I do find I am living in surreal times. Despite the very real misery and suffering which is surrounding us all, in this far flung corner of the North Yorkshire coast Spring continues to blossom with beauty and grace. Here is a wonderful photograph taken by my dear friend Jane Poulton (artist & writer extraordinaire, website). Why not use it as a prompt for some writing?
Several of my writing friends have said that they are finding it difficult to put pen to paper in the current times and are seeking solace in other activities such as gardening or cooking or tidying up long neglected corners of their home. I believe that all writers – and artists and other creatives – will have a role in reflecting on, understanding and eventually effecting any healing possible for our current calamity. Some will find the words and the means later, once we are on the ‘other side’. On the other hand, I do think it is worth, if we can, recording some of this experience in the moment. However good our recall, ‘in the moment’ recording of a situation will always be different from writing done with perspective.
But how to get started? One way might be writing letters which will never be sent. Letters are usually very targeted on an audience, so choose yours first. Here are some suggestions.
The Anne Frank diaries are written in the form of letters to a ‘friend’ called Kitty. If you have not read them, see if you can find an extract on line to get a flavour (https://www.annefrank.org/en/). Writing to Kitty allows Ann to be intimate, to say things she would not say to those around her, to express emotions freely.
When I was a child, I was brought up to write thank you letters after every Christmas and birthday. My maternal grandmother had a talent for sending the most hideous and inappropriate gifts. Writing thank you to her stretched and honed my diplomatic skills. What kind of letter would you write to someone you did not want to worry or hurt? I am also thinking of some of the poignant letters sent from the front during the World Wars.
What if you imagined yourself on another planet? Sometimes it feels like I have slipped through to a parallel universe, where things are the same but not quite. What would it be like to write a letter to someone ‘back home’? I find Woman on the Moon by Jean Harrison (https://jeanharrisonpoetnovelist.weebly.com/sample-3.html) A very effective poem. When I have used this in workshops there have been many interpretations, including a person trying to communicate what depression is like to someone who has not experienced it. Have a read of it. Does it prompt you to write something about now?
If you are a sci-fi or Trekkie fan, how about you have just arrived here in a space ship. What kind of ‘log’ would you send back to base?
How about writing to a descendent or a historian in the future? What would you want them to know?
If a letter is too much of a stretch, how about a postcard? Just a few sentences. And a postcard has an image on the other side. What image would you choose? If you can’t draw it or photograph it or find it on the internet, describe it.
These are just some ideas. Try them out, they may be fruitful in themselves or they may lead onto something else. Remember you are not aiming for a finished product ready for sharing with others, just drafts/notes. However, if you do end up with something which you would like others to read, feel free to post it in the comments section here.
People have begun using online forums to discuss books, poetry and writing. I applaud all these efforts to reach out and make contact. On the other hand, I do wonder about those who do not have access to the internet. These may be the most in need of a friendly gesture. How about using the phone to have a conversation about a book or a poem? Or write a letter reviewing a book or a poem or short story and deliver it with the source material. With the latter there are some infection concerns and the receiver should not touch the envelope/package or what’s inside for at least 72 hours, preferably leaving it in the sunshine. If this is not possible, the receiver can move the envelope/package to where it can be safely left and then wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.
We do indeed live in strange times. Stay safe and stay well.