Grief and gratitude: practicing

Writing practice

Writing practice

Timed writing is a practice Natalie Goldberg describes in her book Writing Down the Bones. Pick a topic and a time and keep your hand moving. Our little writing group did some writing practice last week. Luke picked the topic: write about a feeling, and when the first rush thins out, fill in the blank with “feels like ….” We went ten minutes on the first feeling, and ten more on the second.

That practice … it left me shaking my head – why don’t I do this more often? – and yeah, maybe just shaking a little.

First: Grief

Grief is not the emotion I want to write about because it feels like there’s too much of it in my life already, and gratitude is tugging at my heartsleeve, but that’s the thing about grief – there’s always too much of it and it co-exists with gratitude just fine.

So, grief. The grief that overflows every actual sorrow. Grief, like a sharp jab to the ribs of existence, triggering a wince at least, and sometimes stopping me in my tracks. Just once I’d like to grieve something all the way down, so its residue doesn’t’ stain the bottom of the cup of joy, every damn time.

Why is grief so inexhaustible? Is it that it starts too early, before words, before walking away? So it has to sit and settle in the space below the unanswered cry? That empty place just above your diaphragm, in the pit of your gut, the place your heart and breath could expand into if only for that grief.

Grief is like a school of fish thrumming under the surface of all experience, drawing larger predators who can smell the blood of unshed tears in the water. Fish that every hook can catch and bring to the surface, gasping for water and swamping the small boat of my equanimity.

Grief is like a rhizome spreading under the surface of the soil, springing into a mob of mushrooms after rain and sun have taken their turns. Can you eat the fruit of your grief? Does it nourish or sicken?

Second: Gratitude

Okay, gratitude … you get your turn. Are you the sunny side up of the broken egg? The silver lining of the storm cloud? Do I have to have the shit to get the shinola? Or just quit whining long enough to breathe?

Gratitude feels like stretching out in cool sheets after the shower after the long day’s work. Gratitude feels like the soft kiss and long embrace at the lover’s return. Gratitude feels like the first mouthful of bread, resilient to the tooth. Gratitude feels like the smooth swell of her hip under my hand.

Gratitude feels like the sight of the ocean’s shimmering silver in the morning sun as I drive over the causeway to the shore. Gratitude feels like the exhausted and spent soul after a hard cry. Gratitude feels like a box of done wrapped up and tied up and shipped off in the mail.

Gratitude is lights in the driveway, the crunch of gravel under tires, the smell of dinner already bubbling on the stove when I get home.

Gratitude is the feeling I forget to feel. How and why this is, when it feels so good, I do not know. Gratitude is the word I should write everywhere because it is the ribbon floating behind the grace that just passed by without my having a clue.

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