Monday, January 30, 2012

Turn on Your Flashlight

My friend Becky recently said to me, “The thing about writing is that all the things you don’t know about yourself come out.” This is one of the reasons I think of writing as spiritual exploration. We are like spelunkers going into caves with our flashlights piercing the depths as we gaze in astonishment. We discover our fears, our secret joys, our hidden longings, our obsessions, and a host of forgotten moments. This sense of the unexpected is also why I enjoy our transformative writing workshops so much: because even though I have done all the exercises I am going to be presenting, I have no idea what will come out when I do them. Every time it is something different.

This weekend my daughter accidentally set our house on fire. She’d left a candle burning by the bathtub. By six a.m. the fiberglass bathtub was in flames and we were standing outside in the cold, waiting for the fire department to arrive. So I knew what I was going to write about when I went to my TW workshop that day. I had to write about the fire. But I didn’t know I was going to write about my house and how I had fallen in love with it the first time I saw it. I didn’t know I was going to write a love letter to my house.

I have lived in this house for nearly thirteen years, longer than I have ever lived in one place. Now I am getting ready to put it on the market. In the piece I wrote during the workshop I focused on the memory of the pack of neighborhood girls tromping through on a snowy day with a fire in the fireplace as I poured hot chocolate and marshmallows into ceramic cups. In all my preparations for moving on to the next phase of my life, I had not stopped to think about everything living in this house had meant for me: the sense of family, the sense of normality, the love.

So that was the gift my explorations brought me that day, or one of them. Through the explorations of the other writers I experienced the strangeness of a panic attack, the joy of discovering you’re pregnant, the fear and rage you feel when you’re attacked in a dark parking lot by four men for your sexuality, the satisfaction of taking your life back and deciding to live for yourself. And underneath those feelings was a pervasive sense of strength. We were conquerors recounting our battles.

Here are some prompts to help you in your explorations this week:

What is home to you? Where do you feel a sense of home? What are the physical manifestations of home? Conversely, are you still looking for home?

What is the very first place you can remember? What details stand out to you? What is an incident that happened there? Draw a map or a blueprint of the place. What happened there that still somehow affects you today?

Have you ever felt fear or panic? What did it feel like inside the body, in your bones, your organs, your muscles?

What about joy or even contentment? Describe a time you felt either. Use as many metaphors as you can.

P.S. We'll be having a Winter Writing Retreat on Feb. 18 & 19 at Sevenoaks Retreat Center near Charlottesville VA. Email me at for details.

1 comment:

  1. People have written entire books answering prompts like these.