The Spill of Grief

March 29, 2008
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The Spill of Grief

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

April 2008

"Real feeling needs to pour
on the
page. "
—Shapiro

Sometimes you have to forget that you are a “writer” or “trying” to be one. Real feeling needs to pour on the page. It needs to be incoherent if that’s how it comes to you. Think of yourself as speaking in tongues. Later, after you let it out, you can go back and edit, clip, expand, cut and paste.

"Keep a notebook with you and write out anything that comes to mind… "
—Shapiro

The best way to let your feelings onto the page is by writing when you are insanely upset: If you lag a moment, repeat a word that you have used in the previous sentence and just go right on. It doesn’t have to make sense, but when you’re finished, it very well might. It might even make more sense than something you labored over for hours. It wrote this yesterday after a Shiva call:

“She died, my friend’s mother. Bella’s dead. The mother I’d wished for. How scary to have a mother like that because you can lose her. How scary never to have a had a mother like that. My friend is eating strawberries, one after another. She already polished off all the cookies we brought. We are all empty without Bella. I’ve picked up greasy chicken in my fingers and ate the forbidden skin. There’s crumbs on the floor. Bella would be sweeping them right now so that her daughter wouldn’t have to do it later. “Ma, just rest.” Rest. That’s all Bella can do now. Rest.”

Keep a notebook with you and write out anything that comes to mind when you’re sad. It will be so much more fruitful than whining to whomever you’re with or having a cigarette or shouting it up to the stars. And then, when you look at it again, you might see something in your scribbled grief that calls to you. Something that asks you to begin there and go on and on.

"You can also keep a recorder with you and give it a real talking to. "
—Shapiro

You can also keep a recorder with you and give it a real talking to. It is wonderful to hear how a character, this time it’s you, thinks when he’s upset. If you record yourself when you’ve gotten a key not only into your own upsets, but how a fictional character might respond. After all, the tinder may be different, the reason for the grief, but reactions are universal.

"The pour of feeling usually encompasses the ordinary, such as crumbs, sweeping, cookies. "

—Shapiro

What I’ve noticed is that the pour of feeling usually encompasses the ordinary, such as crumbs, sweeping, cookies. You can see a catalogue of simple objects in so many of Donald Hall’s poems after his wife, Jane Kenyon’s death, as in “Sweater.”

Sweater

The second June afterward,

I wrapped Jane’s clothes

for Rosie’s Place

but I keep on finding things I missed–

a scarf hanging from a hook

in the toolshed, a green

down vest, or a sweater

tossed on the swivel chair

by her desk where

her papers piled untouched,

just as she left them

the last time she fretted

over answering a letter

or worked to end a poem

by observing something

as careless as the white

sleeve of a cardigan.

Grief, controlled and ordered on the page, comes from the tear spilling down the cheek and onto the white paper.

About

 

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro  

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium, was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award and is currently selling in Holland, Belgium, and the U.K. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek-My Turn, and in many anthologies such as It’s a Boy (Seal Press, 2005), The Imperfect Mom (Broadway Books, 2006) About What Was Lost (Plume Books, 2007,) For Keeps, (Seal Press, 2007.) Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, Negative Capability, Moment, and in many anthologies such as Father (Pocket Books, 2000). The short story from that collection, "The Wild Russian," will be reprinted for educational testing purposes nationwide. She currently teaches "Writing the Personal Essay" at UCLA on-line and is a book critic for Kirkus. She can be reached at http://www.miriamthemedium.com/ or at her blog: http://rochellejewelshapiro.blogspot.com/

 

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