20 Stories: (#16) Bridget C.

To celebrate our 20th Anniversary in 2023, we’re highlighting 20 stories that have helped shape StoryStudio over the years. Each month of 2023, we’ll be featuring one or two members of our community as they share their story. Whether they came from the very first class that Jill started in 2003 when StoryStudio was just a few folding chairs and a dream, or they’re from the most recent cohort of Novel in a Year students, on their way to publishing a book; these members make StoryStudio what it is.

Below is Bridget’s story.

I believe you know you’ve found something special when you look back and realize how much things have changed over such a long time, but it still feels like yesterday when the story started. And I feel really lucky that my experience at StoryStudio Chicago is exactly that.

I’ve been doing summer camps at StoryStudio Chicago since 2018. I went from writing poems about being a girl in sports to a comical essay about the Golden State Warriors to actually developing my own major novels during my stay at the camps. Over time I feel like I’ve grown as a writer, finding my voice and crafting pieces I’m incredibly proud of.

But then 2020 happened when everything felt lost. The times were uncertain, and dealing with the transition from middle school to high school during a pandemic was challenging. I remember being absolutely gutted when I found out that another thing I cared about that has become such a sure thing in my life was changing and moving to Zoom – StoryStudio Chicago summer camp. Normal was changing, and I wasn’t sure how to adjust.

But our teacher Sahar Mustafah immediately eased my nerves and encouraged us to connect as much as possible with the limitations of the online platform. Time flew by in class, but every moment was special, whether in whole group lessons or breakout rooms with incredibly friendly people who love to write as much as I do. And when the end of the camp finally came, I just thought I would sign off the meeting, close my computer, and walk back into an empty room. But instead, this one kid named Elliot set up a group chat with us. And about a week later, on a Wednesday, I started our first Zoom meeting outside of the camp, so young and unaware of where this wild journey would take me.

I went from writing poems about being a girl in sports to a comical essay about the Golden State Warriors to actually developing my own major novels during my stay at the camps. Over time I feel like I’ve grown as a writer, finding my voice and crafting pieces I’m incredibly proud of.

Writing Wednesday, we later called it, but in the beginning, it was just us. We talked about who we were, our crushes on fictional characters or celebrities, our favorite books, our hobbies, and finally, our writing. We fangirled over the characters and romances we created and had our minds blown by poetry so deep it tugged at our hearts. And when we signed off for the night, we decided to hold another meeting next Wednesday.

I still find it amazing how time passes. How nearly three years ago, Writing Wednesday was born, growing in size as the years passed and growing in importance to all of us. How, even years later, if you’d mention the Grand Canyon in front of us, we’d break into laughter, or if you said the name of a particular band, two of us would have completely different responses but still remember and cherish the multiple meetings we had singing along to those songs. I didn’t know I could become a part of a family after having the only space we shared on Zoom, with all our faces in little rectangles with the most ridiculous backgrounds behind us. But it never felt like that. No, we could have been miles apart, which we were, but it was like they were all in my basement, sitting on my couch next to me, talking, being goofy, and sharing our writing.

This group is still together, still meeting every Wednesday. Some of us have turned eighteen this year. Some of us are getting college acceptance letters now and talking about graduation. But when we first met, all we talked about was what high school was going to be like. How did we grow up so fast?

But honestly, how many people can say they deeply saw multiple amazing people grow and mature (to a certain extent since we can all agree we’re all a little quirky still)? How many people get to say that when everything in their lives changed, there was still this group, this unbreakable friendship that never left their side? As a part of this group, I’ve gone through my highs and lows with them. I went from excitement to fear, to anxiety and depression, to pure joy and the heaviest grief. I’ve joined different clubs, groups of friends, and even schools now. I’ve broken down in front of their eyes and built myself back up with their words, their very presence. They’ve seen my life get turned upside down and end up somewhere completely new, scary even. 

But if anything, this group gave me bravery. To take pride in my work and love my writing for being uniquely me. To learn things about myself, whether through time and space or with their arms practically around me. To take risks, shake my life up in the most dramatic ways possible, and realize that I’ll come out the other side okay. To realize that love didn’t care about distance or different time zones and that I didn’t have to either. That people could know me inside and out while belonging to different state bounds. They could embarrass me in a second in front of all my other friends if they said only a few words about the old Bridget they got to know so well and watched change into who I am now. 

Only a few of us have met in person. I spent the most perfect day with Ella in Arizona and Amy back in Chicago. We played paddle ball and sword fighting, went out for lunch, and made ice cream sundaes. I found out later that in my second year at StoryStudio Chicago in 2019, I crossed paths with my soon-to-be-best friend Elliot who I see now every Wednesday, making me think this group forming was fate for all of us. And I don’t think I’ve ever collaborated on a piece of writing as well as I had with Addison – that story will be unforgettable when we finish it. 

Without this group, I don’t know how I would have gotten through the pandemic. I don’t know how I would have made it through last year or summer. My life couldn’t be more different than when we met three years ago, but now here we are. Still together. Still laughing, talking about crushes and characters and chapters in our books or new additions to collections of poetry, or the compilation of WIPs we’ve said goodbye to but will never truly forget. It’s still us three years later. 

StoryStudio Chicago will forever mean the world to me. They introduced us during the most difficult and uncertain period in our lives, giving us something permanent we could hold onto for years and years to come. They expanded my writing where I didn’t care if I was in the middle of a basketball tournament in Kentucky or on vacation, I wasn’t going to miss those summer camps for the world. They recognized the most difficult poem I’ve ever written and awarded me on my vulnerability and my courage to share my grief at my darkest moments through my writing. They made me confident that one day I will be a published author. StoryStudio Chicago will always be a part of me, no matter where I end up next week or next year–so much could change so fast. Except for StoryStudio Chicago and our little writing group. No matter what happens, next Wednesday, our group will hop on a Zoom call, and next summer, we’ll all attend the camp and grow our little family. Over and over because nothing will tear us apart.

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