Day 1 Prompts

1. The list of forgivens

Russian poet Anna Akhmatova once said to her young protege, Joseph Brodsky, “You do not know just what you’ve been forgiven,” and he treasured these words like a talisman. Make a list of quiet forgiven things, or even forgiven ones. If you are writing from personal grief, then make a list of things of small and enormous things you have done which merited forgiveness from that person. Look at each of these things and pick one to write about in second-person. Alternately, write a list form of tiny forgivenessness.

2. A portrait of relational ecology

We talked about how expiation is restorative, or seeking to make whole what has been broken or ruined, and this assumes we live in ecosystems and ecologies where one relationship affects invisible or unnoticeable things which change the world around us. When Mom died, it wasn’t just that she died to me–but her patients lost their favorite internist, the azaleas lost their gardener, the little cow soup lost its chef, the kids lost the grandmother who sang lullabies in Romanian, the neighborhood lost its most ebullient walker, the ocean lost its favorite skinny-dipper, the grocery lost its only customer who regularly demanded raw cow tongue. Think about what the world has lost, or how the relations among other ordinary things has changed, as a result of losing someone. Brainstorm a portrait of this world where no one does the things that this person did–and braid these absences into a story or poem or essay by allowing them to speak and to describe what is missing. What would a restorational ecology look like? Maybe you’ll wind up with a portrait of broken links…

3. The Everything-I-Am-Note

In Coetze’s novel, The Death of Jesus, the father suggests an exercise that is worth doing:

“Just before I die, I am going to write down everything about myself on a piece of paper and fold it up small and hold it tight in my hand. Then when I wake up in the next life I can read the paper and find out who I am.”

Try to write this “everything I am” note for the next life. Notice, as you write, that it makes death the centerpiece of biography, an attempt to know one’s self. Don’t fear the reaper.