The Assignment

After I began my first writing course, it took five weeks before I hauled myself into class without dread. I just didn’t know that profound wretchedness that would be coming before the end of the class.

In an early “wild write” session during that fifth class, a student gave me feedback that turned out to be a boost to my writing, and really to my soul. I had written about a confused and reluctant character and briefly alluded to an unwelcome dilemma facing her. My classmate said that she was “very likable” as I described her. That is about all that the student could find to say about my small story. But the notion that I could project my own wariness and confusion onto a character and have her be “likable” was interesting for me to consider. I have just never thought of being confused as a good thing even though I often sputter around in random circles.

I made a mental note to remember that acceptance if I kept on writing.

If the first half of the fifth class offered simple encouragements, the second half created an emotional convulsion. Christi read a well-crafted story about an accident and then announced that for our final project we were to take the next three weeks to write about an accident in our own lives and the resulting impact it may have had. I didn’t hear much of what she had to say about the organization of our final paper. Just hearing the words “write” and “accident” in the same breath brought a flood of memories that I would never be able to snag from my heart and place on paper.

I pushed away from the conference tables we surrounded and fought tears as I wrote achingly in my class journal, “Oh dear God! Did she really just suggest that? God help me, now I may really walk out of this class.” While I wrote in my class journal, my left hand was making a mess of my hair as it tried to stroke some calm energy onto my skull. I added, “This class is not what I thought I signed up for so I can just walk out.”

How do you write about something that is etched in your heart but churns your soul? I tried to breathe slowly so I could think about the consequences of any reaction available to me. But instead of calm, my brain only sought out memories that are part of my being but rarely uttered beyond those who have experienced over thirty years of reverberating aches with me.

As the class continued I only paid attention to my own excuses. The only piece I’d actually finished, Pink Saddle Shoes, had half the number of words that this post has, and I struggled to get that much on paper and edited. How in the heck would I be able to write about even the smallest part of the tragic accident and its fallout? There was too much grief, too much soul, and not enough time.

And then who would want to read it? I struggle with literature that engulfs the reader in tension or sorrow because sipping from the swamp of another’s heartache doesn’t help me escape the reality that is my own life. I couldn’t relate to anyone who might want trudge through the grief and nearly incomprehensible decision-making that entwined my life and those I love. “Writing would take way too long and be pointless,” I tried to repeat in my head. But there was no solace.

“Oh Lord help me,” I finally wrote in my journal as my lower lip became a taunt platform for a grimace. A haunting thought had entered my struggling mind and onto my paper, “If I quit, do I run out on what should never be forgotten?”

It took two weeks to mention to my husband, Michael, that I still had to come up with an alternate final assignment in Wildfire Writing because “I can’t write to the prompt the teacher gave us.”

He scoffed, “Your writing is just fine. You can do anything.”

“The assignment was to write about an accident and the impact it had on our lives.”

After a long pause, he shook his head slowly and said, “I couldn’t do that.”

“Yep. Exactly.”

I finished the class with an alternative little essay called fittingly, Darkness. But I was still being overwhelmed at night by my unwillingness to write about the accident.