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On Being a Mystic

I belong to a writers group called “The Mystic Order of East Alabama Fiction Writers.” I know we sound like a coven of witches, which we’re not. We also don’t write much fiction. But we do live in East Alabama, and if a Mystic is one who finds the exceptional in the banal, I guess we’re Mystics.

I became a Mystic without meaning to. Sitting at a friend’s pool making small talk, I commented to an acquaintance that I enjoyed writing. She invited me to come as a guest to her writers group. I went, enjoyed it, and invited myself to the next meeting. I just kept coming. Somehow they accepted me. Others came and went, and eventually we gelled as a group of six.

Once a month we’d get together and eat finger food, drink wine, and share stories, poems, essays, songs, or other bits we’d written. Sometimes our leader, GL, gave us assignments. I was usually tidy about following the assignments, but the others weren’t, and GL usually forgot she’d given assignments.

One day, GL decided we had enough good writing to give a public reading, and another friend who owned a lovely art gift shop in a beautiful old town offered her place as a venue. There would be food, wine, lots of wine, and us, each reading for a few minutes, and then socializing.

“What is the name of your group?” the friend asked, needing to make some programs.

“The Mystic Order of East Alabama Fiction Writers,” GL replied, and that’s what we’ve been ever since. There was no discussion, no explanation. Usually now we’re just The Mystics.

I was scared to death to do this public reading. I sat on that stool, voice trembling, hands shaking so hard I could barely read my story. But I did read it, slowly, with feeling, and people liked it. And all of a sudden I was a writer.

After that we started doing other readings, and taking on events like becoming Red Cross Heroes, fundraising for needy causes, and holding workshops. We read at libraries, art events, openings, you name it. Soon our small fan base was clamoring for a book, which we provided with the pieces we’d written over several years together. We found a publisher and sold every copy of our book the night of our reception, which was standing room only. And oh did the fun begin then! Now we had a book!

Of course one book is not enough, so we wrote another book. This time, though, it was a concept book, and we tweaked our pieces to fit the theme. One of our writers is an artist, and she created beautiful illustrations for this book, and it too sold easily. I have to say this about the book, which is called “The Ploy of Cooking.” The pieces I wrote were not written for the book, they were written from the heart. It was only through creative twisting that I found connections to recipes. That becomes important.

We have a friend who is a syndicated columnist, and she arranged for us to come to her town and we did a world-wide tour, if the world is Iuca, Mississippi. We had three readings and four social events that weekend, and when she wrote about us in her column and we had to go back for a whole new printing.

Soon we had a fat scrapbook of programs, newspaper articles, a magazine feature, and other artifacts. Sometimes when I am out on the town, someone will say, “Are you one of those Mystic writers?”
Doesn’t this read exactly like a perfect narrative arc? What will happen next? When we laugh about making “Mystics, the Movie,” because it turns out much of our popularity is about our personality, not our writing (we’ve already picked which movie stars will play us) we know we will have to either have a major falling out or one of us will have to get a terminal illness at this point.

Instead of fighting or death, one of us withdrew.

It did change the dynamic, but we soon initiated a new Mystic. She’s beautiful and she’s a real writer. We love her.

We set out to write another book, another clever cookbook. But there was no body of work to tweak, at least not for ME. I was not on board. What was quirky and funny once is simply tired the second time around, for me anyway. But we did it, and I found a comfortable formula and cranked out a few stories with tangentially connected recipes.

I wrote FOR THE BOOK. Hmmmm. My recipes include Boiled Water and a Love Potion.

This book will be published any minute now.

No sooner had we caught our breath than our Queen Mystic, self-dubbed, suddenly had us writing and answering “Dear Mystic” letters. I don’t know when the decision to do this was made, or if it was made. Although I wasn’t too keen on it, I have an extremely busy schedule and want to protect my writing time, I joined in.

We laughed harder over those letters than anything we’d ever written, or done. But they were funny to US, lots of in jokes, jabs and digs, nothing for a real audience, and NOT real writing. I began to wary and worry that GL would want to publish Dear Mystic letters, at which point I think we would officially be gimmick writers. When I brought it up at a meeting, I was roundly punished by the Queen in subsequent meetings in ways only Mystics would understand. But trust me, I was in the dog house.

As I write this, I’m still in the dog house. Woof. But it worked; we are not writing Dear Mystic letters anymore. What are we writing? I guess we’re all just writing from the heart and we’ll see what we have in a year.

Epilogue: After putting the silly stories for the cookbook and the Dear Mystic letters to rest, I was stuck, and couldn’t write. It was a sister Mystic who told me about this website. She participated in a flock recently. I’m so glad I’m here, because even if it’s incoherent, I’m writing. And usually from the heart.

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