Strout’s narrator says, “…recording this now I think of something Sarah Payne had said at the writing class in Arizona. ‘You will have only one story,’ she had said. ‘You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.'”
I’ve been writing a series of freedom-centered writing prompts, and I want to share some of them here.
Here’s the first one:
In ancient Rome, slaves who were to be freed were given a hat called a pileus during a ceremony of emancipation. Reading that, I thought, “why would they want to wear a special hat–couldn’t they want to look ‘normal’ and hatless, not showing that they had ever been enslaved at all?
I caught myself. Isn’t that the same thing as asking why we can’t “pass” as someone who’s never experienced abuse or trauma of any kind?
Most days I can accept, and some days I can even celebrate, who I am because of my experiences. I am proud to wear the hat of a survivor.
Tonight in my workshop we described the scene outside our window: a policeman supervised the removal by tow truck of a tar kettle that had, apparently, somehow collided with a streetlight before we arrived.
Each of us wrote the scene quite differently.
In The Art of Description, Mark Doty writes, “It’s incomplete to say that description describes consciousness; it’s more like a balance between terms, saying what you see and saying what you see.”
Did we change the scene by writing it? Did the scene change us?
Quite rightly, we remained among the living;
Managed to hoard our strength; kept our five wits;
So far as possible, withheld our eyes
From sights that loosen keystones in the brain.
We suffered, where we had to, thriftily,
And wasted nothing on the hopeless causes,
Foredoomed escapes, symbolic insurrections.
So it is we, not you, who walk today
Under the rebuilt city’s raw façades,
Who sit upon committees of selection
For the commemorative plaque. Your throats
Are dumb beneath the plow that must drive on
To turn the fields of wire to fields of wheat.
Our speeches turn your names like precious stone,
Yet we can pay our tax and see the sun.
What else could we, what else could you, have done?