Group work has always made me nervous. When I was in school (pretty much elementary all the way through grad school), I always worried that one of two things was going to happen.
1: I was going to be the only one in the group who gave a damn and be left to do the entire project myself while the others sat around smoking cigarettes and looking at porn. They would laugh at me and call me the brown noser and take credit for all my hard work and I would become bitter and hermit myself away until I died alone, the sole perfectionist in a sea of slackers.
2. I would miss the memo about when the group was meeting or otherwise fuck up royally and everyone would contribute something brilliant but me, and it would be obvious to the entire class/school/world that I had fucked up, and I would become bitter and hermit myself away until I died alone, the sole slacker in a sea of overachievers who graduated summa cum laude and went on to the Fortune 500.
This was the scarier of the two possibilities, by far. Still is. I don’t like being responsible to other people, because I’m terrified I won’t come through. I usually do, but that doesn’t stop the anxiety, the feeling that this time is the time I won’t be able to hack it.
So when Sara, who has been my best friend for years, and I decided we were going to lead this workshop together, I was scared. What if I got up in front of everyone and didn’t know what to say? What if I let Sara, who I admire so much, down and she decided never to talk to me again (yes, I’m 34 years old and I still think like this)? What if everyone in the workshop just stared at me while I rambled on about nothing, my face getting redder and my hands shakier, until I started sobbing and left the room like an hysterical prepubescent nightmare? I wasn’t sure I could do it. I was positive I was going to fuck up and have to run away to the hills.
It didn’t go like that.
What happened instead was beautiful and fun and cathartic—for Sara and me, certainly, and, it seems, for those who took the workshop. We burned a lot of incense those two days and ate a lot of delicious vegan food and drank a little too much wine and did a lot of yoga and wrote a bit and talked and talked. All in a beautiful space, hosted by kind and brilliant people. I got to see my best friend live her passion, teaching yoga. I got to talk with other writers about relaxing, letting go of the constraints we place on ourselves, trusting ourselves and the process. I got to hear their stories and share my own and feel, for a couple of days anyway, part of something important, something real. What we shared about ourselves and our creative processes meant something, because we trusted each other enough to share it. And it was also hard (really fucking hard), because I saw how much I couldn’t let go, how nervous I am so much of the time, how much trouble I have with trust.
And that’s what all of this is about, isn’t it? Trust? I think so. More than anything, this experience taught me that everything we do that involves another person requires, first and foremost, trust. And each time we collaborate, each time we let ourselves share our work and thoughts and ideas with someone else, we get better at it. I still have a long way to go, but for two days I managed to get out of my own way enough to share with other people. I managed to trust the world enough to not have to be the center of it. Anything that gets me even a step further away from hermithood in a cave is a victory in my book. And to those who trusted me with their stories, their time, their energy, thank you. I hope I continue to be worthy of that trust.
Beth Couture’s work can be found in a number of journals and anthologies, including Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Southeast Review, Ragazine, and Thirty Under Thirtyfrom Starcherone Books. She teaches composition at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA.