Bill Roorbach the author of Writing Life Stories, challenges memoir writers to a series of practical exercises with the aim of improving their writing. This exercise from page 75, “On…” encourages the writer to choose an abstract noun to go with ‘On’, something everyone can relate to, something we are all expert on. Then, just use the freedom to write whatever comes to mind, no editing on the go, “no storytelling, no scenes, a chance to speak from the present”. I found it an exercise in freedom – no filtering of thoughts or striving to keep to the theme or find a better word. My Noun: ‘Loss’, Vicki
Everyone experiences it. It has levels of depth, levels of pain. It is and will be an undercurrent of every person’s life, in fact not just persons, but all living things; humans and animals experience loss.
An autumn leaf has to die to make way for new life. A vine has to be pruned to bear new fruit. Is that what loss is about, making way for new life?
I don’t mean: lost, like loss of an item in a wardrobe that hasn’t had a Marie Condo makeover or the loss of your favourite piece of Tupperware in the corner cupboard or the second utensil drawer that is so stuffed despite every attempt to keep it tidy, you never can find what you want in a hurry. Nor do I mean a glib: ‘Oh that is a loss,’ when you hear of a movie star or significant contributor to your world passing away. I don’t mean loss of the car keys temporarily or losing the final in your favourite sport to your arch rival.
I mean the heart wrenching, painful, never forgotten experiences of life when one farewells a parent, aborts an unborn child, buries a child, leaves loved ones behind in another country when fleeing persecution, when your bank forecloses on your home of forty years because your job has been made redundant, when the summer wild fires consume your community and burn up every last living thing including homes in its wake with families and fire fighters trapped in the flames. When one builds a business over years of anguish and commitment with eventual success only to see it gone in moments with little reason.
I mean leaving your sick ageing and lifelong pet that has loved you through every character flaw at the vet knowing full well she won’t be coming home. I mean the loss the farmer experiences when he guides his valuable stock with generations of breeding onto the abattoir truck because he has no water to grow their feed. I mean the loss of cultural heritage and language when stories are not passed on from generation to generation. I mean the loss of communities that thrive on Islands edge when the rising and warming seas wash away their livelihood.
Loss, everyone experiences it. Loss is a death of something, a never to be replaced something or someone. It is heavy, unwieldy, raw, unspeakable, unimaginable until experienced; in the moment it is unbearable. We run from loss not towards it. We choose not to re-live it. Sometimes we don’t recognise loss until it is too late, like a relationship breakdown that is irretrievable, (where forgiveness and grace couldn’t be found).
But then, loss provides inspiration to live more, write more, love more, speak more, be more, do more, grow more. Without the experience of loss, living, writing, loving, speaking, being, doing, growing, remain in status quo; unchanged, unaffected.
On loss, it is never let go or forgotten, as if never to be visited again, it is moved aside, for a moment. It makes way long enough to let the pain of it inform something wonderful and new like: birth, renewal, restoration, reconciliation, courage, inspiration.
On loss, everyone experiences it, everyone can use it.