My last two weeks have been a push: wrapping another school year and the heavy sadness of my friends’ loss left me stretched. I didn’t sleep much. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I sat at the dining table with my notebook, scrawling out a prayer or a list. I write my worries in a column. The giant monster fears and the mundane chores. I say, God, here are my cares. I imagine pushing my heap of anxiety off a cliff.
Even though I was grieving and my pages landed a lot of that, I also kept writing on prompts. At first, that seemed repulsive. My impulse at the page was to continue turning over the tragedy of my friends’ baby dying. I did that, writing my own empathy and prayers. The first two prompts after were
He refuses all fear (after Pierre Reverdy)
You don’t know where you are
I wrote on each. The first ended quickly, one paragraph, because that was it. I couldn’t nudge another line. The whole idea of writing on prompts seemed very stupid. Journaling serves me well enough. But the day after when I wrote on You don’t know where you are, I found another side of introspection, on my third or fourth try at the prompt:
I don’t know where I am. I thought I walked by this place once before. I think I got stuck here once before.
God help me.
You don’t know where you are. Check Google maps. Check for a landmark.
Here is why. Usually I know exactly where I am and it makes me crazy to see exactly where I am because I can often also see where I should be.
That is why this prompt feels so tough. I am used to writing about where I am. I look around. I figure it out.
I went on to write a stuttering fiction start a page later. But that frustration – I don’t think you can hear it, but I can still feel it – clarified what my introspection looks like. It made me sad to say it on paper, that I see where I should be.
I am where I am. I am not stuck or lost but when I line my sight on what I think I should be, I lose the present. I lose the gift of this time, of this dusty place, of my husband and children, of who I am when I simply walk as I am. I think introspection is valuable and I’m bent toward examining my faith and self. But I need a rest from that too. Writing from prompts tugs my glance away from me and all the big questions to something new I wouldn’t find otherwise.
A few more recent prompts from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves:
While the world sleeps
The place where wild pines grow
Lighting the first lamps