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On Writing and Ritual … and the Power of the Obituary

I don’t use a specific pen, nor do I wear a lucky writing hat when I sit at my desk. I don’t keep rotten apples in my desk drawer to sniff for inspiration, although this apparently worked for the German writer, Friedrich Schiller.  And on the subject of clothing: Unlike Victor Hugo, I prefer to wear some while I’m composing — but that’s just me. The rest of you do what you like.

I don’t habitually write in the bathtub while eating apples, like Agatha Christie, although I did write in a bubble bath once while eating an apple-based fruit salad.

Writers love rituals. Something about habit, pattern and routine busies our left brain so our right brain can sneak to the forefront and create. It’s wily, yes, but the end justifies the means. Let’s be honest. It’s daunting enough to face a blank screen without doing so cold — just like that, just because the clock says “write.” So we creep up on the work. We dance near, careful not to lock gazes, and ease ourselves into position with familiar, comforting ritual.

My own is relatively simple. Every morning, before I’ve written a word, I go online, navigate to my local paper, and read the obituaries. Morbid, you say? Probably. But I’m okay with that. Part of this routine stems from the fact that I’ve lived in this area nearly all my life and I’ve reached an age where I know more people divorcing and dying than I do those marrying and giving birth. So I feel a need to keep tabs on my people. But I’ve discovered a bigger motivation in that ritual. There’s something about seeing all those faces once clearly so full of hope, yearning, contentment, ambition, and passion — and realizing the hearts belonging to those faces have stopped beating — that causes me to sit upright and slap my lazy tendencies into submission. It has never failed me yet: I read those numbers, find two or five or ten within my relative age group, and say to myself, “You’re still alive, girl. Get busy.”

Today I saw the face of a beautiful 29-year old girl who will never speak another word. I looked in the eyes of a 43- year old man and wondered, “What would you say if you had five more minutes?” I grieved over an 18-year old boy and a 34-year old woman and an infant, and then I thought of a quote by Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.

If you’re reading this, then you’re still breathing. The word for today is: Sing. Whatever that means to you, find a way to express your song, and to make today count. And pray that your music heals and comforts and lingers, long after your voice is stilled.

I’m praying too.

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4 Comments on "On Writing and Ritual … and the Power of the Obituary"

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Anita Scheftner
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Thanks Shannon..we watched a DVD at church last night about a family who had lost their five yr. old son, Cooper…whose Daddy was his hero..he loved action figures..Captain America..Mr. Incredible..etc. But he loved his Daddy..whatever they were doing together, mowing the lawn or riding the dune buggy Cooper would say flame on! to go faster..flame on! Those were his last words to his Daddy. The dune buggy flipped and somehow Cooper died..he was buckled in..they were on level ground..and they were going to spin a couple of doughnuts..and they flipped..Cooper went home to be with his Ultimate Hero, Abba Father..from… Read more »
Anita Scheftner
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In other words….sing. 🙂

Teresa Townsell
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Thank you, Shannon; I needed this.

Brianna Stokes
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I am so inspired by your writing…thank you, in particular, for this post. Beautifully honest and encouraging…XOXO

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