I’ll say, “Tell us a story about heartbreak,” and someone breaks all of our hearts with his tender memory of a long ago, lost love.
I’ll ask, “What’s the hardest thing you ever experienced?” And someone else bares himself raw about the joy of finding the first thing that ever mattered to him during his dysfunctional adolescence, only to have it torn away one month later.
Every week our writer’s group gathers around a circular table in a church basement at Miriam’s Kitchen, a caring source of nourishment for the bodies as well as the minds of thousands of DC’s homeless.
Lately our writing group has been telling stories from our lives, in preparation for a performance in which these personal monologues will be read by professional actors.
For ninety riveting minutes each week we learn about one another and, in turn, we learn about ourselves. This was unmistakable when one member of the group told me:
Writing at Miriam’s Kitchen the past few years and now working on the monologues has opened up
avenues of my life I never thought possible.
Sometimes the writers go home and work on their stories. Well, they don’t exactly go home, because many in the group are homeless.
At Street Sense, Washington’s homeless newspaper, I have come to know additional extraordinary
individuals. We meet every Wednesday to write articles for the paper. Then these writers earn a small income by going out to Washington’s street corners and selling Street Sense.
Like those from Miriam’s Kitchen, they open up unflinchingly with tales of horror as well as of redemption. One homeless man tells about his more than ten years in a state penitentiary before a judge reversed his sentence and set him free. There are lighter moments too, like proving at six years old that Santa isn’t real.
I am deeply grateful to these storytellers for the generosity and courage it took to share their oral histories and also for enriching my life beyond measure. Though they are the ones exposing their vulnerabilities, we can all bond over our common humanity.
*The monologue performance took place on April 4th, 2014. at the DCJCC’s Theater J .
The production was a labor of love and would never have been possible without the support and enthusiasm of our host Theater J, as well as of the openheartedness of the actors, of our enormously creative director NJ Mitchell, and of the dedicated staff at Miriam’s Kitchen.
LOTS OF STORIES ABOUT MY MARRIAGES AND RELATIONSHIPS IN MY MEMOIR . . .
“A first-rate personal essayist, Susan Orlins delivers the goods time and again. Underneath her self-mocking voice, her abundant humor, her brio, there is the serious candor of a moralist who worries the problems that won’t go away.”
–PHILLIP LOPATE, author and editor of The Art of the Personal Essay