For several years, I intermittently joined an evolving group of women in a day-long writing retreat held in a charmingly reimagined 1700s home near the Salisbury, CT-Millerton, NY border. Our leader gave us a “prompt” to write about, and the idea was not to take your pen off the paper until the time was up. She was a family therapist and published poet, basing her writing sessions on Natalie Goldberg’s book “Writing Down the Bones.”
There was only a limited number of attendees – eight, I think. The day included a delectable and healthy lunch with wine — and there were strict rules. We were not to comment, either praising or criticizing, one another’s stories. We were not to react to those who shed tears, but rather, offered them a Kleenex and kept a respectful silence.
The group was diverse, to say the least: different ages, published and printed writers, and those struggling to put on paper some raw personal stories. From my point of view, those were the best narratives.
Most of the prompts were easy, some were heartbreaking, and one or two would be befuddling. The most challenging prompt from all my experiences was “When there was blood on the floor.” I knew it was taken from a poem, but I had no personal reference to apply. For the first time, I ignored the prompt and wrote about something else. Against the rules, yes, but I did keep my pen on the paper until the bell rang.
Recently, a friend, who is also a published poet, gave me a weird prompt: Pretend you are no longer a human being; you are a tree. Strangely enough, this immediately resonated with me. I could have easily gone with the tree thing, but I have always had a fascination with The Metamorphosis, a novella by German writer Franz Kafka that tells the story of Gregory Samsa, who wakes one morning to find himself transformed into a huge insect.
In an aha moment, I saw the connection, as I was reaching down to take off my sneakers, my cat playfully came between my feet, causing me to lose balance, grabbing at my rocking chair and small couch and doing a face plant on my 1800s wood floor. I took a hit on my elbow and my nose. And yes, there was blood on the floor.