I think people are more civilized in church basements. Maybe it’s the aroma of bad coffee and instant cookies, breath mints and air freshener, worn carpeting under fluorescent lights, dusty curtains fanned by swinging doors. So many nonreligious groups meet in church basements. AA meetings, Weight Watchers, anonymous this, anonymous that, group therapy, survivors, knitters, readers, writers, philosophizers and collectors, sitting in folding chairs, speaking in reasonable tones. Church basements are a place for those interstitial emotions, nothing too extreme, affinities in the public domain, skills learned at summer camp, lifetime interests, thoughtful consideration of a hobby or a habit.
It’s a naturally slow space. There’s really nowhere to race off to in a church basement. No speed dating, no eating contests, no stock trades, no yelling, no privacy. Life meanders politely, eyes meet, pleasantries are exchanged, civilization is tamped down to a well worn path. Odors rise unremarked. No fart jokes in a church basement, nothing obtrusive. Just adults mixed with sugar.
I’m sitting at a meeting of writers because I think I’ll learn something. The room vibrates with low voices, people settling in like a flock of geese on old corn, chairs scraping. Two women behind me swap stories about their Disney vacations. A scattered group of men kibitz about whether it’s possible to write a book about crime without any professional experience in law-and-order. The ex CIA guy doesn’t think so. The hippy guy thinks absolutely so. They debate whether getting arrested is a law-and-order experience. I shouldn’t turn around and look, but I sneak a look anyway.
Some guy chimes in on the law-and-order discussion with the idea of writing what you know. Evidently he’s struggling to write good porn because he’s been happily married for 30 years. My ears practically bend off my head. I want to change my seat and move closer to them so I can hear better. Are they really talking about porn? Another guy pipes up and says, yes, write what you know, but lie about it if necessary. Then another guy says be creative, use your imagination, and lie, lie, lie. I decide not to change seats in case they get struck by lightening. We are after all in a church basement. I’m sure somebody upstairs is listening.
There are refreshments in the kitchen across the room, but I’m skipping the snacks because I don’t want to miss anything. The two women compare how lovely Disney World is at twilight, the castles, when the breeze lifts the heat and the sky glows. Nice. Very literary. I smell stale cigarettes and imagine smoke clinging to an old sweater somewhere. Then a youngish guy behind me is sad. He says he’s never written anything less than 100,000 words. A proofreader gasps. He can’t stop himself from writing. He calls it verbal diarrhea, a mental infection. That’s when I realize, oh, this meeting is about addiction. I’m with a group of people addicted to the alphabet.