How Writing is Like Compost – Illness Narratives

writing illness narrative

Compost. That’s what this blog is. Compost.

Fermenting bits of detritus that I hope some day will provide nutrients for something powerful. Something so powerful it will smother ARVD’s currently pernicious claim on my child’s heart with hope and healthy heart muscle tissue.

I’m in a room with writers and poets. The writer, the real writer with a strong voice in talking about illness or about anything it seems, is talking about compost. I listen, knowing that in this group I am hopelessly out of my depth. These folks are artists. They’re lyrical. They have wordsmithing power. Me? I can’t tell you an adverb from adjective. I’m shit at creative writing. And the writing I do is all functional. Not technical, but functional…and even that is painful.

There are narratives ready to be told, the writer says, ideas decomposed, fermented, no longer stinking of the cauliflower that you let rot in the fridge before finally throwing it into the compost. That partially decomposed arugula you bought, again, in the hope of eating salad isn’t ready to share with the world. But when the compost pile does its work, that arugula will be reconstructed into humus, loamy and fertile it no longer stinks, and it can be used by others.

But a compost pile can be helped I think. It can be turned, aerated, and here in this desert landscape – watered.

One of the writers, a playwright, looks around the room and says we’re here, we’re ready, and I crumble because the thing I need to talk about, want to talk about, is so raw I can’t get through a sentence describing it without tearing up- my child, who inherited my hair, my mouth, her father’s frame and eyes, has my heart.


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