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AUSTIN EDITION - COL Writers delve into heavy topics

Austin Wednesday Night Writers were into heavy stuff.

Maybe it was the prospect of a new year just days away. Maybe it was that we'd moved for the night from Austin Public Library to Bruce's cabin in the country. To greet us was a hazy winter moon guiding our trek down the hill and the small gurgle of water beneath the ice of the creek. Inside were the backdrop of a crackling fireplace, assorted chairs and stools in a circle, and the neighbor's dog resting on the hearth.

Ten pens, 10 notebooks tackled the topics randomly thrown out: "Endings and Beginnings," "What Can I Believe?" and "What's God got to do with it?"

Heavy indeed. Our sometime lightheartedness was eclipsed.

Suggested writing rules for the group are few: Don't think about it, just write; keep your pen going; let the words come as they will; write for 10 minutes; share if you are so inclined; listen to others, no comment necessary. Then on to the next topic. We have learned to enjoy the freedom to write as we choose, with no particular standard to follow.

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Being a part of this group is a continuous adventure, one that has kept most of us coming back for five years and more. Many have a collection of spiral notebooks that chronicle our meetings and what we've challenged one another to write about. Some have reached the success of publication. Others enjoy the immediate success of getting thoughts down on paper and then hearing one's own voice reading aloud to friends. That's publication, too.

Perhaps a real part of the joy of the group is the continuity of the project. As soon as the final period hits the paper and the lines are read aloud, the writer does one of two things. He might laugh at himself and say, "That's pure nonsense," and then let it stand, makeshift and inadequate as it is, or he might hesitate, realizing there's more to be said or a different way of saying it. A horde of new questions might arise from every answer that's definitively given in our writings. We are not afraid to admit that life is complex and there are few black-and-white answers. We tell stories to make a point and then sometimes forget what the point is, but remember the story.

Nobel prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska says, "Knowledge that doesn't lead to new questions quickly dies out. It fails to maintain the temperature required for sustaining life."

She goes on to say, "I value that little phrase 'I don't know' so highly. It's small, but it flies on mighty wings. It expands our lives to include spaces within us as well as the outer expanses in which our tiny Earth hangs suspended."

So we continue writing, about what we know, don't know, think we know. And we put a rubber band around all the old spiral notebooks and muddle forward. Our satisfactions and dissatisfactions become our legacy. Perhaps a better legacy than that of those who are so sure they know, and, as Szymborska says, "and what they know is enough for them once and for all. They don't want to find out about anything else, since that might diminish the force of their arguments."

We ended our last meeting of 2004 by writing haiku (pithy poems of three lines: five, seven, and five syllables) for the new year. The gist of one of our member's haiku was a wish that we'd all be able to face the objective truth in 2005. Here's mine:

Feet are warm, cheeks rosy,

Eyes reflect fire and grand thoughts.

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My pen's out of ink.

Betty Benner has lived in Austin since the early 1950s. She writes occasional columns for the Post-Bulletin.

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