Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 30th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

James Baldwin’s “Untitled” (posted below) with its brevity and simplicity, its white space and four offset words captivated our group of thirteen (two new participants and a cadre of “the usual suspects” on Zoom) as we waded into this poem, which begins with an address and the request: “think about it please.” We commented on the tone and wondered: was the speaker being polite or confrontational or, perhaps, sarcastic in their asking the Lord about the rain? With all the rain and floods and tropical storms in the news there were plenty of images swirling in our minds. As we considered possible understandings of “rain” multiple people heard the poem as “a plea for mercy.” Some participants were drawn into the beauty of light falling on falling water; others felt tension, or were drawn to musical rhythms and sounds suggested by rain. We associated to the architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s well known house “Falling Water” and to the Allman Brothers’ recording of “Stormy Monday” with the words: “Lord have mercy.” The repetition of the word “light”—three times—brought connections to spiritual matters, including the expression “I will hold you in the light” as an intention to pray for someone. And what of the liminal space “beneath the water”? Deep, dark waters or baptism by immersion? Before moving on to our prompted writing, we agreed that the text allowed for multiple, paradoxical understandings.

Our prompt for this session was: “Write about a drizzle or a downpour.

Five people read aloud their work referencing (a) patterns and problem solving in the Blues; (b) watering seeds into blossoms; (c) living in a place with an abundance of  “gully washers” (a new expression for many of us!) and the anxiety that builds when much wet weather is forecast—enough that Xanax becomes a part of the preparation for storms; (d) an umbrella-bearing narrator who “needn’t avert my eyes from a drizzle of light” seemed to want more not less; and (e) an experience of grief as a raging river, the narrator feeling powerless but nevertheless reaching into the water and feeling it move around and past.

We noticed, in our communal writing, an abundance of thought in the shadow of Baldwin’s plea to “think about it please.” Here in the narrative blog we have an opportunity to go on reflecting and responding to each other.

Thank you everyone.

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Wednesday September 1st at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


“Untitled,” by James Baldwin

  Lord,

              when you send the rain

              think about it, please,

              a little?

      Do

              not get carried away

              by the sound of falling water,

              the marvelous light

              on the falling water.

          I

              am beneath that water.

              It falls with great force

              and the light

Blinds

              me to the light.

James Baldwin, “Untitled” from Jimmy’s Blues. Copyright © 2014 by The James Baldwin Estate. Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press. Found on www: Poetry Foundation


Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 26th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we close read the photograph “Street Scene, New York City” by Weegee (Arthur Fellig), posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “Why did you stop to look?

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday August 30th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


“Street Scene, New York City” by Weegee (Arthur Fellig)


Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 23, 2021

Today we had 28 participants from a variety of locations, many of whom had been with us for 4 or more sessions and 5 newcomers. We started out by watching the music video “Hunger” by Florence + The Machine. We then looked at the written lyrics together near the end of the close reading discussion.

The writing prompt was, “Write about a moment you forgot to worry.”

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Thursday August 26th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.






Lyrics to “Hunger” by Florence + The Machine

Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh

At seventeen, I started to starve myself
I thought that love was a kind of emptiness
And at least I understood then, the hunger I felt
And I didn’t have to call it loneliness

We all have a hunger
We all have a hunger
We all have a hunger
We all have a hunger

Tell me what you need, oh, you look so free
The way you use your body, baby, come on and work it for me
Don’t let it get you down, you’re the best thing I’ve seen
We never found the answer but we knew one thing

We all have a hunger (we all have a hunger)
We all have a hunger (we all have a hunger)
We all have a hunger (we all have a hunger)
We all have a hunger (we all have a hunger)

And it’s Friday night and it’s kicking in
In that pink dress, they’re gonna crucify me
Oh, and you in all your vibrant youth
How could anything bad ever happen to you?
You make a fool of death with your beauty, and for a moment

I thought that love was in the drugs
But the more I took, the more it took away
And I could never get enough
I thought that love was on the stage
You give yourself to strangers
You don’t have to be afraid
And then it tries to find a home with people, or when I’m alone
Picking it apart and staring at your phone

We all have a hunger
We all have a hunger
We all have a hunger
We all have a hunger

Tell me what you need, oh, you look so free
The way you use your body, baby, come on and work it for me
Don’t let ’em get you down, you’re the best thing I’ve seen
We never found the answer but we knew one thing

We all have a hunger (we all have a hunger)
We all have a hunger (we all have a hunger)
We all have a hunger (we all have a hunger)
We all have a hunger (we all have a hunger)

And it’s Friday night and it’s kicking in
In that pink dress, they’re gonna crucify me
Oh, and you in all your vibrant youth
How could anything bad ever happen to you?
You make a fool of death with your beauty, and for a moment
I forget to worry


Live Virtual Group Session: 12PM EDT August 18th 2021

Today we had 12 participants from a variety of locations, many of whom had been with us for 4 or more sessions and one newcomer. We started out by having two people read through our text for close reading, the poem “The Woman Who Turned Down a Date with a Cherry Farmer” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, posted below. We purposely left the title out of the text so as not to give away the intent of the narrative and to allow our participants to explore it through their own lens. The first respondent found the final paragraph confusing, wondering what the implication was of the statement “couldn’t hurt to try”? Did this relate to a potential future encounter – to “try” what exactly? Then another person was intrigued with what the author might find so regrettable; what was this “terrible mistake”? Then the discussion shifted to the possibilities. A flirtatious woman, who tried but was rejected and the man responding with sarcasm or perhaps the author was wishing she’d made a bigger effort to engage with him. So much of the language was sensual that the ideas of summer fruit, red and juicy made it clear there was a sexual tension underlying this simple walk through the cherry orchard. Cherries, as metaphor implying virginal ripeness. And it was also observed that the narrator was not stated to be a woman, even a man could have a ponytail. Was there an age or class difference that created a barrier to this encounter moving forward? The farmer is described with such detail – his pants and boots as well as his gestures expressed with close intimacy, “his hands thick but careful, nimble enough to pull fruit from his trees without tearing the thin skin; the cherry dust and fingerprints on his eyeglasses.” Perhaps she was too forward and he retreated to his “stacking of jars” in order to distance the emotional and physical energy. We concluded with a discussion of the recognition that Summer (with a capital S) is the time when things come to fruition and that the last word in the poem “jubilee” means a season of celebration.

The writing prompt – “Write about a time you gave it a try” –  continued the theme of opportunities missed and opportunities taken.  Love affairs, perhaps taken up in the moment, were written about. Also the passage of time was represented metaphorically by one’s jeans, and clothing as fear and anxiety to be taken off and hung up. One piece was about running a marathon in the heat and humidity of September after healing from a heart attack. This part ended with the thought of “what will we remember when we’re dying?” Perhaps it will be the chances we took as well as regrets for opportunities not taken.

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday August 23rd at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


 

"The Woman Who Turned Down a Date with a Cherry Farmer" by Aimee Nezhukumatathil       

Fredonia, NY

Of course I regret it. I mean there I was under umbrellas of fruit
so red they had to be borne of Summer, and no other season. 
Flip-flops and fishhooks. Ice cubes made of lemonade and sprigs 
of mint to slip in blue glasses of tea. I was dusty, my ponytail
all askew and the tips of my fingers ran, of course, red

from the fruitwounds of cherries I plunked into my bucket
and still—he must have seen some small bit of loveliness
in walking his orchard with me. He pointed out which trees
were sweetest, which ones bore double seeds—puffing out
the flesh and oh the surprise on your tongue with two tiny stones

(a twin spit), making a small gun of your mouth. Did I mention
my favorite color is red? His jeans were worn and twisty
around the tops of his boot; his hands thick but careful, 
nimble enough to pull fruit from his trees without tearing
the thin skin; the cherry dust and fingerprints on his eyeglasses. 

I just know when he stuffed his hands in his pockets, said
Okay. Couldn't hurt to try? and shuffled back to his roadside stand
to arrange his jelly jars and stacks of buckets, I had made
a terrible mistake. I just know my summer would've been
full of pies, tartlets, turnovers—so much jubilee. 

Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 16th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

Twenty-one Zoom participants gathered to read and discuss the poem “The Raincoat” by Ada Limón from Milkweed Editions, The Carrying,  2018, posted below.

Without knowing the narrator’s age or gender, we contemplated what seemed like “looking back” at a time when surgery is suggested for a young person diagnosed with what we read as a chronic condition involving the spine. A mother and child spend a lot of time in the car together as attempts are made to attend to the condition—to “unspool” the spine, release breath and bodily pain. A musician comments on the way pain impedes singing. Someone suggests that multiple factors–spending time with mother, massage, and music—together play a part in the narrator’s development of an “unfettered voice” not only as s/he sings in the car but also in the creation of this poem. We notice the shape of the lines on the page: falling in place like the interlocking bones of the spine. More than one person senses that, in the time of the poem, when the grown narrator drives to “another spine appointment” the mother is no longer alive. As the narrator reaches the age the mother was “then” questions arise about her time and effort making all those trips to the physical therapist, orthopod, and masseuse. While driving, another mother is seen taking off her raincoat and giving it to her young daughter. We recognize the narrator’s remembrances and the “aha moment” of gratitude in the words “my whole life I’ve been under her raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel that I never got wet.” The raincoat: an example of metonymy, one word taking the place of so much more.

After receiving the prompt “Write about a raincoat that keeps you dry, we wrote for four minutes. Four people read aloud. One piece referred to a “triple layer raincoat” made of family, friends, and faith. And, even when we think we need a “tech shabbat” the human connection in these technology-assisted Zoom sessions allow for connection and help in “this rainy season.” Another piece began with a scene of mother and daughter watching television in 1963 with the child’s head in the mother’s lap, comforted by her words about life after death. Several writers listed memories of what they were/are protected from by the presence of mother or other. The “raincoat” can be a hug, a gesture, a look, words. Some of these “have no expiration date” and go on sheltering and restoring. Participants responded to the writing created among us this evening as balm, mantle, or medicine. Narrative Medicine—that’s what we do.

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Wednesday August 18th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


“The Raincoat” by Ada Limón

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. 
Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. 

Encuentros virtuales en vivo: Sábado 14 de AGOSTO, 13:00 EST (17:00 UTC)

Asistieron seis participantes representando los países de Argentina, Colombia, España, Uruguay y Estados Unidos. Dos participantes más se unieron al final de la sesión, pero lamentablemente ya estábamos terminando con los comentarios sobre los textos escritos por los participantes. El texto elegido fue “Accidentes Nocturnos” de la poetisa uruguaya Ida Vitale.

Después de las instrucciones habituales sobre cómo funciona el taller, invitamos a los participantes a enfocarse en cualquier palabra, verso, imagen, o en la misma forma del poema que les llamara la atención y les evocara pensamientos y sensaciones que quisieran compartir. La estructura ambivalente del poema tuvo un gran efecto en los participantes.

Uno de los elementos que les llamó la atención a todos los participantes fue el uso de la sintaxis y la puntuación. Por ejemplo, los participantes se preguntaron quién era realmente el sujeto de algunos verbos, como en la oración “Juega a acertar las sílabas precisas”. ¿El sujeto se refería al lector/oyente (en la forma del imperativo) o a otro referente citado anteriormente en el texto (en la forma del presente del indicativo)? Este uso de la sintaxis sorprendió a los participantes, pero a su vez les permitió hacer diferentes lecturas y aceptar, sin embargo, la posibilidad de que las dos interpretaciones pudieran existir simultáneamente. Otros participantes observaron la estructura simétrica del poema: la primera parte hacía referencia a las rumiaciones nocturnas que pueden poblar nuestra mente e impedirnos conciliar un sueño reparador (representada en las imágenes de  “las palabras minuciosas”, “el aguacero”, “el viento y los árboles”) y la segunda parte  hacía referencia a aquellos recursos como la música (ya sea en un sentido literal o metafórico) que pueden “salvarnos” del insomnio. Otra participante observó el uso de la aliteración (repetición de un mismo sonido al comienzo de palabra) del sonido /s/ en los primeros versos del poema, en un intento de reproducir la onomatopeya “shh” la cual es usada (culturalmente) para acunar a un niño. Otros participantes apreciaron la cotidianidad del poema refiriéndose a este como un poema que trata un tema de la vida diaria, como el acto de dormir y descansar y su importancia para la salud en general en una sociedad estresada. Y otros se deleitaron con las representaciones metafóricas que pueden tener los artefactos que usamos para dormir, como por ejemplo las almohadas, comparadas con un delfín. La discusión fue muy rica y puso de manifiesto la capacidad imaginativa y creadora de los participantes.

Después de este intercambio productivo, escribimos por cinco minutos según la consigna en base al poema. La consigna fue “Escribe sobre alguna ocasión en que las palabras minuciosas de la noche te hablaron”.

Luego, invitamos a los participantes  a leer exactamente lo que habían escrito sin preocuparse de tener que producir un texto literario. Como metodología de la medicina narrativa, el comentario sobre los textos de los participantes se enfoca no sólo en el contenido sino especialmente en la forma y estilo de los textos. Tres participantes compartieron sus textos. Estos reflejaron la influencia lírica del mismo poema en el tono poético de los mismos. Unos participantes escribieron sobre noches de insomnio que solo el alba puede apaciguar y otros sobre la posibilidad de armonía y reconciliación del sueño. Todos los textos de los participantes fueron estéticamente enriquecedores.

Ahora, alentamos a los participantes que si así lo desean, escriban nuevas ideas, o otros textos en el sitio web de las sesiones en español a continuación … Pero, antes de escribir, les recordamos que el blog es un espacio público donde, por supuesto, no se garantiza la confidencialidad.

Por favor, únase a nosotros en nuestra próxima sesión en español: El sábado 4 de septiembre a las 13 hrs. o a la 1 pm EST (hora de Nueva York). También, ofrecemos sesiones en inglés. Ve a  nuestra página de sesiones grupales virtuales en vivo.

¡Gracias y hasta la próxima!


“Accidentes Nocturnos” por Ida Vitale

Palabras minuciosas, si te acuestas
te comunican sus preocupaciones.
Los árboles y el viento te argumentan
juntos, diciéndote lo irrefutable
y hasta es posible que aparezca un grillo
que en medio del desvelo de tu noche
cante para indicarte tus errores.
Si cae un aguacero, va a decirte
cosas finas, que punzan y te dejan
el alma, ay, como un alfiletero.
Sólo abrirte a la música te salva:
ella, la necesaria, te remite
un poco menos árida a la almohada,
suave delfín dispuesto a acompañarte,
lejos de agobios y reconvenciones,
entre los raros mapas de la noche.
Juega a acertar las sílabas precisas
que suenen como notas, como gloria,
que acepte ella para que te acunen,
y suplan los destrozos de los días.

Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 11th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we watched a dance performance from Season 5 of So You Think You Can Dance titled “Gravity”, posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “Something always brings me back…

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday August 16th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.



Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 9th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

For this session we watched the music and lyric video for “This Is Me” from the film The Greatest Showman, posted below.

Our prompt for this session was: “This is me…

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Wednesday August 11th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.



Live Virtual Group Session: 12PM EDT August 6th 2021

Thank you to everyone who joined for this session!

Our text for this session was the poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop, available here.

Our prompt for this session was: “Write about lost and found.

More details on this session will be posted, so check back!

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday August 9th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.



Live Virtual Group Session: 6PM EDT August 2nd 2021(Our 150th Session in English!)

29 participants joined for our 150th VGS session in English. This was the first session for five people and the second for five more. It is always wonderful to have our core group and new participants mix! After reviewing the technical aspects of participating via Zoom and our shared values of confidentiality and approaching texts with narrative humility, we listened to two readers voice poet laureate (2013) Ted Kooser’s “Tattoo,” posted below. 

We were immediately struck by the lines “where vanity once punched him hard” and “the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt rolled up to show who he was” – prompting us to think about the ways we present ourselves. In the case of the man described by the narrator: Who was he andwho is he now? What may have changed internally as well as externally? What has stayed the same? We considered the man’s choice of T-shirt and the gesture attributed to him–that of rolling his shirt sleeve and exposing the daggered heart–before going to the yard sale. A man still expressing himself in the theatre of the body. “Life has happened,” offered one participant, who noted not only the “bony shoulder” but also the “shuddering heart” calling our attention to aging and to the housing of fears now or then. 

We had fun imagining various narrative viewpoints. Was the narrator a young man observing an older man while denying that his body would age and grow softer like the man he observed? Or was the narrator a woman drawn to the description of a one-time “stallion” wearing his tight T-shirt with bravado? Was the observer another older man who had known, or not known, the man in younger days? And what were the author’s, the narrator’s, and our own identifications with//projections onto the character portrayed?  

After writing 4 minutes to the prompt “Draw or describe the shoulder tattoo” we heard 3 writers read aloud.

The first combined a physical/clinical description of a physically “depleted” human heart  with a verso to the heart as a holder of emotion and its metaphorical demise from “the excesses” of too many tears. One person was reminded of “The Chart” by Dr. Rafael Campo–to which the writer signaled that Campo’s work had served as inspiration for tonight’s prompted writing.

We listened to another piece, which began with a reference to a “glow” of iodine painted on the skin before surgery and an imposed and lasting “bruising.” Participants were quick to hear the echoing of this writing with “The Tattoo” and to see in our minds’ eye the image of marks created with words. 

The third piece began with an image of the tattoo “dancing” and “flexing” on the shoulder and concluded with impressions of the man’s spirit very much alive. 

These shared writings, like the text by Kooser, elicited many thoughts and responses, which were shared both orally and via the chat. These included attention to tattoos as forms of “what our skin tells” and how tattoos, at one time were “markers of gender and class” and now are much more prevalent. The color “blue” evoked the possible use of the word to convey physical “heart failure” and de-oxygenation of blood and/or “a failed heart.” One comment suggested that we are “human billboards” and asked if the “daggered heart” represents not a warning or a murder but lost love.

Near the end of another session-that, in a way, are endless sessions of meaningful exchanges-a participant dropped into the chat, “Are we bodies that have souls or souls that have bodies?”

Thank you everyone for all your Monday evening contributions and for your contributions here in the narrative blog.

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.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Friday August 6th at 12pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.


Tattoo by Ted Kooser

What once was meant to be a statement—
a dripping dagger held in the fist
of a shuddering heart—is now just a bruise
on a bony old shoulder, the spot
where vanity once punched him hard
and the ache lingered on. He looks like
someone you had to reckon with,
strong as a stallion, fast and ornery,
but on this chilly morning, as he walks
between the tables at a yard sale
with the sleeves of his tight black T-shirt
rolled up to show us who he was,
he is only another old man, picking up
broken tools and putting them back,
his heart gone soft and blue with stories.



from Delights & Shadows, 
Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA 2004