At The Hearth Centre we have entered into our third week of working with a diverse bunch of talented, and some well known, writers as they receive training to complete a prose workshop with individuals who are currently hospitalised due to their mental health.
The aim of the scheme is to provide these hospitalised individuals with the freedom of expression through contact with a trained writing professional. As one of our writers, Vim Ayadurai, puts it, “it’s about giving these individuals the permission to write” and the resources, knowledge, patience and attention necessary in order to get a piece of prose down on paper.
After a session of discussion, brainstorming and eventually some writing, the finalised pieces will be published in an anthology.
In discussions after the session last week, one of the anticipated challenges voiced by our writers is to engage directly with another writer in working together on a piece whilst both minds are likely to be making different creative leaps, surely sometimes in opposite directions.
Upon asking our writers what the best preparation is for writing, they all answer, “READ!” However, with only a one hour session to construct a piece of prose together, faithful to the individuals’ feelings and ideas, no reading homework can be set. Instead, the writers are to take along a short piece of their own work, or a work they know very well, so that through reading that particular piece together the writer and their partner will then write a piece of prose in a similar, mirrored style. Encouraging a set pattern to be applied to the initial tangle of thoughts and ideas that precede a written work, which our writers have termed “brain noise”, should hopefully ensure an end result of a short piece of prose from each pair within the time constraint of an hour.
Indeed, Andy Cashmore, one of our writers who specialises in flash fiction, remarks that past workshops using flash fiction specifically as a modality of expression for people suffering with mental health complaints, have been a great success.
“Once individuals are able to let go of writing with a clear beginning, middle and end, they’re able to produce some really impressive pieces.”
Whilst we look forward to our third and final meeting with our writers this Wednesday, when they will be sharing the pieces that they intend to share with their partner during the workshop, we shall share one of our favourite pieces of flash fiction, Mother, by Grace Paley.
One day I was listening to the AM radio. I heard a song: “Oh, I Long to See My Mother in the Doorway.” By God! I said, I understand that song. I have often longed to see my mother in the doorway. As a matter of fact, she did stand frequently in various doorways looking at me. She stood one day, just so, at the front door, the darkness of the hallway behind her. It was New Year’s Day. She said sadly, If you come home at 4 a.m. when you’re seventeen, what time will you come home when you’re twenty? She asked this question without humor or meanness. She had begun her worried preparations for death. She would not be present, she thought, when I was twenty. So she wondered.
Another time she stood in the doorway of my room. I had just issued a political manifesto attacking the family’s position on the Soviet Union. She said, Go to sleep for godsakes, you damn fool, you and your Communist ideas. We saw them already, Papa and me, in 1905. We guessed it all.
At the door of the kitchen she said, You never finish your lunch. You run around senselessly. What will become of you?
Then she died.
Naturally for the rest of my life I longed to see her, not only in doorways, in a great number of places—in the dining room with my aunts, at the window looking up and down the block, in the country garden among zinnias and marigolds, in the living room with my father.
They sat in comfortable leather chairs. They were listening to Mozart. They looked at one another amazed. It seemed to them that they’d just come over on the boat. They’d just learned the first English words. It seemed to them that he had just proudly handed in a 100 percent correct exam to the American anatomy professor. It seemed as though shed just quit the shop for the kitchen.
I wish I could see her in the doorway of the living room.
She stood there a minute. Then she sat beside him. They owned an expensive record player. They were listening to Bach. She said to him, Talk to me a little. We don’t talk so much anymore.
I’m tired, he said. Can’t you see? I saw maybe thirty people today. All sick, all talk talk talk talk. Listen to the music, he said. I believe you once had perfect pitch. I’m tired, he said.
Then she died.