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I’ve been attending a writing group for several sessions. We read a ten-minute piece we have written, and then the eight of us criticize, in a friendly way, each other’s essays. I have never done this with writing, but when a student in visual arts I was exposed to this type of criticism many times. Also, when hanging out in Berkeley for fifty years I experienced an abundance of every imaginable form of criticism, some directed at me, but mostly it was witnessing academic-style quibbling. That bickering was enjoyable, if not particularly pleasant.

This group is made up of people most of whom are already known to me in other contexts, and this meeting was in the Dudley’s coffee shop where I have other friends. Bend, Oregon has been very good to me, in part because there are meeting groups on subjects that I have found interesting. With only eighty thousand people in our remote small town, one soon meets all the people interested in a given subject, and an individual can usually speak up and be heard. That wasn’t the case back in Berkeley, where even world-renowned people sometimes had trouble getting an audience. Several times I went to public lectures by Nobel Laureates, or former US Secretaries of State, where there were maybe ten people attending. One time I went to an event with a prominent Russian researcher, who had come over to give a public lecture about psychology, and I was one of three people in attendance. Berkeley can be fabulously supportive, and sometimes fabulously cruel. The point is that here in Bend it is easy to be a big fish in this small pond. And it’s a beautiful pond, but small.

Today after each of us had finished our prepared reading and participated in the group’s criticism, we still had twenty minutes of our scheduled two-hour meeting so we decided to do a timed writing exercise. A couple of themes were suggested, but the one we chose was – “What are ten things you know to be true?” Within seconds everyone was bent over their notepads. When done we each quickly read our efforts and I copied what I could as fast as possible, sometimes only a word or two.

Person A

My mortality is becoming obvious
I must adapt to coming changes
Old age can have some positive aspects
A loyal spouse is a blessing
Children are a delight
DNA travels
I have many interests but few exceptional abilities
Writing these essays gives me pleasure
Experiencing consciousnesses
The miracle of life

Person B

Family is a source of pride and honor
Love is all important
Honor love
Family is the most important thing
Republican form of government is best
History teaches us things
Capitalist form of economy is best
Manners are important
Thank-you letters are valuable for everyone
A shot of good scotch whiskey makes a day delightful

Person C – me

I am alive
I have lived every second of my life as a conscious being
I am an enormous collection of habits
Every habit began as a response to a new situation
Encountering those similar situations the first few times I was conscious enough to change
After a moderate number of repetitions I stop being conscious of the stimulus
After a large number of repetitions I stop being aware of either the stimulus or my responses to it
I am unconscious of almost everything I do

Person D

Drinking fresh water is pleasurable.
Walking in warm mud is pleasurable.
Digging in my garden is pleasurable.
Surprise walks is pleasurable.
Hawks soaring in the sky is pleasurable.
Causes slip away into non-importance.
50 years with my spouse was pleasurable.
This group is pleasurable.

Person E

Moments scurry by
Waking up
Surprise of world variety
Dr Seuss said fun is your goal
People’s stories
Balance of life
Waves of paradox going though the world
Blank spots in reality
Silence
Don’t know and not being able to know

It was difficult writing fast enough to keep up, and I didn’t get the complete sentences, but the quotes above do give the gist of what I heard. Our responses were surprisingly different, and I suspect the answers were a deeper delving into our individual personalities than such a spontaneous question and quick replies would be expected to reveal.

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