Good morning. It’s light already by the time I’ve gotten myself situated at the computer and by the time my poor old pc gets all booted up and warm and ready. I’m tired this morning. The alarm goes off at 4.30 and I don’t even pretend to get up, just reach over, turn it off, and snuggle back down under the covers.
Last night’s Write Whole workshop was fantastic: strong, deep and engaged writing. It’s been a couple weeks of hard processing around my head and heart, lots of excavating writing, all that damn self care and the energies that it stirs up and the way I need to slow down, take some time to process it all without writing, away from the notebook.
I figured that this morning I’d just get up and do a quick blog in response to the nablopomo prompts — last week those were pretty light-hearted, writing-focused prompts, so, no problem.
Today’s prompt is: Has anything traumatic ever happened to you? Describe the scenes surrounding a particular event. (Guest prompt from Adrienne McDonnell)
This is the part where I’m taking a deep breath. Ok. Where to begin? Part of me wants to write about prompts (about the ones that work the best for me and in my workshops), part of me wants to just respond to the damn thing, part wants to write about the morning tea and then take the dog out for a walk.
Anything traumatic. What’s interesting about this prompt is that it doesn’t ask us to write about the trauma itself — it’s asking for the scene surrounding the trauma: what was going on in the other room, what was happening elsewhere, what’s the setting look like? It can be so powerful to write about difficult events — how do I want to say this? Morning writing isn’t the best time for deep didactic engagement with writing process — it can be as powerful, when writing about trauma, to describe as to just suggest or leave off. What we don’t say, that is, is often as or more powerful as what we do — because when we hint or suggest details or a larger story, the reader begins to draw their own conclusions, gets pulled into the story more deeply because their imagination is engaged.
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This is one scene:
I don’t remember if he ever took me in his office during the daytime. I can remember afterhours, dark parking lot, quiet offices in the complex, a couple of lights on in windows, a lawyer or realtor working late. This complex was new, the whole area recently developed, in Omaha’s western expansion. Maybe there was a daytime time, though. In the other rooms of the small therapy office, my mother and their business partner, a psychiatrist, would have been seeing clients. The whole office would be quiet, the business manager and receptionist at her desk behind the check-in counter, the place was like a medical doctor’s clinic — she’d be chewing gum, typing up insurance forms, whiting something out, answering the phone: Hello, Collins and Diercks Therapy, how can I help you? (God, what was their office called? How would she have answered the phone? I can’t remember. Go ahead, Jen, it’s all fiction.)
There would have been quiet conversation in every corner of the building, in every space of this office. Maybe mom met with a young client, a child and his own parents. The child and mom play with some of her toys, he pushes a wooden firetruck around the beige carpeted floor. His parents sit stiff on the couch, sweatered, khakied, the blonde mother with her hair pulled back, they watch their skinny, towheaded son bang the firetruck against his father’s brogues, over and over, it can’t get through, it can’t get through. Mom kneels on the floor with the boy, not over him, on the other side of the room from his parents. She’s calmer than she ever is at home, has taken off her shoes. All the lines in her forehead have gone smooth, and she asks the boy, why does it want to get through? Why can’t the truck go around? She wants to get the boy comfortable enough to say why he’s wetting the bed, why he’s throwing up at school. The boy abandons the firetruck at his father’s shoe, walks back over to the toys, takes up a wooden articulated snake; my mom watches him, relaxed, smiling, alert, she watches his hands and face and can respond to what he does. His parents gape anxiously, the mother grabbing hard at the father’s hand, digs a broken manicure into his palm, to keep herself from interrupting.
In the other office, the psychiatrist consults with a patient about his prescription. The man is manic depressive, hates that he’s lost all possibility of flying on the drug that the doctor gave him, wants to know if there’s something else he can take. He is dark-haired, wan and think but gaining weight, finally, after being on the drug. He wears an expensive suit, has come to his appointment between meetings with legal clients. He says to the doctor, You took away my flight. You took away my flight. The doctor bites his lip on the inside and hopes that the patient can’t see, looks out the window, and then is calm. You were going to fly off a roof, do you remember? The man turns to look out the window, onto the wide swath of new concrete parking lot, out toward the developments of fat empty houses, the tiny trees planted along new roadsides, each one tamped down with rope ties. The man doesn’t exactly nod, but does shift his hands from a clutch between his legs to resting them, bony, heavy, on the dark material over his thighs. Isn’t there something else you can give me?
Outside the office, there was a small open courtyard, a little terrarium-like garden, a fountain. In the other offices, men talked to women; people typed letters; someone got a cup of coffee; a woman connected a modem to the phone lines, her computer emitted the insect-drone of the modem connecting to her internet service provider; a client opened a door and set a bell tingling; a grey mottled cat from the second-most recent development prowled through the courtyard, looking for more prey.
In my stepfather’s office there was no therapy going on during that hour with me.
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Want to take this prompt? You could write about something traumatic, or any other intense experience for you or your character — what was happening in the surrounding spaces, outside the window, on the other side of the wall, etc? Give yourself, your room, 15 minutes — follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.
Thanks for all the layers of your attention and creativity. Thanks for the breadth of your imagination. Thank you for your voice and your words.
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