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Writing from the Deeper Self

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Lengthy Sentence Contest

Winners

The Call ~ The Long-Sentence Invitation

In February 2011, I put out a challenge to the readers of my newsletter, and also the readers of Creativity Portal (www.creativity-portal.com), to write sentences that were long. The purpose of this challenge was to slow down the writing process, the thinking/feeling/reflecting process, to the point where a different kind of rhythm takes over, and even the breath lengthens as a from-within exploration proceeds.

It was begun, this idea, by a written conversation I had with my friend Jane Falla, a writer, editor, and former literary-agency associate in Massachusetts. She was lamenting the increasing loss of face-to-face human communication, in our age of virtual communication (like this, now) and speeded-up technology: that we might be losing our innate ability to ponder, reflect deeply, share conversations that don't necessarily have an agenda but find their way home together in more back-road style.

As I read her letter, I realized I agreed. Having been raised in a family of philosophical thinkers and writers, where a day spent in conversation was nothing surprising, and being ~ as a writer, myself ~ partial to long sentences, where one can step into the waters of one's unknowing and swim at length in the process of discovering, I decided I could do something about it, through my newsletter.

And so I invited my readers to send in writing that had lengthy sentences. They could be about anything, but they had to make sense (not just string random words together). And I also wanted to know what it was like for them to do it ~ the process and its rewards. In exchange, I offered a prize: the ebook version of my book, Starting Your Book: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What's Inside You (www.rosepress.com/Starting-your-book.html). And for those entrants who already had bought the book, I offered a Rose Press Flower Essence Remedy for Writers & Readers. (www.rosepress.com/other.html)

This is what the challenge said:

 

"DEEP IS FUN: A Challenge to Write Long"

Long sentences may seem to be on their way out, thanks to the ubiquity and speed-inducing presence of technology ~ but there is a lot to say for them, as writers in previous, less speed-absorbed cultures have shown. Long sentences get below the surface of things~ lengthen not only the expanse of space that the words take up on the page, but also the stretch of space within the mind and spirit of the reader. To accompany a writer's lengthy sentences~ following with sustained interest all the phrases and clauses kept in delicate, plate-spinning balance by commas, semicolons, and dashes~ is to lengthen one's own stride, inside; to let go of the whirling circumference of the most surface edge of the radius of the circle, and to settle into the deeper, stiller, quieter realms of oneself where all the real treasures, both known and not-yet-known, reside. To develop a liking, even an appetite for, long sentences is to uphold the primacy of that technology of technologies, the human being, with our capacity for expansive mind, sympathetic heart, soaring spirit, and universally vibrating soul.

As one who has written lengthy sentences quite naturally for years~ my husband, also a writer, kids me that my sentences are "Faulknerian" (though I'd prefer to be compared to Virginia Woolf, if at all) ~ I think it would be a great thing to bring back this way of writing and reading: kind of a recycling of vintage fashion, taking the best fabrics and frills from the past and introducing them, recast, into this year's line.

 

For this reason, I am issuing a challenge to you, reading this: to write a page with a long sentence in it that (a) makes sense ~ no point in just throwing in words, helter-skelter; no art in that; (b) comes to you from within ~ i.e., you can feel the rhythm of that length urging your words into place, feel it in your heartbeat, sense it in your breath; and (c) makes you feel differently after having written it than you usually do writing short, to-the-point, utilitarian (or PR) messages. (You'll need to write a short bit afterwards, describing this process and experience, for me to know what that change in you is.)

 

If you are wondering what a long sentence reads like, go back and read the above paragraphs.


Those participants whose long sentences are chosen for their fulfillment of (a), (b), and (c) will receive as thank-you prizes a complimentary e-book copy of my book, Starting Your Book: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What's Inside You (Starting Your Book). Or, if you already have this book, a bottle of "Shining Star" Flower Essence Remedy (Rose Press Flower Essence Remedies for Writers & Readers).

 

The deadline is February 25th [note: this was extended to March 25, 2011]. The subject can be anything. The purpose is to learn to think in long sentences, and write that way at least as an option. The reward, in addition to the complimentary book, is that you will exercise internal muscles you may not know are there: and, once evident to you, they will raise you up, make you more available to refined and deeper thoughts, explorations, and even writing.

 

Ernest Hemingway, watch out! The slowed-down writers and readers are coming. What will they unearth, what hidden treasures? Stay tuned and see.

.

I had no idea what would come back.


The Spreading of the Word

Since I have a longstanding and fruitful relationship with the publisher of Creativity Portal, Chris Dunmire (I am a featured author on that site, writing about deep writing & book writing), I asked Chris if she wanted to join me in this endeavor. A cheerful, positive, and always creative being, Chris immediately said yes, and put up this invitation on her site as well (www.creativity-portal.com).

Out of these two streams came a lovely current of responses.

 

And the Response(s)...

When the responses began to come in, I was really quite thrilled that people had taken the invitation seriously. It meant that Jane and I were not alone in our longing for more depth in writing, and in human life. Rather than read them as they arrived, I collected them in a file and waited until just after the deadline, then read them all at once, remarking to myself on what about these entries I found valuable. When I was done reading, I was inspired! This is what I wrote about it:

 

I have to say that after reading these entries, I feel like the winner. I had no idea what would come in, or be unleashed by this challenge to write at length, through length. As I read through them, I noticed that often my breath would actually slow down to match the length of the sentences. More than the length itself, though, was the depth and slowness of noticing, of reflection, evident in these long-sentenced pieces. What a gift it is to start reading and find that there is nothing else I want to do than slow myself down enough to keep pace with it, to enter its rich discovering and evocations, to swim in its waters.

Some of the entrants reported what they got out of it, which will appear here as well. But I want to thank everyone for giving themselves to it, because clearly that is what translated: their whole-heartedness ~ combined with the palette of exploration, memory, and whatever else rose up in them to move into at length ~ became a portal that I, as the reader, could enter, and therein find something of myself. This is my idea of “winning writing.”

A sweet and relevant note: Earlier in the day, as I was driving from home towards my studio in an extremely urban area, I saw a blimp up in the sky. It was for the purpose of advertising, of course—insurance, in this case—but no matter: it moved more slowly and constantly through the sky than anything else around. The cars around me whizzed by, people jogged and walked at various erratic paces; but the blimp hung in the blue sky like a message from an earlier time, and moved on a horizontal line so slowly that my breath was reminded of what's real. The blimp coasted like a long note, past buildings and trees, always at that same slow pace, as we down here rushed about. Then it was out of sight. But it had been seen, and that was enough.

Same with these writings.

What does this tell us about slowing down to write, much less slowing down to live? It is so very automatic to do more, and do it faster; it is the way the world has been heading, and some even say that this speed-up is the evolutionary time we are all living through.

Still: reflecting is a slower, stiller process. We have to believe it is part of our well being, our health, our survival. I sense for myself that writing comes from a deeper, slower place in me than does speaking because there were so many things I could not say aloud to another human being, when young; but those feelings and knowings had to go somewhere, even if they clung to some inert neurons inside, waiting for, in hopes of, a time when I might be in a position to care, to listen, to let them out mothered by my holding reflections. Writing to make something happen to someone else—to persuade, to educate, to sell, etc.—has its place; but writing from the deeper Self to know yourself, to know what is true in you, is what (in my experience) heals us all.

Thank you, dear entrants. I am touched that you took the time to write these lengthy-sentenced pieces, and had the wish and courage to share them. You are prize-worthy, and prize-winners, and your prizes will come to you by email or mail. Now that I have experienced a bit of your writing, sharing my book with you ( Starting Your Book: A Guide to Navigating the Blank Page by Attending to What's Inside You ) feels quite appropriate. Maybe you will be encouraged that who you are is enough to write the book that is in you and no one else, and that this book will be a gift. (And for those who already have this book, may the Flower Essence Remedy for Writers have an effect that's clearly healing.)

 

The Winners!

There are 10 winners ~ 9 in the long-sentence category, and 1 in a category I made up on the spot to accommodate a powerful piece where the sentences were not all that long, but the depth made up for it. The winners came from all over the world: in the US, from Massachusetts, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona, and California, for example. And internationally, from Canada, and Ireland, and South Africa. What a thrill to know that intimate writing ~ stimulated by this invitation ~ speaks to the one heart that truly spans the world.

I have been graced to not only read and judge these entries, but also to communicate with their authors by email ~ to notify them, and then, when they responded (quite delighted and moved to have been so notified), to respond again. Perhaps the best part of this, for me, is the intimacy that grows out of deep writing. It transcends distance, time, and much else. It is food for the soul.

Enjoy the nourishment.

 

THE WINNING ENTRIES ~

These are listed alphabetically, not in hierarchical order. My own responses at the time of first reading them [in brackets, and in green] precede the writing. The writer's responses to doing this writing (if offered) appear in after the writing itself as "Writer's Process Notes."

The winners are:

  • Perica Cesko
  • Patricia Dillon
  • Debbie Esslinger
  • Jane Falla
  • Judy Jahnke
  • Olga Jardim
  • Amy Lloyd
  • Mary Martin
  • Margo Roby
  • Gwynn Scheltema

 

Perica Cesko

(San Francisco, California / USA)

[An amazing and beautiful soul piece, very internal and without exterior reference, and yet so present and available to the writer's own experience that it becomes mine, and I find myself hanging on every word so that her discoveries can trigger and echo my own. ~ NR]

 

I couldn't recite the fervor of the feeling among the dwellers of that stupendous cove; stairs, creaking, wooden walls damp with soul, the love of ages emanating from the ceiling and the floor, and I couldn't, I wouldn't, I was so small compared to everything around; the supple commodity of noise, soft with love and knowledge, and wanting, tickling us, to come out and mingle, and dance, and speak ourselves out, out of our dungeon; and I found another way to belong, to present the gift of presence to them, to myself, to the life, just because, and I followed my gut, and followed my feeling, but, I came upon a wall, a wall that stood firm and tall as the grandest monument to ego that ever was, and I muttered to them and myself without a voice: how menial the obstacle is when met with love, the love of loving for love herself, for her to continue, to go on, to be; my markers and edges and borders vanished for eternity which lasted but a second and I came back to be faced by the wall, the tall wall of my own wanting, of my own creation, for their amusement; I so loved that second of eternity, I emblazoned the feeling of it, to not forget, to embrace me whenever I wanted it, again, again, and again, but it vanished, like the wall before which it appeared, and vanished like the wall itself when it appeared, and dismantled the veil as I loved, loved, and loved; memory is menial, too; the stream of melody from my impoverished canal is aghast at the cities I've built inside myself, the labyrinths of power and security, all gray and dry, begging to be let to die, to crumble to the ground, to the ground of my being, to the bottom of my soul, where they again enter the stream, the stream of life, of love, of being, of giving, of the glowing Suns and Moons and Stars, to become new, to become creative again, to feel alive, to be useful, to simply be, moving, in everything; I lost that day, for I never spoke, never shared, never uttered, never showed the honor I felt, the reverence my insides trembled with, the love they tickled out of my center, the joy that rushed through my being – no, I never uttered, any; I must be enamored with this passive crawl, slow and heavy, hungry and alone, but no, not for long, for I feel the sea of impatience within myself churning, calamity forming, I'm building my own demise, my own crackdown and my own rise; the fervor now is bliss, I shall care for everyone with an open hand and a true voice, of a simple word, without need for elaborate language, I shall, I shall, and I shall be; the wounded canons of my past will no longer judge, they will love, they will spew gentleness, unashamed, open, fully there, for others, giving, teaching, honoring, and blasting joy through the cities, through the streams, into the centers of my brothers, and my sisters; I shall be that which I feel.

 

 

Patricia Dillon

Nenagh, County Tipperary / Republic of Ireland

[This is a whole piece, of whole cloth, very evocative and beautiful; and the length of it only serves to draw it out so that what's felt in it and under it can be transferred to the reader. How could this brief story/recollection have been anything other than a long breath, drawn out, and had the power it does have? ~ NR]

 

A recent incident in my life has triggered a memory so vivid, so close-up that I can hear the voices
of those four girls, thin, high-pitched; hear their starched summer dresses crinkling closer and
closer so that the fragrance of Sunlight Soap and Suleo becomes the very breeze that's rustling
my Corpus Christi veil and dress which, only minutes ago felt beautiful, princess-like; soft and
innocent as the flower petals I'd just sprinkled before Our Lady asking her to please make my mother

better eventhough my auntie had promised me that mammy would get better soon and now,
now the purity of my dress and veil,of the flower petals, of my prayer and yes, of my beautiful,
tender, delicate mother were being jeered at, sniggered at, desecrated, violated by something
which could only have been contrived in hell and made manifest in these four girls; in the
 effervescent delight in their eyes as they pointed and chanted, pointed and chanted louder
and louder, center-punching into my soul a truth which had been hidden from me:
your -mother-is-going-to-die-your-mother-is-going-to-die-your-mother-is-going-to-die... pushing me
backwards, twirling me round on my heels till all I could hear was the clatter of my Communion
shoes as I ran full pelt, only stopping at my own front door, left open so that neighbours could visit
my sick mother but this time my father, slim and elegant, had just come from her room because he was
coming down the stairs saying, atmospherically, when he saw me: Your mother's calling for you, go
up to her will you?

__________________

Writer's process notes:

Ironically, long-sentence writing fits this story perfectly because it all happened in a sudden, breathless kind
of way without pause for thought or consequences.  At first I found it difficult to write that way but soon it
just seemed to write itself.  This was probably because I actually felt that a child was hurting and needed my
attention.  It felt good to be there for her.

To be truthful I'm not aware of any great change at this moment, except to say that my daughter rang
me just before I sat down to do this.  She told me of a family crisis.  Usually -- and it always, always
seems to happen when I'm trying to get back to my writing and I always, always put my writing on hold
until a voice says What's the use?  But not today.  Today I got on with my writing -such as it is-- and I don't
feel bad about it at all.  I'm grateful to you for giving me the opportunity.

 

 

Debbie Esslinger

Hazel Green, Alabama / USA

[This is really excellent. Not only does it start from a very rich metaphor and then go where it goes in long sentences, but it has long thoughts. You can tell it is being realized as it is being written, which a lengthy breath and creativity really require. ~ NR]

 

As a bright, open-minded, open-hearted woman of the Deep South, I've long accepted that mine may always prove to be blackberry dreams: Those wonderful plans, rising from the pits of personal chaos, that create multitudes of dainty, faintly fragrant blooms tempered by that final bitter-cold cold-snap that turns on a dime into the unrelenting months of blistering heat, which may, in fact, provide a bumper crop of the biggest, plumpest fruit, but more often as not, no matter how black the berry or sweet the juice, leave those damn seeds between my teeth for days that make me wonder more than once, "Was it really worth it?"

"Will it really be worth it?" I wonder as I interview one more woman concerning her thoughts on creativity, her own creativity, and the level of creative confidence she has, or wants to have... or merely wishes she has, as some of the women seem to want more creativity and the confidence that comes with that creativity, but that somehow just don't understand that they may have to make a move toward their own creation of self and who they want to become.  

Too many times in the course of the dissertation process, I have understood all too clearly that this is simply a trial of perseverance, albeit that at one time I thought that society, and the individual people that make up society, had put academics and scholars in their ivory towers out of respect, and from maybe just a tad bit of intimidation, but it didn't take me too long into the process to understand I was wrong: It's the scholars and the academics that have placed themselves in those towers, and too many, once there, try so very hard to dissuade all those that want to join them on their self-erected pedestals.

And then I, realizing the truth, must look at why I want to join them. Whereas, at one time, I thought it would be proving to myself, and to others, that I was smart enough to get my PhD, I think that now it is more a point of not letting people down: Not people, you understand, who have supported me and encouraged me in my endeavor, because quite frankly there's very, very few of them, but people - these women I was talking about - that need to see that someone like me, and someone like them, can do something that simply requires making up ones mind to do it.

So, I too, need to jump down quick from whatever tower in which I thought I might reside (although I most definitely would have built mine of both ebony and ivory, being that bright, open-minded, open-hearted woman from the Deep South that I am) and realize that instead of finishing my PhD for my sake, that the actual doing of my research and the completing of this degree may very well be worth it if it encourages and inspires any of these women - women just like me - who don't know that they are capable of becoming more of who they want to be, but who may learn that if we allow a woman to grow in the confidence of her own creativity she is encouraged to become the one she is meant to be… and, even better, that if we nurture that woman to explore and expand her creativity, she becomes a masterpiece.

 

__________________

Writer's process notes:

Thanks for this challenge! I admit, I got carried away: five paragraphs of one sentence each. They may make sense to only me, but the effort certainly came from within... Writing the sentences made me feel entirely different (especially from when writing academically), both in having started with sentence one (the essence of a short novel on which I am working), to end up with what has been irritating me for the last year! I don't know if I would have gone from paragraph one to paragraph five if I hadn't let the sentences take command. I did edit quite a bit from just the ramblings, so it was truly a writing exercise, not just a "putting thoughts on paper" one.

 

So, again: Thanks!

 

Jane Falla

Conway, Massachusetts / USA

[A truly wonderful evocation of love and loving and love's possibilities, from within the living memory of it, so that it dances in the heart like a promise for everyone, including you, reading it. ~ NR]

Writing long and remembering love …

Let me take you back for a second to a sweeter time, a time of kisses laced with grape juice, and a sky that spread out in slow inches like a carpet of twinkling stars as we sat and waited for a ferry that we knew wouldn't sail, and it just didn't matter because the whole day seemed like a parade painted with color and light, and the world felt just right right then, with just you and me in it, wrapped by the warmth of the sun from our day at the beach, dreamily eating grapes on the dock, passing them back and forth to each other with gently touching lips, and later, seeing that the ferry was clearly never going to arrive, walking and wandering hand-in-hand into the promise of a quiet night without worry or loneliness, setting out without concern of time or destination, floating contentedly in the fact that wherever we were going in this adventure, we now had the promise of swimming in it together, and suddenly invincible, there was no doubt we would dive in and discover something and get somewhere, and it would be good, even better than good, and it would last like a night without an ending, or a day without a beginning, just one expansive ocean of moment following moment in the natural tides of a new love, like we were the messages in the bottles that washed ashore, and only for each other could we pop the corks and unseal the envelopes of ourselves—peeling back the glued edges without rips or tears—unfolding not only our deepest secret contents to each other, but also shining a light for our very own selves to clearly see the vast horizon of our possibility.

 

__________________

Writer's process notes:

One thing that I can say about the experience of writing this memory is that I did slow downalmost to be in a dreamlike stateand I felt that I was reliving that moment. For that slice of time, I felt so vitally alive and deeply in touch with something important in my lifethe taste of real, deep, promising love. Anais Nin said, " We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection." These deep memories live inside of us to serve us. I wanted to taste this part of my life again, and it was immensely satisfying and filled with wonder. To have the chance to know that kind of love has to be one of life's greatest treasures.

 

 

Judy Jahnke

Sahuarita, Arizona / USA

[This is really honest, alive, and beautiful. You can feel things opening up in the very moment of writing, as opposed to being thoughts put down. I found myself entering willingly into this writer's exploration, and feeling it as my own for the moment. ~ NR]

 

Up, Down and Around: Circling the Deep

OK, I know I know how to do this even though I continue to ask why and allow myself to sink down with sad and/or scary thoughts. I can see me standing on the edge looking both into the dark abyss and simultaneously up and across to the mountain tops and the clear, blue sky. It is as if my mind's eye can do both at once. If I think I can, I can. What I see looking down into the dark are images of me walking around and around the inside of a bubbling volcano. I am more and more fatigued, feeling weighted by the effort as I desperately struggle to gain purchase – find enough energy to push up and over the top and out to a sense of safety; safety from the roiling brew below that could, at any moment, erupt up and out engulfing my whole being in it. There it is – the dreaded fear again! I force my eyes upward toward clarity of mind and the calm peace of deep, refreshing breaths as I search for the touch stone I know is always there, Spirit in me, around me – everywhere guiding and supporting me. I sense relief like a refreshing sip of water wetting my parched body and soul. Yes, I am safe after all. Actually I just have to let myself know I am safe all the time. My mind is so busy working its complex way around the tacky little details of my every day existence that I hardly notice when I start to inch my way along a path that divided itself into two directions, one up, ironically to the edge of “down,” and one down to the depths of Spirit's loving guidance. Guess which one I chose today? With an unconscious reliance on what I feel, not what I think is real or right, I travel on, and here I am, again, circling the deep.

__________________

Writer's process notes:

For several years now I have been using daily, or near daily, journal writing to plumb the depths of my experiences, actions and feelings, which often turns into a new idea or awareness of self leading to personal growth. Writing this way is – for me - a spiritual experience akin to meditation or prayer. English and writing teachers I have had stressed “short and to the point. Don't waste words, etc.” I remember being chastised and corrected for using “too long a sentence” or “unnecessary verbiage.” I have read some of the authors you referenced, who used “lengthy sentences” and assumed, incorrectly I think, that this was a passé way to write. In any case, your challenge was one I undertook with relish. My natural way of writing, it seems, is to use more phrases and clauses, to be more descriptive, and to write the way I think from within myself using images that pop to mind. I love it! I feel like someone has unlocked a secret door that will lead to a whole new journey in writing. I have been freed to “go long and deep.” It is a wonderful feeling.

 

 

Olga Jardim

South Africa (NR's guess)

[Funny, touching, and though personal also transferable through the slowness and depth of the writing at length. A gift to receive. ~ NR]

 

Parents Who Love Their Kids

If I were to have taken a qualifying exam prior to motherhood, I would not have measured even as the custodian of a mere goldfish! Which is why, when the nurse confirmed the positive result, I proceeded to faint on the spot, immediately reduced to a state of mental stupor.

 

However, nothing could have prepared my heart for the magnitude of unceasing love that would imbibe my existence from the day of her birth. My daughter, my gift! She is the blessing that has amplified the depth and breadth of the extension of life; a reason to be glad and motivation to find the largeness within ourselves with joy unending.

 

All these things she has brought into my life and even now, at age twenty five, I remember with tenderness the day of her birth. I relish the fact that each day is a new day in her growth towards everything she is striving to be; more than just a roommate, she is a delightful companion, able to rise up to any challenge and at times, even mothering me!

 

She has surprised me, in that, despite so much mutual love, we are so different in nature, which only serves to showcase the uniqueness of every human being; confirmation that although children are biologically like us and from us, they nevertheless come with a singular and inimitable sense of purpose, thinking with their very own thoughts. Therein lays the joy, with each day unfolding a fulfilment unmatched by any other endowment, lending their perspective on life as they view it.

 

I am a 50 year old mother, who loves her daughter with the ardour of a proud lioness guarding her cub. Perhaps it is a result of single parenting, since she was barely four years of age, which initially made it essential both legally and traditionally, that I be attentive to every aspect of her livelihood, ensuring that nothing was ever lacking, turning me into a raving fan.

 

Nevertheless, I am thankful everyday, for the wonder of motherhood; a chance to be completely selfless in the pursuit of her well-being; desiring only what is best for her and nurturing her to live her life with grace and nobility. My heart is filled with gratitude when she presents me with evidence that she has learned her lessons well and that kindness is her guide as she treads on her life's journey everyday.

 

 

Amy Lloyd

North Hollywood, California / USA

[Amy's piece is not, technically, lengthy sentences. But I was so moved by what she wrote that I created a category for her on the spot. As I wrote her, in notifying her of winning: "Your evocation of your experience with your father's dying was so extremely beautifully, so honestly written that I feel moved to award you a prize even though the sentences were not actually very lengthy. Originally I came up with this to, in part, slow down the breathing in the act of writing: a heart's pace that goes where it goes. Your sentences, precise and well-honed, were more clipped than that. But the feeling brought about by the concreteness, clarity, and emotional honesty of your writing is so deep and moving and true that I feel the desire to make up a special category for you. So let us call it 'deep writing in not-so-long sentences.' So what if it doesn't fit the container I came up with. What it brings forth is worth everything." ~ NR]

 

Unexpected Healing A memoir

“If anyone strikes my heart, it does not break,

but it bursts

and the flame coming out of it

becomes a torch on my path .”-- Hazrat Inayat Kahn.

I had arrived at the house that Tuesday evening, the day he died. When my mother's call reached me, the panic only mildly tempered in her voice, all she said was, “It's really bad.”A nurse was there, holding a stethoscope to his heart, as were the two loving Filipino care givers, Arnell and Oscar. Over the last few months they had worked and slept there 24 hours and had become part of the family. My mother managed to contact the priest in time to deliver the last rites. I stood by the end of his bed, head bowed, reciting the prayers with the rest of them. My dad lay there, cross-eyed and still from the morphine. He was uncharacteristically quiet.

It startles me that I actually watched him take his last breath. Fitting I suppose because he watched me take my first. He made me and now I would carry his DNA to the end of my life, a strange sort of passing of the baton. I have my father's feet: Knobby and narrow, and not especially pretty. These past several months I spent many hours massaging his feet, he liked that, and I had noticed the similarity. When they carried his body out a few hours later and his feet poked through the end of the bag, I was reminded of this again. The odd things that made me feel a part of him, here was another to add to the absurdity of death. And dying. How it all began.

My father and I were never friends. Growing up, he made fun of my looks (my Irish- Welsh genetics had proffered me a pointy chin and square masculine jaw), chided me for my spotty intelligence, and generally instilled intimidation. I regarded him suspiciously and often fearfully. His unpredictable nature was both bombastic and critical, snapping into hilarious and sweet on the turn of a dime. His illness had been with him twenty-two years, but the real end, the sharp decline, was in the last two. It was during that time when our relationship, mercifully and surprisingly, improved.

When someone is very sick, their loved ones actually get sick, too. Our sickness is one of worry, concern, and the whittling away of our energy. Inexplicably, we also carry a surplus of optimism. One has to be optimistic. When I got my dad to walk around the pool with his cane, swearing and complaining the entire five feet, I felt like the head cheerleader at the home game.

Sometimes the triumphs were smaller, like getting him to eat half a sandwich. He loved bacon on a well toasted English muffin. And still other times the best I could rally a cheer for was him sleeping through the night without keeping my mother up every hour. Often I didn't even know what I was rooting for: wellness, the distraction from illness, the appearance of health or balance or hope or just an ordinary day where nothing, no crisis at all happened. Dying of cancer is very active, very much a show and it takes everyone with it.

Here's what I learned: Watching someone die slowly is impossible, horrendous, and insurmountable. But you do it anyway. I can't tell you when exactly, but the role of cheerleader morphed into the role of solider. Now I had been recruited for this tour of duty.

My mother and I took turns answering the baby monitor. I had purchase one as a solution to our many worries about not hearing him from other rooms. We took turns dashing up the stairs when we heard his call: straighten the bed sheets, get more protein drink, and help him to the bathroom. We were soldiers in the war, hyper alert for anything and we were not surprised when warfare came. Vomiting, mood swings, rage, and despair. We all infected. “When am I going to get over this thing?” my child-like father would ask. The only answer was the one never replied. And what other battles was I fighting? What were our weapons? You know already the enemy is winning, that there isn't going to be a happy ending, so the battle is for capturing every possible second left. And to be acutely present to it, pressing into the pages of your memory because both time and the disease are closing in.

Like a war zone, my parent's house descended into chaos. Every possible surface was filled with mountains of medicine bottles, scraps of paper, and half eaten bowl s of food. Upon entering the kitchen in search for scissors and discovering my mom popping open another bottle of wine, nearly toppling the cat off the table as she poured, I made her promise we would never slide into the likes of “Grey Gardens.” This made her laugh. It was good to make her laugh. I made a point to do that when I could. Laughter was a tricky tool in my family. Funny, but often duplicitous, especially to my dad who built a career on jokes.

What comes with a tidal wave personality like his was a well equipped vocabulary for killing anything in its path and his viciousness took no prisoners. My dad craved gobs of attention, with appetites both extravagant and massive. A daughter of strength and moderation was no match for him and our interactions were frictional. We never really liked each other.

My childhood experience of my father and most notably was the dinner table event where humor and its darker side first made its power known. I am one of 5 children, though in truth it feels as though I was an only child. I don't remember conversations ever including what we may have learned in history class that day or who we had a crush on, but I do most vividly remember the competition amongst my siblings of who could make my father laugh of even more crippling, who could use one of us as the target. This engendered a strange sort of cruelty, the mean clown , and the proverbial rapier wit was fatal for me. I wasn't fast enough to dodge the stabs of my older brother, who could twist a phrase and load it with acid before hurling it on my behalf. After all, someone had to die at the dinner table and it was usually me. My agreed upon shortcomings, namely my intelligence and looks, were fodder for them. When stung with a zinger, my father would give rousing cheer. I do not like my siblings and I am not certain I even love them. Though my recollections of the verbal and emotional abuse are very clear, they – when confronted- have chosen to be emotional amnesiacs. Convenient. Their total lack of consciousness bred my wobbly sense of safety and prompted a breaking away from my family for many years. They didn't take kindly to that.

You have enemies? Good. Then you have stood up for something sometime in your life.” (Winston Churchill.) I had made enemies, but I had regained my sense of self back and that was well worth the bloody exchange. Back to the end, the last 6 weeks of his life.

While spending most of the day in bed and rarely getting downstairs, he asked me to read the Sunday comics to him. This event involved explaining verbally what was in each picture. I employed various cartoon-like voices to better create the world of the comic strips. He found my interpretations less than stellar and let me know, but complimented me for a valiant effort. It remains a lovely moment for me. Another lighter moment: Upon administering medicinal marijuana in lollypop form to ease his nausea, my father looked up from his bed, sucker neatly wedged between his lips and said, “Hey Ames- did you ever think it would come to this, feeding your father pot?” No, I never did. He thanked me often for all the help.

“I am so lucky,” he once said after… well does it matter?

“No, I am the lucky one,” was my reply. Those wondrous moments slip in quietly like morning light, genuine and warm.

Some days I lay next to him and hold his hand while we listened to music or watched baseball. The World Series was on and he tried to explain the game to me. Time was moving and he had only so much left. Those afternoons I would bring my arsenal of good cheer for that was within my reach. That is what I could do. I read David Sedaris to him, brought funny stories from the paper, (one he really laughed at that involved a man blaming his cat for surfing a number of pornographic websites) and made him brownies. Throughout my entire life my dad lived on one side of the chasm and me the other, but this illness spun a thread that reached across and held us together.

Most of the time I held it together, both for him and for my mom. I stuffed it all inside until I could get home and release the vapors of anguish. There was one moment though when even I couldn't solider it through. I remember the day was about two weeks before his death. My father loved the TV channel where they played music. He particularly loved the Broadway station. La Cage Aux Follies was playing and in a burst of energy, my father in a rather robust voice chimed in with the refrain, “I am what I am..” It was the most vigor I had seen him in months and it made me smile for the rest of the day. Quite the contrary came a week later. One afternoon I was laying next to him, trying to soothe him, his hand slipping out and away from mine. He was fidgeting and angry and rolled over. I could hear the labored breathing and grew alarmed at the change of his skin. I noticed that particular day he looked ghoulishly white and pasty, a reminder of the disease and its residency in his body. Over the TV came the slow refrain of Barbara Streisand singing, “ Happy Days are here again.” The picture of his nearly inert body, his twitching feet searching for the covers, and the dark evening light broke the dam and my tears gave way. That day I lost the battle.

The funeral was a circus. Having gained a reputation as the dark sheep of the family, the one who left, my attendance was met coldly. Death becomes so personal that is it almost comedic. I witnessed all the hands gripping too tightly to the cocktail glasses, the false frozen smiles, and the well intentioned, impotent words. I stayed upstairs and lay on the bed where my father had been, thinking about him and hoping where ever he went it was peaceful.

Grieving isn't about forgetting. It's about dividing up one's feelings. Portions to mourn and release and portions to re-claim and build again. It is architecture and construction- creative, tedious and unpredictable.

At his memorial everyone spoke of his large appetites, and his robust joy of life. I do not share that with him. I am moderate, cautious of this world, a small foot in it at best. To my credit, I have built a solid relationship with myself, having navigated my interior deeply and thoroughly. My dad did not. He couldn't or wouldn't access his personal self I suppose because his public self was so bright and playful. The truth is I believe what lay deep in there terrified him and so he scooted away from everything too emotional or candid. Uncomfortable with intimacy, with anything that involved self reflection, we were strangers from foreign lands, joined together in crisis.

The day after he died my mother immediately had the handicap rails and ramps, bars and stools all stripped. She wanted no reminders. There is a steely practicality to my mother, her Irish ruggedness, her “forward moving, stay in line solider” attitude. We lost this battle, but we have to keep moving. She confessed there were times lo these many months that were so excrutiating that she wanted to get in her car and drive far far away. The anguish of watching someone die is so overwhelming, so impossible that it is to marvel anyone can manage it. When the brink of my despair broke and fell before me, I was shocked to see that same pain created something even more astonishing: My heart had grown and taken on a new shape.

The weeks afterwards: random moments that break me up. Weird reminders, wheelchairs, canes, the smell of bacon. What do we all silently promise to do to the ones who made us? We promise to hold their hand. Cancer was my prison, dad was the prisoner, and the light through the cell window was love. He wasn't freed in the traditional sense, but I believe his heart was given redemption. So was mine. I never did impress him much with my intelligence or wit nor did he me. Our conversations were never deep. Who would have guessed that I felt the closest to him when in the silence we held hands and watched CSI ? There was no need to dazzle with words-words were futile and false. But I had the most elegant of weapons- a blunt sword that required simply holding, not brandishing. It was what reflected off the shiny tip that mattered. The picture of father and daughter connected by flesh, quiet and undisguised.

I do not have regrets. I spent precious time with him that weaved the smallest strand we could both tread across. It was a joint effort and one that I know involved a series of miracles. My heart is shattered for sure, but like a mirror that has fallen to the ground and the pieces have cracked and splintered, they can also be glued together. More profoundly, what is now reflected back will be better. For that is the thing about death. You change. And if you were present to it you will absorb this experience into the gallery of your life. Turns out, you don't acquire wisdom: You become it.

As horrifying as it sounds, disease is a gift. All this time I thought I was showing up for him, administering mercy and kindness to help with the transition. But I was there for me. I suppose I had always wanted a close relationship with my father, I would have asked that he always be kind to me, respectful, and supportive. I would have hoped he and I could have been great friends, with private jokes, and mutual tastes. We weren't and I have often wondered what other woman I would be had I had his nurturing. My dad was not my hero. He was an unformed man, demonized by his excesses and crippled emotional blankness. Sometimes when I lie on my bed, I reach my hand across the pillow like I did all those months. His hand isn't there, but I can see his face looking back at me, with gratitude in his eyes. Never underestimate the power of holding a hand.

 

 

Mary Martin

North Carolina / USA

[A very deep and touching exploration of self and self-acceptance. The length of the sentences parallels where it takes my heart, my breath in reading it. It's a gift. ~ NR]

 

A flash of light has appeared before my eyes this day in that I have come to see that all these years I have frantically and despairingly turned to walk every avenue toward the other, the external, rather than to walk upon the path of knowing me; amazingly I find myself aware that I have not pursued that course because of deep, monstrous fear in that what kind of creature would I find?  Could she be as horrific as I imagine to have propelled me onto paths so alien to my sense of "fit" that I could not bear the introductions or the relationship which she may call forth?  How distasteful or abominable could a small child be?  I would imagine not so terrible yet something in my inside-out, just below the surface of my skin, some place within my eyes to perceive, I have falsely accepted such a figure of my or another's imagination ~ yes, that is it!  I accepted another's description of myself to be this untouchable, leprous creature….very young was I when this acceptance took root and in the years following, either the fear to shatter the other's description or my own fear to face her, grew to such a point that I simply, without even noticing or even regarding my own actions or decisions,  moved away from her, further and further away so that she became more and more buried and the fear grew bigger and more real, although now I see falsely real.  I see today the treasure I seek is the knowing this child and taking measures to embrace her, to sit with her fears, and ask her what they are and how they make her feel and how she lives with them and how she moves around them.  The exciting part about this painful discovery is that I now have the courage to approach this child within and truly love her into being.  For years as an adult I believed I needed another to love me into being and thankfully, I see that indeed is not the way I am to love and learn to love, as I am to have the adventure contained within and to have the mindfulness and intimacy to grow a listening heart with eager ears and open hands and dancing feet to love this child, this child who carries my name and cherishes my dreams and has been forsaken for all my sixty years.  This child, this precious child has watched as I doted over others with such a craving for love,  as she within me longed to have her hair stroked, her face touched with kindness, her tears patted with tenderness, her whole body held closely next to my heart….yes, her heart.  How mysteriously it is that a person can live a life so estranged from one's self.  Yet I confess this is true and although the words scratch at one's nerve endings with pain, the awareness and awakening of such a truth offers hope and light and an open door to begin again with love and enthusiasm to love me, that child within, that child who has been mute and restless and holding back and longing for attention and love and warmth and laughter and silliness and craziness and freedom to be!  Yes, freedom to be me! With me! As I am and as I grow to be.  The meaning of the word BE.  This is me!  These words are synonymous …now I see!  To be I must be ME!  How can it be any other way? It cannot.  No longer vacuous and floating in space as an alien or a non-entity.  No matter how the outer shows itself, the ME, the BE of ME, is embraced, invited to receive all this love and attention, and to know that she is known for the first time in her life.

 

A declaration of honesty and truth…a result of  the last experience wherein  I have regarded myself as lost, a failure, a mistake, fumbling through this life…and realizing why?  Perhaps because there is no life until I claim myself as a child, a woman, and a human being worthy to be loved.  And who is there closest to me to love me?  Yes, I am that person closest to me.  My path may appear quite foreign to others in the way I adventure upon it.  I now see there is no room for judgment toward another or toward myself.  That choice limits, holds back, constricts, cuts away the beauty of one's wholeness, and we are all whole.  We have always been whole.  I, for one, just never knew that… until now… I have found the courage to take time and energy and whatever else it takes to love me.  To say to myself, "Mary, now is the time to learn who you are…what makes your heart open to the skies, what makes your eyes turn to delight, what allows for sweet sleep, what causes the corners of your mouth to turn upward…and it does not matter at all whether any one else joins in your choosings.  What matters is that you, your child within, your essence rejoice in these moments of precious life!  This is life.  This is choosing life.  This is knowing that the life that breathes within you has meaning, value, and will always be.  For me this is divine love.

 

Margo Roby

Atlanta, Georgia / USA

[A poetic prose piece that really opens up into the experience through its length and breadth of the sentences. It could have been treated dramatically—a fire in the woods—but the focus is more internal than that, and the very seeing and moving towards is what's closest at hand. The last line is the poetry, and it soars. ~ NR]

Pausing in her morning meditations, the woman set her coffee mug on the low table to her side and stood, glancing out the window, as she did so, at the still dark ridge line a couple of miles away, before tilting her head--in a gesture all her friends would have recognised--to take in the blaze in the stand of trees to the left, wondering, as she did so, whether she could walk to the location of the blaze before the stormy weather she could see to her right overtook her; and at that thought she swiveled, walked over to the closet, opened the door and pulled out her windbreaker, before moving over to the chest of drawers and taking out her favourite wooly grey scarf and leather gloves, shifting back to the window for one last look at the lowering grey clouds moving rapidly from west to east, before heading for her front door, opening, closing, and locking it behind her and striking out for the ridge line--her pace one all her friends were familiar with--and the red blaze which she used as her marker, never letting it completely out of her sight, despite the occasional obstacle, such as an apartment tower, and reaching the bottom of the ridge after a brisk thirty minute walk; she caught her breath and began to climb, no longer needing the glow to light her way, as she moved up the dirt path through shrubs, low bushes, and finally the initial tree line, her stride lengthening as she sighted the break in the trees ahead and made for it, almost bursting through, in time to watch the red glow break free of the tree line as it began its ascent into the sky. 

__________________

Writer's process notes:

I was a HS English teacher for twenty years and before my 11th grade Faulkner unit, I would set an exercise for my students where I gave them a six word sentence and asked them to explode it into one hundred words. I forbade listing of adjectives and adverbs and told them much what you told us. I loved reading their work and they appreciated Faulkner much more.

I retired to focus on my writing, but my genre is poetry, so when I saw your exercise I jumped at the chance to put into practice what I set for my students. The process that informed my piece was to start with a six word sentence and explode it into a mini-story. I think that my writing poetry helped me to feel the rhythm and pacing of the piece. I also stopped to read and reread the piece, so I could feel it as I wrote it.

Thank you for the opportunity.

 

Gwynn Scheltema

Trent River, Canada

[Very engaging, detailed, drawing you in. It shows me that if you slow down to write lengthy sentences about early memories, the memories tend to come back vividly. The ability to be present with them and paint them in a way that evokes an experience in the reader is a gift, even if not all of the material is intrinsically inspiring or healing (here, some is, the dog through a child's eyes is not). ~ NR]

 

Aunty Peg washed on Mondays, putting sheets and Uncle Frank's cotton shirts through the mangle and hanging them out to dry on the washing lines that ran between the rows of vegetables in the fenced off area at the back of the house. If I visited, she lifted me up on the edge of the kitchen counter where I couldn't get in the way of the zinc tubs she had in the center of the kitchen floor, and to which she periodically added more boiled water as the levels dropped.

If I were good, I had the honour of unwrapping the small cube of washing blue, crumbling it between my fingers as if it were a magical gift, and swishing it into the rinse water, watching the blue tendrils strike out like runner beans and then collect in jagged circles as I swirled the water, until they disappeared into the inkyness of the solution, and I pulled my hand out and held it up to the light, the faint blue hue on my skin making my hand almost ghostlike, expecting at any moment to see the bones against the window pane like an x-ray.

There was always the sickly smell of boiling starch on the stove, and of tripe cooking for the dog: a huge growth-covered beast called Jake, with loose black jowls that hung inside out and were connected to the floor with strings of drool. Jake growled in continual menacing undertones and I kept a wide berth, knowing that only his extreme age and excess weight prevented him from making good on his threats.

 

__________________

Writer's process notes:

You asked what makes you feel differently after having written it than you usually do writing short, to-the-point, utilitarian (or PR) messages.

 

I work in a writing environment where facts are paramount and emotion is discouraged. Although the piece above is loaded with “facts”, they came from an emotional place—my childhood memory. I immersed myself in that memory and writing long sentences made me extend —slowed everything down to slow motion and forced me to really “look” for the tiny details. Even though this is short, I felt emotionally drained when it was finished.

 

 

Concluding Comments

I hope you have enjoyed reading these lengthy sentences and moving into your own deeper experience through that act. I remain humbled and thrilled by the responses, not only the wonderful writing but also the human connections they have made possible.

Writing, to me, at its truest links us heart to heart, shows us that we ~ in our uniqueness and sometimes feeling of loneliness/separation ~ are more connected, more loved, more trailblazing and healing of our own (and therefore, our readers') lives and quests than we may ever have imagined.

Writing from the Deeper Self, while an approach to writing that I found (or was given to me) long ago, is not so much a "branding" as a pathway into something we all long for, cherish, and actually have within us. We only need to have the trust that it has a place in our hearts, in the hearts of our readers, and in the world. Individually and together, our writing bridges chasms and heals the world, as I hope you have experienced, yourself, in reading these winning entries.

If you are interested to explore what it might be like for you to write a whole book from this depth within yourself, with my help as a book developer, I invite you to spend a bit of time on this website you are on right now, www.essentialwriting.com ~ the Writing from the Deeper Self Book Development website.  Just click here. And thank you.

 

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