On the Uniqueness of Life

Writing my friend’s Sunset Speech, a reflection on her life and favorite things, meant preparing her – in a way – for the end of her life.

A lot of the speech came together on a flight to Palm Springs, California. I put the recording of the interview on in my headphones and let it play as I did a download of the main imprints left on my heart and mind from the time together at her breakfast table.

The recording came in handy to fill in dates and catch distinct names of destinations and timelines. Parts of the recording would catch my attention and something would float up – a meaningful piece that, with a thoughtful tie to one of her important notes, would really be a gift for her. As I wrote on the plane, I would feel the rise of potency and know I was on track. Things that felt loose or cheesy, I let be. Good ideas that felt amateur or juvenile, I knew just needed to bake a little bit longer. I have gotten to know my creative process so well at this point in my life. It’s such a blessing to know these types of things.

The next day, I soaked in the hot tub in the morning California sun, before all the sun bathers woke up to grab their chaises. Drinking coffee and reading over my notes, thinking a little and then staring at a palm tree – it felt so good to be somewhere different.

So good to be somewhere different.

Travel helps me write. I have always believed that in terms of self development, travel lets you see yourself against a different back drop. Parts of yourself that are in auto pilot or cycling, are more obvious when you are somewhere different. You can tweak them and change them with new experiences – food and culture, shopping and sitting.

Nancy’s first draft of the speech came together that morning and I called her to read the portion I felt was solid. “Oh, Erin!” I can hear how she speaks, “It’s wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.”

Later on that day, I would meet a vacation friend: an actual factual little old lady from Pasadena, who was traveling with her daughter. Her daughter would work until noon, then come down with a bloody mary for her mom and they would relax in the sun until dinner; each night with reservations to a thoughtfully picked restaurant. We spent time together in the mornings, sharing on work and life and books. She was so colorful and so charismatic. People would do anything for her. It was fascinating to watch.

One morning, as we soaked in the hot tub, I shared with her why I thought the speech was so wonderful to Nancy – or at least something that I thought went into it: I write with my words, using her words, in her manner of speech. As I wrote her Sunset Speech, an end of life reflection – I would hear her voice. I timed the whole thing using her cadence in my mind.

My vacation friend shared with me how this is actually a skill and a marking of high creativity: to be able to hear in the mind in a different voice. This feels empowering and like a bit of a ninja move. One of my projects on deck is a really sentimentally awesome Christmas book. When I write the manuscript, I hear the story told in my mother’s reading voice. Isn’t that something? Not mine. But my mother’s.

Yesterday, I took the dogs for a nice long walk after writing here on Frozen Spaghetti. The sky had bright sunny clouds with gray clouds interspersed. For the first time in a long time, I put on a podcast episode while I walked as I was curious to hear Liz Gilbert’s guest spot on We Can Do Hard Things.

Totally enjoying her absolute gift of gab, I decided to take a turn and loop through the park despite the early drops of what seemed to be a light rain.

Within 10 minutes, the clouds broke open and I was absolutely caught in a downpour. I was far enough from home that there was no point in running to the house. This was going to be a socks and shoes squelch squirch situation when you are soaked to the bones.

It made me smile. How absolutely hosed I was in this rain.

I have not had this happen since a spring trip to Chicago years and years ago when my daughters and I got absolutely caught in the rain. We didn’t try to escape it and – instead – played at Millennium Park in the puddles, in the never ending rain – because it was fine. It was living.

That day in Palm Springs, when I finished the first draft of Nancy’s speech – I was completely humbled by the uniqueness of her life. Of all her days, a few were so prominent, she remembered them – their quality – their deeper meaning. Nancy is not famous (though incredibly well loved and social social social) but she made her mark. I felt so touched by this gift to me in providing that gift of writing to her. The gift to me?

To know each day I live, getting caught in the rain – making friends while traveling, is my story unfolding. And there is nothing that truly makes one human’s story better than another. Their mark may be different, their audience may vary – who they are in the public may be concentrated or broad – but in allowing this wholeness of each person, without comparison, you get to be fascinated by the unique ways our commonalities play out.

Getting caught in the rain, listening to Liz Gilbert reflect on her partner’s final days brought on this awareness: Liz is so big in the world yet she had such small mornings, cleaning up throw up – she had hard nights, with an addicted partner. See what I mean?

No matter how big the grand scheme is, each day we get is so quite frankly ours. And it’s perfect. In its sun or in its rain.

In this? There is a lot of power.

And in that power? Is peace.

Sunset Speeches

At the beginning of March, a friend of mine (who is 86) reached out and asked me if I would help her write a speech for her women’s group. It was to be a 20 minute speech on who she is and, if done well, she believed could be her eulogy.

This was not the first time a friend reached out to me and asked if I would help prepare words for family and friends post mortem. It is one of the most humbling and exciting things to be asked to do. This type of writing, I just love. I just love.

My friend and I made plans the week after to spend a morning at her breakfast table. She had some thoughts already prepared and we talked for hours about World War II train rides, being a teenager in the 50’s and the unfolding of her rich, beautiful life.

I would ask her questions and offer validating sentences and sometimes get an “exactly” and those words would go down as pieces in the puzzle board. Sometimes, she would reply with a wondering and an uncertain smile and I would shoo my question to the side. A tangent.

There were multiple times during the interview when we would both tear up. It felt so important to be listening to her talk about her life. It felt so important to be feeling certain ways and channeling that onto paper as notes and arrows to other words in what would become my first sketch of her life in an alphabetical manner.

I reflect on this experience today on the blog because, as I commit to my Chief Strategist role, I realize stepping into grief and exploring the unfolding is a main aspect of my writing life. Incorporating the way the heart and words work together in reflection and the potency of the art in a meaningful speech is evident in all of the favorite things I have written. Solid reporting + an artful bridge + a full circle nod that brings the whole moment peace and resolution.

Storytelling, for me, feels most right when performing feels as if it could make me cry. I might love crying when I perform as much as I love the poise of breath and steadiness of spirit that I can feel getting me through a performance without a break. Either way, going there is my sweet spot.

In my writing life, I am watching for the marriage between the poetry and fiction, Words that Rhyme & Lullabies, and the non fiction – mental health – “hey this is a way to look at this” writing I am doing in workshop and worksheet form. I believe this courtship is rooted in a willingness to feel.

Sunset Speeches bring together the art of painting a picture with the deep, thoughtful fishing out the right words in respect to one person. It’s lovely. When I write rhymes and poetry, my process very much looks for what is common and for mysterious entry points for a connected yet individual interpretation. What makes these two art forms similar, I feel, is something to really pay attention to: feel feel feel. Emote.

More on my interview with Nancy and how the speech was put together (planes! California sun!) tomorrow…

I hear the house stirring above me and so I must emerge from the cave, kiss goodbyes for the day and get the dogs out for a nice, long walk.