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.

(M., “Mia”)

*

Now here is the number 2.
Now the fox is a bear
with a big hand.
Now the sun is a wolf.

(L.,“Constellations”)

*

as wild as a monkey
doesn’t stop for anything
restless like a pirate
stranger than a bee

(Z., “Changes”)

*

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)

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One Response to “A Shout of Good Feeling”

  1. Ann Teplick Says:

    Sierra, lovely piece. I agree, a shrug can be as good as a yes, and yes, once in the door, there’s a lot of tender magic.

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