Weekly I write with two friends. Sometimes we write face-to-face; more likely, we write by conference call. It’s a sign of the times: we only live a few blocks from one another and yet… given the pace of our lives…
We each come with a writing prompt- sometimes a word or a phrase; other times an excerpt from an essay or poem. We share our prompts, set the timer for 20 minutes, hang up the phones; and respond to the prompt of our choosing. When time runs out, we reconnect and take turns reading what we have written.
This Monday my prompt came from W.S. Merwin. His poem Night Singing begins with a series of phrases that follow the word ‘after.’ My prompt followed Merwin’s series of afters. There is nothing at all for me to say. One nightingale is singing nearby in the oaks where I can see nothing but darkness.
My first thought was to write my own series of afters: after I feed the dog and top up the bird feeders; after I make a second pot of coffee; after I deadhead the fading flowers in the garden…
But with the clock ticking… with the guillotine poised… glinting over my head… I had a second thought. The word “darkness” caught my attention. And at that point I was off on what of my fellow writers called a “rant.”
Like most news junkies who take their news with a third pot of coffee, I’m disturbed by the campaign rhetoric leading up to November’s General Election. So it is fair to say that coming to the writing exercise, I was already in a dark place. But with the clock ticking, and without so much as a transition or segue, I leapt from politics to ranting about Saturday’s Park-to-Park walk – a fundraiser for local residents undergoing treatment for Cancer.
The weather on September 17 was idyllic with just the odd Aspen leaf singed with gold. Although the towns were chock-a-block with activities designed to entertain and educate, I found it depressing that only twenty walkers showed up at the starting gate! How sad is that! Surely everyone has a friend, neighbor, or relative who has undergone treatment for cancer. Some have survived; others have died. Shouldn’t the walk be a memorial of sorts?
My concluding sentence read, “Where were the people who were too busy to remember?”
After we read, we give feedback. I was first to admit that my piece was disjointed. And, yes, I was on a rant.
But my fellow writers asked the following questions: One asked, “What does the darkness look like? Why is it so dark?” Another writer stressed the importance of striving for a constant state of meditation, and the need to balance the extremes at either end. Finally, in terms of writing for an audience, both women agreed on the need to create a tension between the light and dark.
What would I do without these writing friends? Their comments centered me.
Why did I choose to focus on ‘darkness’ as opposed to the intent of W.S. Merwin’s poem and his metaphor of a nightingale’s song in the dark? Undertaking a re-think, I’ve concluded that although my despair with the cancer walk’s low rate of participation was real, my underlying angst was comparing the local Cancer walk to my walking The Camino three years ago this October.
Haunted by the low turnout on the Cancer walk, I felt isolated… alone. In contrast, climbing the Pyrenees and walking across Spain, I was joined by strangers. I didn’t know their language, religion, politics, or socio-economic status, but we were one regardless of our reason for walking. On the Cancer walk, I missed the ‘oneness’: that bond… that web of interconnectedness which allows ‘the small stuff’ to fall by the wayside. Or… at the very least be counter-weighed by the Nightingale’s song.
Or in my case, listening to the Second Street Owls sing their song should draw me into the web of connectedness.