, I choked up, for embedded in her eloquent essay was her farewell to Athens, and to her Athens Writers Association that she had built from scratch with all her heart and soul. Although we do not know when, exactly, we know that she and her sister have plans to explore amazing far-off places, and we all look forward to reading about her travels in the stories she writes about them.
I, too, will be moving on, though I do not know exactly when, or where, either. Strangely, it feels like serendipity that Katherine and I are both now singing our swan song to the AWA that we cherish so much.
And, although my life here started out rocky, and frightening, and lonely, and uncertain, I have grown to love this college town of Athens, Georgia with all my heart…and…I wish I never had to leave.
My heart aches. For in the end, it took too long, for Athens to become so permanently ensconced in my soul, that my heart is breaking to part ways with her.
And now I never want to say goodbye, for everything I love is here. Everything I hoped for in life, came together here…but it all came together just a little too late…
But, wherever I go, and whenever I get there, I know Athens, and the Athens Writers Association, came into my life for a reason, for this season, and that as the beautiful song from Wicked says… I have been changed…for good.
Athens, I love you.