Friday, September 25, 2009

Moments of Agony

This past week I spent 24 hours in the emergency room for a mysterious pain that had me doubled over and rendered non-functional. It made me delirious, and it got to the point where if the doctors couldn’t find and fix the source, I wanted to die. When you have pain like that for 3 days, it chisels away at everything, including your will to live. I eventually got through it (obviously, because I’m writing this blog entry today) as I have gotten through other moments of agony. There’s the agony of childbirth. It’s one of the worst pains, but once you get through it you get to hold your perfect, beautiful baby. There’s the agony associated with illness, like the time I had pulmonary emboli, which caused my right lower lobe of my lungs to collapse. That was worse than the pains I experienced in childbirth, in my opinion. Then there are the agonies not associated with illness but still render you non-functional. Deaths of loved ones. The realization your marriage is over. The loss of a child. There’s the agony of waiting. Waiting for answers. Waiting for something to pass. We handle our agonies in different ways. Sometimes we manage to get through it. Sometimes we get through it, but it’s not something that goes away.

Think about the moments of agony in your life. What situations or problems made you feel so bad that you didn’t think you could get through it? What did you do? When doing your freewrite, avoid adjectives like “overwhelming” and “painful.” Be specific. State what was overwhelming and painful. If it helps, leave your emotions out of it and describe it using only facts. Use who, what, where, why and how. Once you get it all down, you can insert your impressions and feelings. What is your perspective on it now? If you are still dealing with it, describe how. This may be a difficult exercise. You might want to start by setting your timer for 5 minutes. It may take several freewrites to get it all down. The important thing is to get it all down. Push through the pain and keep writing…

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Everyone Has an Opinion

Each week our local talk radio show has a “Gripe Friday.” There is no predetermined topic or format. Listeners call in and gripe about whatever is on their minds. One calls in about tractor trailer trucks clogging the parking lots to shopping centers. Another calls in about the lack of customer service at restaurants. Someone complains about coverage on cable news, the war in Iraq. The calls have a snowball effect. The phone lines become clogged with listeners waiting to add their two cents. The responses range from, “That happened to me, too,” “I agree,” to passionate opposite opinions. The result is always entertaining. Sometimes my own blood pressure goes up.

Everyone has an opinion. It’s just that some of us are noisier than others. Some clam up and keep their opinions to themselves. (I’m not one of them.) Others begin letter writing campaigns or make phone calls. We can shout about those things to whomever will listen. Or at no one. We can write a letter to the editor of the newspaper or dash off an email to the producers of an offending television show. Or we can do nothing. It’s our choice.

How many times have you shouted at the television or at something you’ve read? What has irritated you lately? What are your pet peeves? Make a list of these things. Think about the times you disagreed with someone or spoke passionately about an issue. When I say issue, it doesn’t necessarily mean politically or socially motivated. Interpret it in any way you want. If you want, skip the list and go right to the freewrite. Write about whatever is rubbing you the wrong way, raising your blood pressure, making you swear. Get it all out. When you’re finished, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back. What you do with your freewrite is your choice.

“Sometimes I am asked, ‘Is it true you should write what you know about?’ I say, ‘No, write what you care about.’ If you don’t know, you’ll find out. But if you don’t care, why should anyone else?”
~ Anne Perry

Saturday, September 5, 2009

What I Didn't Do On My Summer Vacation

It’s Labor Day weekend, and even though summer doesn’t officially end until later this month, people are having their final summer picnics and closing their pools until next season. Around here, the kids have already completed their first week of school. Where did the summer go? While I love autumn and football games, I’m sorry to see the summer end. It seemed to go by in a blink. I didn’t get to do what I had hoped or had planned to do.

I didn’t get to the beach as I had hoped. I heard about others’ beach trips, and I watched my co-workers and neighbors getting tanner. I didn’t plant any flower boxes. I didn’t quit smoking. I didn’t finish my novel. I didn’t read all the books I ordered from the book catalogues that kept coming in the mail. My summer sounds so boring and bleak. But even though I spent most of the summer working, there were some lovely moments. Originally for this week’s exercise I was going to ask you to do a twist on the Natalie Goldberg freewrite “What I did on my summer vacation,” and change it to “What I didn’t do…” But that sounds so negative and full of regret. There’s enough negativity around us. Instead, I want us to continue focusing on the positive, on hope.

I didn’t get to do a lot of things I had hoped, but for the most part, I had a great summer. My favorite memory is of the time my daughter and I went to the county fair. We walked through the rows of farm animals. We watched baby chicks hatching. She had her picture taken with a cow. We watched a live elephant show and went to the petting zoo. We fed the baby goats and a llama spit on her. I couldn’t convince her to ride a camel. When a guy in one of the booths approached us, he asked if we were sisters. We told him we were cousins transplanted from Pittsburgh. Daisy and Lola. I told him a story about how Daisy’s mom was an F. Scott Fitzgerald aficionado and named her after the Daisy in The Great Gatsby. You think that would have scared him away, but instead, he asked us for our number. We gave him the number to the Rejection Hotline. We ate traditional fair food and listened to the live bands. The air was filled with the smell of frying funnel cakes and French fries (the vendor called them Freedom fries, and I went into a rant about how French fries have nothing to do with France). From a distance we watched the dust clouds and heard the roaring engines of the tractor pull. We got caught in a downpour and ran through the rain, laughing. Mostly from that day I remember we laughed a lot.

For this week’s freewrite, write about your favorite summer memory. It doesn’t have to be from this most recent summer. Start your freewrite with, “When I think about summer…”Set your timer for 15 minutes and write without stopping, without censoring yourself.