Writing from the heart

On Saturday, 22 March 2014, I participated in the Writing from the heart workshop offered by Nancy Aronie at the New York Open Center.

This was a writing workshop with a difference. We were asked to write two pieces in response to a prompt. We spent twenty minutes writing the first piece and then shared it with the group. Then we had a break for lunch. After lunch, we spent ten minutes writing the second piece before sharing.

We got to ‘hear the voice’ of each writer in the words chosen and in the way each of us spoke our pieces.

After each reading, Nancy gifted the writer with feedback on what she loved about their piece and invited everyone else in the room to do the same.

It was an amazing experience.

You can find out more about Nancy and her workshops at: www.chilmarkwritingworkshop.com

Here are the pieces I shared with the group on the day.

Dinner at our house was…..

Dinner at our house was regimented. How else would they do it? There were ten kids in my family.

You ate what was on your plate or you didn’t eat, and there was always someone happy to eat what you didn’t like. One of my brothers earned the nickname ‘Garbage Guts’ – he would eat anything!

My folks were not rich, and with ten kids my mother didn’t work outside the home – full-time job at home.

Dinner would start with everyone being lined up for the obligatory washing of hands. Then the older kids, including me, would set the table and help the little ones into their seats. Then Mum would serve while Dad supervised.

There was no talking – can you imagine the noise ten kids in a small room would make?
Once the food was on the table, Dad would say the grace, and we would start. You got to stay at the table until you had finished, and then, only when you had asked permission, could you leave.

As we got older, the no speaking rule got relaxed and there would be conversation over dinner, but the other rule, about eating what was on your plate or missing out, never changed.

The food was basic fare. The only cheap food staple was bread, so we could eat as much of that as we liked.

It must have been a good bonding experience because most of my family’s gatherings are food based – but at least we have moved on from Mum’s cooking.

When I look back I can see where my liking for tomato sauce (ketchup) came from – it was the only condiment available, and it masked a lot of tastes.

I can still see us all jammed around the kitchen table, sitting really close to each other and learning to keep your elbows tucked in, so that the brother next to you didn’t get an elbow in the face.

In one house, the kitchen was larger, so Dad made an extension for the table, to ease the pressure of all those bodies, seated and focused on eating.

We had a saying about the quick and the dead – if you weren’t on your guard, someone else would help themselves to what was on your plate.

A time when I was not invited…..

My wife decided she was going to New York and I wasn’t invited.
‘It’s something I have to do on my own,’ she said.

This came as a bit of a shock.

We had been married for thirty something years, the kids were grown. We were adults. We could do this sort of thing. It didn’t matter what the others thought. I was willing to support her adventure.

Then she went.

It’s pretty lonely in a big house all on your own but I was a tough guy. I could do this – I told myself.

I spent the first six months drawing portraits of her – I wasn’t missing her, that much.

We had our weekly Skype conversation, and I had lots of time to sit and contemplate this circumstance that life had delivered.

What did I find out?

Being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. I discovered that I was okay being with myself. I knew, despite the voice of fear that kept shouting all sorts of stories about being rejected and left behind, that it wasn’t about any of those things. You don’t have to be in the same room to love.

And then, I went to New York to see how she was faring. It was so much fun having her lead me about the new city, the new place, instead of me always having to be the one who knew how to find your way around in the new places.

Your turn
Leave a comment sharing what you love about each piece or to write your own response to the writing prompts and share it with us.

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