“Writing Through Grief” with Jessica Handler

One of the workshops at the APH Conference (#aph2014) was presented by Jessica Handler, to whom I was introduced by mutual friend Audrey Galex earlier this year. I suggested Jessica submit a workshop proposal based on her teaching and book,  Braving the Fire. She did, it was accepted, and yesterday I attended it. She gave an in-class writing exercise, based on this prompt:

Dear ________

You would be happy to know that I ….

One of the things I like about Handler’s approach is that she recognizes loss comes in many forms; loss of people, yes, but also loss of places and cultures. For the exercise, I took on loss of place… with a twist.



Dear House,

I never liked you. Your smell of cigarettes offended me. The rough texture of your redwood paneling gave me splinters. Your plaster walls were grainy, and the paint felt like chalk. I never liked you.

You would be happy to know that you gave up your quarter acre so the high school could expand. You are the ground floor of the Freshman Welcome Center now.

Your basement was the only place I liked. It was cool in the humid Indiana summers, and it had hiding places where I could escape in my imagination. It’s gone now. When I picture you, House, what was above ground vanishes like a puff of dust.

But where does a basement go when the bulldozers come?


Read previous post about Jessica Handler’s work here

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
This entry was posted in Sarah's memoir, Writing prompt and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Writing Through Grief” with Jessica Handler

  1. Doug Elwell says:

    Sarah, Well done! Your take on loss of place resonated with me. Funny how that works. I went overseas then came back. My folks sold the house I grew up in and disposed of most of my “stuff” that was waiting for my return. I never got a chance to sort through it. Today the house is gone-the basement filled in and a funeral home sits there. I suppose that is fitting with the basement buried under it. Regarding place, I’m reminded of Michelle Richmond’s comment: “There are places a person can leave without feeling some regret, but I’m not sure you can ever leave your childhood home without, one day, feeling the sting of it.”


  2. A funeral home sits on your old home site? I love it! Thanks for your comment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s