writing through grief with laura geringer bass

Laura Geringer Bass carries a stack of printed cards in her bag — writing prompts inspired by her middle grade novel “The Girl With More Than One Heart.”

“Hurricane”

“You are my Rock”

“Breathe Blue”

Each card stands on its own, but each one also references a theme or scene from the book in which fourteen-year-old Briana’s father has died. Suddenly Briana has two hearts — her own and her “Dad heart,” which speaks to her in her grief.

It’s a remarkable book for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the unexpected power of those writing prompts.

After listening to the gentle brilliance of Laura Geringer Bass at the South Dakota Festival of Books, it means something that she wants to give you a writing prompt. She understands “The Girl With More Than One Heart” has opened a door within you and beyond that door, your own story is waiting to be told.

She wants to help you tell it.

The author joined me on “In the Moment” for a radio interview. I visited her again at the festival in Brookings, where I heard her speak about mentors in her life.

By the end of our time together, Laura had gifted me two cards — two writing prompts to take home.

“You Are My Rock” and “Breathe Blue.”

What she couldn’t have known, was that I had a secret: There was one card in the pile I didn’t want to look at. I was afraid of it.

“I Miss My Dad.”

Of course, as is the way of these things, this became the card that stayed with me, even though I didn’t physically possess it.

I miss my Dad I miss my Dad I miss my Dad.

Just as Briana is surprised by the presence of her Dad heart, I am often surprised by the ways in which grief sneaks up on me. He’s been gone four years now. He never heard me on the radio. I’d like to think he would have listened, but I’m honestly not sure.

You see my father, more than anyone in my life, could get irritated with my relentless desire to ask just one more question. Maybe he would have found the idea of asking questions for a living amusing.

I like to think he’d also be proud of the work we do on public radio. But one of the consistent surprises of grief is how often I don’t know what he would have thought and how painful that can be.

Like most of us, my dad was always changing. New information and new relationships would inform his opinions and ideas, sometimes drastically.

He changed. Our relationship changed. And then it didn’t because one of us was gone.

Laura Geringer Bass reminded me that writing about grief can have enormous value. I don’t have a “Dad heart,” but I do have a writing prompt.

I sit down with my notebook and begin. “I miss my Dad …”

The next words appear in my journal without the realization that I have written them:

“I miss you too.”

We write back and forth like this, my father and I, for some time.

Perhaps I have a Dad heart after all, waiting in my notebook all this time.

Thank you, Laura. You are my rock.

Here’s my conversation with Laura Geringer Bass on “In the Moment” on SDPB Radio.

For your own copy of writing prompts from “The Girl With More Than One Heart,” click here. 

For more about Laura Geringer Bass, click here. 

 

 

has writing become a luxury?

I haven’t “updated” my blog substantially for more than year now. A new job and slightly revised life has turned my focus elsewhere, often for the best.

And yet.

There was a time when I called myself a writer, mostly because I could. When people ask these days (they rarely do, it’s a question that seems to have gone out of style) I tell them I’m a radio host and journalist. Sometimes, through the flow of conversation, I reveal I used to be a writer. And lately I’ve been troubled by what that mini-confession says about the condition of my soul.

“I used to be a writer” is a fairly straight-forward way to express my transition from writer-paycheck to public-broadcasting-paycheck. It’s not a transition I regret or plan to undo. I adore hosting “In the Moment” on SDPB Radio. I love the deep conversations. I love the rhythm of thoughtful pursuit of truth and connection. I love the moment when the headphones block out the rest of the world and it’s just me and a guest and the listener, unseen. Magic.

But I admit there are days when I feel I am slowly relinquishing one of the finest parts of myself — the part willing to spend a few blissful hours crafting a more beautiful sentence.

Before you remind me (and oh, how people love to remind me) I do write for work. Every day. But at work I write quickly, fervently even, in order to dodge the tumbling boulders of daily deadlines. Stand still and you are crushed. At work I become the writerly waterbug, skipping along the surface, never pausing long enough to descend into the cold abyss.

I’ve created some good work this way, and it’s taught me much about focus. But I find that no matter how hard I try to convince myself otherwise, something is missing.

And then, earlier this week, I found myself puzzling over a decision. I received an email reminding me to update the annual payment for my blog before deactivation.

Update or delete?

Refocus or allow this online presence to fade into the Internet oblivion graveyard?

Write or wither?

As you may have surmised by now … I have decided to write.

(No, I’m not changing anything about my actual job. My “In the Moment” focus is stronger than ever. I’m just refocusing my personal time to include more writing.)

There are days I look at this blog and realize there isn’t much here. A few scattered thoughts on a life well lived. A middling online scrapbook. It could be so much more than it already is. It needs to be so much more than it already is.

Other days I discover, in previous posts, glimpses of the person I was sending messages to the person I am today. I am deeply grateful for her. Perhaps today I am writing for my future self. Perhaps I’m writing for you. Perhaps this correspondence is enough.

We don’t need our creative expectations to be set even higher than our professional expectations. Expectations are already too high. What we need — what I need, at least — is simply the time and the permission to slow down and enjoy the scratching of pen on paper, the swooshing of paint on canvas, the clicking of a camera shutter.

Permission granted, if only for a little while longer.

 

into the woods

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Sometimes, it’s essential to get away.

For my second retreat at Pointers Ridge,

I again bunked in the Writer’s Cabin.

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Though I had planned to write fiction,

I ended up writing an essay.

Not here …

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but here …

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…  because I craved space for the unexpected.

The gift, this time, was not inspiration …

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but clarity.

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I was welcomed.

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I was without time.

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I wrote late into the night,

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but drank the sunrise as well.

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Things didn’t go as planned. I drove to town for

emergency car repairs and <sigh> for work.

I was occasionally lazy. I took naps.

I made a mess.

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But in the mornings, the river kept pushing

the fog to the sky in smoky columns, which makes

more sense than some things in the world.

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Great writers have penned inspirations about

solitude and nature and time. I brought none

of those writers with me.

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Instead, I taped the words of

Hunter S. Thompson

above my laptop as I wrote:

“Buy the ticket. Take the ride.”

 

 

 

 

when in doubt, hire a muse

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I woke up today in a ridiculously chipper mood, but not wanting to work, like … ever again. Maybe the long winter is making me punchy, but I really just felt compelled to take the rest of the year off. Problem is, it’s February. Taking the year off isn’t really an option.

I goofed off for a few minutes (read: hours) and still couldn’t seem to focus. Finally, I had reached my threshold for shame (surprisingly high, I admit) and I decided I had to do something—anything—to force myself to get down to the business of being a writer.

So,  I hired a muse.

Here she is:

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Cute, yes?

And now, writing seems so much more … colorful.

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Also the muse has little pokey spikes sticking out of her, which I find just menacing enough to force my right-brain into compliance. At my house, we call this her cactus suit.

Some days we all need a cactus suit. For protection. For motivation.

I am happy to report that things are moving along much more responsibly now. I highly recommend every creative type hire a muse. Particularly one who can give you little puncture wounds whenever you slip off into hapless daydreams …

ouch! … oh, thank you … 

Back to work …

 

 

a day in the life

Oliver Jeffers is an amazing artist, and kids everywhere love his video. This is pretty much how writers spend their days. Telling stories, checking things off lists, hunting down lunch. Not a bad way to make a life, yes?

I’m really lucky I get to do what I love for a living. I feel a sort of a sense of responsibility to enjoy that as much as I can.

~Oliver Jeffers

on writing

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writing is about seeing, long before it is about writing

seeing is about pausing

pausing, about trusting

trusting, living

living

loving

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