The Spill of Grief
by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
"Real feeling needs to pour
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… "|
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. "|
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. "
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.”
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.
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/