Saturday, April 14, 2012

Writing Exercise #72

Today is the year anniversary of my cousin Jennifer's death. It was an unexpected occurrence (she died of complications from pneumonia,) and it is one I have yet to really deal with properly. Most days, I forget she's gone. A luxury of living so far from my family, I suppose. Jennifer left behind four beautiful little girls. She was 32 years old.

The last three years have been exceptionally rough. Five of my friends have died and two of my family members have been diagnosed with terminal cancer. My niece passed away from a rare and aggressive cancer on February 15th. She was 23-months old. There isn't an actual word for what it feels like. The loss. "Grief" hasn't enough letters. Not enough syllables. It is so much bigger than that word. Wilder.

A lot of my writing exercises request the writer to create from a sorrowful place, to try and build a thing of beauty from within that space. I believe, as artists, we should allow ourselves the opportunity to elevate our survival and hardships to a spectacular and artistic level, otherwise, we have not fully acknowledged what we have endured or suffered in the first place. Of course, there are some things that cannot be written, and we must be respectful of this. I have several "can't go there" subjects as well. I don't believe in re-triggering ourselves for the sake of art, and I have always taught my students to be aware of how important it is to withhold. "Keep something for yourself, always." But there is definitely beauty in the aftermath. In the rebuilding. And in knowing that we are not what happened to us.

Buddhist leader Thich Nhat Hanh said, when speaking to those in hospice, the thing that brought them the most comfort was this: "Don't worry. The body that is dying here is not you." I've held onto those words a lot, especially lately. It reminded me of an old exercise I used to give students. A poem in the form of a living will. Only, instead of tangible items, I wanted the writers to pass on favorite physical traits, or portions of their character they were proud of, or the fiery parts that a different person might need. Memories. Anecdotes and useful regrets. Of course, you can choose to leave things to non-people as well. My most favorite line of all time was from Marta, who said, "I leave the hills my nothingness."

Today's exercise will be a variation of the living will. What I want you to do today, dear writer, is write your life in reverse. Start with where you might end, and everything you have carried with you, and get rid of each thing, in whichever manner you choose. Like an un-doing. Get younger with each thing until you are back inside your mother's belly. Close with your first thought.

(This exercise was inspired by my friend, Sammy Parker, an absolute hero.)