Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT May 20th 2020

Thank you to everyone who joined us for this session!

Our text was an excerpt from On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, posted below.

Our prompt was: Take us on a walk through a memory.

A warm thank you to the mixture of familiar faces and new ones from around the globe — from India to Italy, from Beirut to Bahrain — who attended our session! The U.S. states were also well represented, including California, Iowa, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts. At least eight people were attending for the first time. (Welcome!)

We read an excerpt from Ocean Vuong’s book On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and together found wonderful layers of meaning. Many of us thought about what we mean when we talk about “prayer” and how that word can take us beyond the usual definitions. One participant talked about a pure transcendentalism in the fourth paragraph, and another saw allusions to multiple religions: the overtly Muslim prayer, but also a Buddhist notion of the walk and a Christian nod with blood. A third found sounds suggesting the wind of God, contrasting with the creatures on the ground where we live. We also noticed the sounds of the narrator’s walk and the references to the body: the skin, the blood and especially the intriguing phrase “as if the tongue was the smallest arm from which a word like that could be offered.” (Several people mentioned that they plan to pursue more of Vuong’s work. A recent conversation between Vuong and Krista Tippett can be heard on the On Being podcast.)

Our writing prompt – “Take us on a walk through a memory” – drew a variety of responses, many of which mingled the abstract and the concrete. Some participants played with alliteration, repetition, movement, and rhythm in their writing, while others incorporated imagery, changes in temporality, and even lyrics in Farsi. Several participants gave their writings titles, which was a unique change from previous workshops. Many others, like Vuong, used their writing to bring experience into understanding, recalling “memories tinted with the reality of now,” and discovering through their writing where “the sacred” lies.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Please join us for our next session Thursday, May 21st at 7pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, excerpt by Ocean Vuong

Back in Hartford, I used to wander the streets at night by myself. Sleepless, I’d get dressed, climb through the window— and just walk.

Some nights I would hear an animal shuffling, unseen, behind garbage bags, or the wind unexpectedly strong overhead, a rush of leaves clicking down, the scrape of branches from a maple out of sight. But mostly, there were only my footsteps on the pavement steaming with fresh rain, the scent of decade- old tar, or the dirt on a baseball field under a few stars, the gentle brush of grass on the soles of my Vans on a highway median.

But one night I heard someone praying.

Through the lightless window of a street- level apartment, a man’s voice in Arabic. I recognized the word Allah. I knew it was a prayer by the tone he used to lift it, as if the tongue was the smallest arm from which a word like that could be offered. I imagined it floating above his head as I sat there on the curb, waiting for the soft clink I knew was coming. I wanted the word to fall, like a screw in a guillotine, but it didn’t. His voice, it went higher and higher, and my hands, they grew pinker with each inflection. I watched my skin intensify until, at last, I looked up— and it was dawn. It was over. I was blazed in the blood of light.

Salat al- fajr: a prayer before sunrise. “Whoever prays the dawn prayer in congregation,” said the Prophet Muhammad, “it is as if he had prayed the whole night long.”

I want to believe, walking those aimless nights, that I was praying. For what I’m still not sure. But I always felt it was just ahead of me. That if I walked far enough, long enough, I would find it— perhaps even hold it up, like a tongue at the end of its word.

(c) 2019 Penguin Press/Ocean Vuong