A Shout of Good Feeling
by Sierra Nelson, Seattle Children’s Hospital
My work at Seattle Children’s Hospital is a little different than some of the other WITS programs. Instead of a classroom, I primarily work one-on-one with patients who are in longer-term care at the hospital, and on any given day I might work with students as young as kindergarten up to students in their early 20s. Some students I get to work with over many weeks, while others I may see only once.
Sometimes I feel like a door-to-door salesman for poetry: “Hi, I’m Sierra, the Creative Writer who comes on Thursdays. Do you want to do some writing today?” And it’s wonderful when the answer is an excited “Yes!” from a student who can’t believe it’s their lucky day, and a real-life writer has come to their door – here, of all places – and invited them to put their words on the page.
But more often I may get a shrug and an “OK,” but that can be as good as a yes too. They might just be bored, or sometimes they tell me they’re not sure they like writing, or that they’ve never thought of themselves as a writer. But once I’ve got my foot in the door, almost every time we find a way for the enjoyment of words and the possibility of writing to take root. We might start with connecting dots on a star map to make our own constellations, reading riddles and writing our own, exploring a favorite color or a feeling through personification, or turning an interview about favorite things into a self-portrait. Sometimes they have an idea for a story or poem already and we go with that, and I provide ideas for how to get started or ways to expand it, if needed – or just the concentrated quiet needed to take this moment, right now, to write it down and share it.
And sometimes it’s simply not a good day – they’re not feeling up to it, physically or emotionally, or with all the usual hospital commotion the timing is off. In this case I’m glad if I can at least be the Johnny Appleseed of notebooks – offering them a place to write or draw whatever they want on their own, with an implicit encouragement which I hope helps too.
By necessity, the experience of being in the hospital is focused on the needs of the physical body and medical concerns. I feel very grateful to all the students who have agreed to try creative writing with me in the midst of all that they are going through – and I feel thankful for each poem or story that has emerged, providing glimpses into each student’s unique experience and imagination. And I also am amazed and uplifted to see the way writing so often can create a new or renewed sense for these students of who they are and can be, beyond their physical and medical realities, through what they write.
Here are a few excerpts of work by some of these brave young writers. Enjoy!
*My middle name is by the ocean and a lot of trees, across the street from a beach park, at my grandma’s house… My last name – a shout of good feeling. (R.,“My Name”)
Sad wears gray sweatpants, a plain gray sweatshirt over a black shirt. Sad goes to a junkyard alone – tires, papers, broken car pieces. Sad walks around, kicking everything. Sad listens to punk and rock on his headphones. Sad goes home to his room, posters of bands on the black wall, a Knock sign on the door, skateboards on the floor, clothes all over…. He has only one friend: Depressed. They go together to the comic store and then to IHOP to eat.
(A.,“The Complicated Life of Heartbreak and Sad”)
*I dreamed I was standing in line with an egg in my mouth putting beads in Walt Whitman’s beard. I dreamed they’d sentenced me to break open fortune cookies until the factory lights went dim.
(I., “Joy Ride”)
*I am a unicorn that naps and reads my book.
*Now here is the number 2. Now the fox is a bear with a big hand. Now the sun is a wolf.
*as wild as a monkey doesn’t stop for anything restless like a pirate stranger than a bee
*She ran. Delicate arrival, blazing alarm. The wind blew through with ice in its arms.
(M., “Snow Turtle”)
*feelings that float in air like notes of a symphony, like a flower barely blooming in its season is what these small giants are believing in.
(J., “The Voices You Never Heard)