Writing Prompts

SONG IS NOT A LUXURY

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

The above line comes from writer, philosopher, and cancer survivor Mark Nepo’s book, The Exquisite Risk. Nepo had traveled to South Africa and was struck that person after person suffering extraordinary hardship would sing, as if song were both protection and nourishment.…

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WHY OR WHY NOT

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Nearly every story about illness that I have read arrives eventually at one question, “Why?”  Even the person who says he or she never asked why is really saying, “I asked myself why but the only answer I could come up with was why not.”

“Why not?”  It’s how I answered Nadia when she asked me why she got cancer. …

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THE IDEAL HOSPITAL ROOM

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Lucy Grealy was in the fourth grade when she entered Ward 10 at what was then named Babies Hospital in New York City to begin treatment for a Ewings sarcoma.  In her book, Autobiography of a Face, Grealy describes the ward—its green and gray tones, the worn patches on the floor, the wooden doors, the bars on the windows. …

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IF YOU WERE THE WEATHER

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger is filled with characters—boat captains and fishermen, lovers and mothers, Coast Guard rescuers and meteorologists.  But the main character is the storm itself; the meeting of Hurricane Grace with two other storm systems results in a weather phenomenon so massive it becomes the story’s protagonist. …

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WHERE DO I STAND BY THE BED

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

It was time to disconnect by Aunt Essie from the machines that were helping her feign life.  Nine of us were gathered, including Essie’s daughter Miriam.  As we waited for the doctor, we engaged in a restless choreography—forming in clusters in Essie’s cluttered room, pacing the hallways when Miriam asked for time alone with her mother, leaning against walls, sitting with eyes staring sightless or with heads lowered into palms, making unnecessary trips to the bathroom or to make a phone call to sip fresher air into our lungs. …

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NAMING AN ILLNESS

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

I have recently begun a guided meditation practice the purpose of which is to call up and then neutralize negative forces and thoughts.  My teacher tells me to name these thoughts—Anna, Rachel, Sue, etc.—so when I meet them during the day I have a concrete way of acknowledging their presence. …

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LIST MAKING

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

We are all creators of lists.  Whether we write them down in an organizer, keep them in our head, or post them on the refrigerator, we all keep running tallies of what we need at the grocery store, what we must pack for a trip, who we have to invite to a birthday party, questions we have for a doctor. …

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WAITING

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Illness is a waiting room.  It punches holes in hours, days, and weeks.  You wait to see or be seen, to tell or be told, to get the phone call, be released; for the pain to arrive, the relief to start, the picture to be developed, a piece of time when your life feels like the old one. …

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DOMES OF WORDS

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Where are the words that are spoken by the bedsides of patients in the hospital?  I imagine that over each one of those beds is a dome made up of the conversations between mothers and fathers, doctors and family members, spouses and children. …

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TRAVELOGUE OF ILLNESS

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

“The first trip to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is like arriving anywhere new.  A plane takes you down through thick clouds, a train moves you through a dark tunnel, a bus pulls up to the rear of a terminal while you paint images in your head of this foreign land soon to be revealed … We are the pale new arrivals at the beachside resort, catching a glimpse of a sliver of its life.”  This is how I described taking Nadia to MSKCC for the first time.…

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