These past four weeks I’ve been studying how to write the personal essay with Chelsey Clammer. Chelsey was the Fall 2019 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida. She is also a winner of the Red Hen Press nonfiction award and by the way her online classes rock!
One of her assignments was to write your own obituary. It reminds me of that hilarious scene where Tom and Huck attend their own “funeral” where they eavesdrop from the choir loft. As the minister paints a perfect portrait of the boys, Tom and Huck can hardly recognize who the cleric was describing. Their “deaths” had suddenly turned them into “saints”.
One writing exercise that’s aligned with writing your own obituary is writing one using only six words. In six words, how would you sum up your life? I came up with a few possibilities of my own:
I did the best I could!
Sought the sublime in every sunrise.
Why didn’t I have more fun?
But the one I like the most is: I finally learned how to forgive.
I’ve been working all month with a physical therapist to thaw a frozen shoulder that’s gotten progressively painful. Every time I raise my hand to reach for something, my delts clench, I can’t complete the motion, and it feels like my arm is on fire. The problem originated with an injury I sustained about ten years ago. I was swimming at Mahukona—an old, abandoned harbor that’s a great place to snorkel. I had just finished my swim and was climbing up the metal ladder when a rogue wave struck. I didn’t have time to scream as I turned my head and saw a wall of water heading toward me. All I could do was brace for the hit, clinging to the rails with both hands. I lost my grip, barely holding on with my left hand while my right side spun back 180 degrees and was slammed against the concrete pier—my shoulder taking the hit. Now, when I write by hand for my timed freewriting sessions, pain shoots up and down my arm and my fingers cramp. I’m getting better though, thanks to Yana and all the good folks at Body Therapy Pro in Kapaau.
But I also discovered that writing about my painful shoulder could become part of the healing process, too. One morning, I stepped out on my lanai and saw an enormous Black Witch Moth. Here’s the poem I wrote about the gorgeous nocturnid, whose apparent saga of endurance promised hope for my own injured ‘wing’.
Under the Eaves
He arrived on purpose,
I was certain.
His presence was
inscrutable as a question
whispered in another tongue
that streaked the air
with plumeria and dawn.
A Black Witch Moth
A lover of the liberating darkness
he was stranded
by the rays of morning
stalwart and unmoving, clinging
with his three pairs of legs
under the eaves of my house
a silent omen from the night.
His colossal wings,
iridescent ebony scales,
were an inky Rorschach test
asking me to make meaning
of what I could see
in his paisley and black
Then I saw the tattered right wing
frayed as fabric scissored
by bird beak
who knew what predator?
Yet he had survived.
Is bigger always better? Or is it true that good things also come in small packages?
Last Saturday I spoke at the Hawaii Writers Guild annual dinner. I was asked to explain what Flash Fiction was all about, since many of my writing colleagues were unclear about the genre. Just in case you were wondering, here’s what I said–
Flash Fiction goes by many names—sudden fiction, micro fiction, tiny stories, drabble… It’s been around for years—think fables, proverbs, parables. But in this new age of twitterature, short shorts are becoming more prevalent in literary circles. Its primary feature is brevity and is restricted to anywhere between six and 1,000 words, depending on the editor or journal. The challenge of bare-bones fiction is to tell a complete story in which every word is absolutely essential and not one syllable is out of place. It’s harder than you might think!
This month I’m taking an online class in ‘expressive writing’ with poet, Susan Vespoli . Want to try expressive writing yourself? Set a timer for 15 minutes, write freely without judgment, paying no mind to grammar or spelling, and never allow your pen to leave the page. Let your words flow. That’s it!
Want to listen to an archived recording of my interview on Radio Kohala, KNKR 96.1 FM? Click here and find Tutu’s Talk Story program listed for January 16, 2020. I discuss my life as a minister and read two of my flash fiction stories.