I started Writers of Koh Phangan two years ago, after participating in writers’ groups in San Francisco and Berkeley. I especially enjoyed writing prompts, with the group getting a theme or guidelines, writing for a specified period, then sharing with the group. It built confidence, and nurtured the sheer joy of creating and sharing in a communal setting. We started on Phangan in a British pub in Thongsala then moved to a queer place, the waterfront Beach Shala at Orion Healing Centre in Srithanu.
Lately we have been using short clips of Master Class videos on themes such as finding your voice, coming up with ideas, using an outline, from writers such as Neil Gaiman, James Pattison, Joyce Carol Oates, and Malcom Gladwell. But the main event is always the prompt, and we experiment with various forms; breaking into small groups for feedback, longer vs shorter sessions, pulling words out of a grab bag to include in one’s stories.
The groups range in size, sometimes more intimate gatherings of 6-10, frequently groups of 12-20. Orion provides the space for free. All of our events are free to the community, including our Phangan Poetry Jams at Green Gallery and occasional book club offerings (On the Road, Sapiens, Henry and June, Siddhartha).
Our Facebook group just surpassed 400, quite a thing on an island with about 2,000 expats.
Sharing is optional but most people do. The stories are often highly personal, and attendees seem to feel safe sharing their most intimate and vulnerable thoughts. Many, as with 2-3 storytellers last night, say they in their lives shared their writing publicly. One Vietnamese woman said she has been writing almost daily since five, and her reading was the first she had ever done publicly.
Here is mine from last night. The stories by definition are rough, unedited, and something of a risk to share in print. Enjoy!
Oh, businesses have been complaining that this “low season” has been unusually slow. So Low Season was the theme, and I chose to interpret it as a reflection of mood, or mental state.
The epiphany arrives during my 234th$180 per hour session with my therapist, realizing in a furious burst of insight that he, a kind man, was useless to me. Each week, he sits there, waiting for me to speak, and I go on and on through the same material, boring even myself, certainly Dr. Frederick as the lids of his eyes drop to half mast, a large wooden Buddha staring listlessly at his feet as I, as we, get nowhere.
I am on 11 medications, anti-anxiety, depression, ADHD, heart meds, and I am a wreck, wandering oftentimes through my Baltimore neighborhood dazed and suicidal.
I am at my lowest ebb, and the more I read about my condition, the more I explore my dog-eared copy of DSM-V, the worse I feel. I leafed through the book at random last week and found myself muttering, I got that, yeah, that too, oh definitely that, whoa, and I think that’smy main problem.
I am afflicted with a disease that if not yet epidemic is on its way, and that is American ennui, consumerist addiction, addiction to shopping, to screens, to schadenfreude, to violence, and I believe there is a way out of this lowest of low passages, but it’s not with Frederick. So, I walked up and out of his life forever, mid-session, him stammering something about insurance files.
The end is near and I ponder the correct reaction. I don’t want to mope, to complain, to succumb, I want to rise above it, and do it in a stylish manner, something whereby a Baltimore Sunreader, while perusing my obituary, might say, hey, that’s clever, I might do that myself.
And so, I began walking, a wallet, a flimsy backpack, 3 not yet maxed out credit cards, 1,500 dollars, and cold turkey on the medications, thus only a toothbrush, Tom’s spearmint toothpaste, and some deodorant, Neosporin and Advil in toiletry bag.
My plan is, walk across the country, and figure it all out. I’m 44, I’ve had what you might call a good life, a couple divorces, a couple kids, a couple college degrees, but it seems shit to me now and I had my second epiphany which is, this low season, this declaration of the absurdity of my life is my liberation. I believe in nothing but if I was a believer, I would say, I buy in to the idea that you have to shed your skin, your musty overwrought life, and push out in some new direction. I threw away my phone in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I‘m sure people are worried and that this is all irresponsible but, maybe it’s the withdrawal from the Ritalin Zanax Prozac Statins cocktail, it all seems clear to me now.
I have waves of insight, and nausea, and ideas that I come to think of as revelations. OK, ready? Here’s a few,
I’ve lived for nothing. Love my kids but sorry, for nothing. Nothing.
Western civilization is on the brink of extinction, the species too by extension. All the Descartes “I think therefore I am” rationalism and peer-reviewed science and global financial networks have brought us to the brink. I think we’re doomed. I say that with no malice or fear. Why not stare it in the face?
I believe I am the messiah. Well, to be more specific, the one and only savior of my world, my soul, my sense of wellness, I believe in myself and in my capacity to be well.
I pull my ruled notepaper out of the wet back pocket of my jeans. I wrote out a plan, and it’s simple. I will walk across the country, and by the time I hit the Pacific Ocean, I will have a new plan for my life, a career path, a program of self-care, I will have a new love interest, I will have a sudden set of realizations about the nature of reality and life on earth and America, or I will jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and do myself.
And so, I have scribbled notes on a new business idea, I wrote out details of a new exercise plan and I’m going to go vegan, I have pages and pages of philosophical meanderings, and I’m sitting in a bar at 1am, and a woman with crooked teeth is giggling and staring at me, so, I would say my chances of survival are pretty good. Wouldn’t you?