Monday, May 26, 2008

Writing Prompt 49

Write about your vision of heaven.

The Last Letter

It seems fitting to post this last letter from the dead in the midst of listening to Dante's Divine Comedy (Longfellow's translation)--I have completed the journey through hell--and on the heels of preparing a memorial service for my friend's 83 year old father. We prayed over his body a few hours after his death on Friday afternoon, and she has begun speaking of him in the past tense. Already, he lives on in the photos piled on the dining room table sparking memories.


They came in a dream, the angels, and invited me to go with them. Do you know what it is like to soar, rising from your old bones and labored breath? It is freedom. It is glorious and it set this tired old man to laughing. But then I see all the long faces, praying for me on the rosary. I want to reach down and wipe away all your tears. Eighty-seven years is enough on the earth. And I think you should be glad that I have gone. I think you should be dancing. Then I remember how scared to die we all are. Afraid that our mortal soul hangs in danger, and that words must save us.

It is with noble hearts that you pray, believing your prayers will twine themselves into a net to scoop me from the jaws of Satan and drop me at the feet of the Virgin. Rest assured I am not in hell and I am not in purgatory. It is possible that I am in heaven, although I have not seen the Virgin or her beloved son, Jesus, or your mother, Anna Maria, the love of my life. Wherever I am, I am free.

How I long for you to celebrate. Light the prayer candles and sing Alleluia. Pull apart the white carnation cross by my coffin and pin a flower in each lapel. Mija, I would like to tell you what it is like, this new life, this life after death. But I am at a loss, for there are no tastes and no sounds and no sights. Just this feeling.

I felt something like it once before, only much smaller, just inside my own heart, when you were born. The first time I held you and gazed into your dark eyes and touched the mat of black hair on top of your tiny head, I thought I would swell and explode with my love for you. Where I have gone it is like that, like love has exploded into a soup of stars and spirits.

Oh, my beautiful daughter, I wish you this peace.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Writing Prompt 48

In one of his Psalms, David wants to bash the enemies' babies against rocks.
Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. How do choose the path of restoration and forgiveness when the wrongs in society and our own lives our so grievous?
Write a letter, and/or a psalm. Struggle with your anger, your desire for retribution, your ability or inability to forgive. Don't censor your words, yet temper your actions.

The Letter that Forgives Evil and the Psalm that Cries for Vengeance

The Letter

To the little girl with the braids tied in pink ribbons,

I never knew your name. You’re grown up now. Maybe you got kids. Bet you never leave them with someone you don’t know. Then you were seven or eight, the daughter of a friend of the girlfriend I had that week and you came over while she went to court or something. You sat on the couch watching cartoons. You had a scab on your knee and flowered underpants. And your skin was so white and so quiet and I needed quiet.

Now I think I shouldn’t have touched you like that. Then I was stoned and everything makes sense when you’re stoned. There were other girls, but you were the first and the one I saw at night when I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and the traffic on the bridge took over my veins.

I couldn’t get quiet, couldn’t get it right, so I quit living. It’s not hard. And now, I know things. Like I screwed up your life bad. And that bites. You still got time, right? Maybe you’re one of the good ones who can forgive. I don’t deserve it.

I don’t deserve shit. But that’s the weird thing, if you can forgive me, you get better, but it don’t change me a bit. You might even get a life that works okay. That’d be cool. Man, I never wanted no power like I had, messing with your mind, fuckin’ up your life. Maybe you already worked it out. Maybe all I am to you now is a shiver that pulls on your gut.

Death don’t change the past. It just makes you a little smart. Now I get that there were choices. I hope you pick the right thing, the good thing.

From the man you always hoped was dead and finally is

The Ranting Psalm

O God they say we are all your children
They say we are all created in your image
They say we are born again into your eternal love

And I say to you what about those who abuse your children
What about those fathers who come into their daughters’
Bedrooms at night, who pull back their covers
And force their sour breath upon their innocent skin
Would it not be better if you smote them
Destroyed with your own hand those who would destroy a childhood

Why are you silent why do you allow the shattered
To suffer in silence and shame
Surely God you should exercise justice they say vengeance is yours

And I want to know if you’re ever going to use it
Reach down your hand and press it against the throats of the transgressors
Until they can whisper no more until the sounds of don’t tell anyone
Are drowned in the gurgle of their spit
Silenced in their dying breaths

Stop granting second chances stop looking the other way
Stop pretending time heals all wounds
Stop killing hope and innocence and childhood
Too many of your children have suffered
At the hands of those who say they love them

I want what is right God I want what is just
I want you to restore what has been stolen
From your daughters and from your sons

Like King David I plead with you
Get off your throne get your head out of the clouds
You’ve done it before you can do it again

They say that you are love they say that you love us
So what about bringing wholeness what about saving souls

You will of course in time eventually
But why must the suffering last so long

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Writing Prompt 47

What's your cancer story? How has your life been impacted by your experience?
Write a letter to someone who needs to know--spouse, children, God...

The Cancer Letter

Is there anyone who doesn't have cancer? Right now, a husband and wife in my church both diagnosed (early thankfully) at the same time. A choir member whose husband died a few weeks ago of renal cell cancer. My brother-in-law fighting multiple myeloma. An older man at church getting skin cancer removed, all sorts of relatives of church members undergoing treatment for one variety or another. How do we survive it--those who recover, and those who mourn those who succumbed? Without God, where do we find hope?

Another Letter from the Dead

Darling Kathleen,

You amaze me, the way you held up through it all. Still are. Driving the children to school, making beds and lunches, folding laundry. Where do you find it, that inner strength? Or is it simply numbness. Changing the phone number was a bit much, but if that’s what it took to stop your mother from calling every day, why not?

I heard her, the old biddy, and your aunts, reciting their platitudes. “He’s out of his misery.” “He’s gone to a better place.” “He’s with the Lord, now.” Fuck you. That’s what I’d want to say, if I were alive. Sometimes I forget it’s not about me any more. It’s about you. It’s about you because you sat by my bed for months and washed my scalp with a washcloth and clipped my goddamn toenails. You saw the worst happen and now you have to pick up the pieces and reassemble the mess I made of our lives.

Burning the sympathy cards, I liked that. Enough with the Hallmark crap.

There are so many things I am sorry for. I am sorry that the cancer ate away not only at my body, but at your hope, at our dignity, at the security of our children. I wish now that I had been brave enough to leave before everything was depleted. Somewhere, beneath the morphine and oxygen and the fading in and out of consciousness, I couldn’t bear to leave you alone with the children and no job and no money. I was afraid; afraid you’d fall apart after I was gone. I thought the lingering would make it easier.

You must feel so cheated. It was all for worse, with no better. It was all in sickness, with no health. And now all you have is death do us part. I’m sorry for the fear, how it held me back. I wish I could appear like a fairy godmother with a magic wand and wave it over you and Brittany and Josh. Cast a magic spell and you’ll live happily ever after. But there’s nothing I can do.

What can I say? Let it out. Scream and yell; cry all you want. Cry until your pillowcase is soaked. Swear at me; I won’t be offended. Swear at God; God can take it.

When people ask, tell them I was a selfish bastard and you’re glad I’m gone, wish I’d died ten years sooner. Or tell them I left a pit in the center of your life and the only thing that keeps you from jumping in after me, is the rope the kids have tied to your waist. Remember that oncologist at Stanford, the one who went to med school after her baby died of leukemia? We raised our eyebrows when she told us. And when she left the room you said, “If it were me, I’d get as far away from cancer as possible.”

Now it is you. I won’t tell you everything is going to be okay, because I don’t know. Maybe life is terrible. The only thing I can tell you, the only thing I know to be true is this: You are not alone. Even when you wake up terrified in the middle of the night, aching for me, aching for someone to hold you and smooth your hair and kiss your forehead, and find no one there, no one at all. Even then, you are not alone. Maybe that’s eternity. We are threads in a web, invisible, but real nonetheless.

I remain yours,


Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Writing Prompt 46

Think of an ex--yours, your parent's, your child's. What needs to be said from this side of the grave, or the other. Write the letter. Then what? Rip it up? Burn it? Post it to your blog?

The Letter From the Dead Ex-Wife

What is the protocol for attending the funeral of your ex? I don't have an ex, but I have multiple parents. I just don't imagine them showing up for the occasion. The divorce was over 35 years ago. They're strangers. Any bitterness long gone. Not so in this letter.


So nice of you to leave the office for an hour. Yes, shake hands with my parents, nice touch. But then they always liked you, even when I got the lecture about living up to obligations. I suppose my clients will be delighted you’re representing them now. That ought to make you happy. Never thought I’d die from the impact of slamming my head on the glass ceiling, but that’s what it boiled down to. Hah.

Sorry to disappoint if you were expecting something more exotic like Lotus flowers, incense and the Buddha. There’s nothing special about Korean Methodists. If we’d had a church wedding, you’d know that. I don’t know most of these people to tell the truth. The two rows of ladies at the back of the church are in the women’s circle. They made the refreshments, be sure to try a pecan crescent. I’d say they’re to die for, but no cookie is that great.

You’re uncomfortable. I can tell by the way you’re picking lint from your cuff. Look around the room, lots and lots of gray. You should be safe for another twenty years, at least. But it does make you wonder about your mortality. What if you are next? Tomorrow morning you could be reading the paper at the breakfast table while your new wife grades papers before class. They next thing you know, you’re road pizza. The last thing on your mind is Linda; how you didn’t say I love you when you left the house. When she gets a phone call from the Highway Patrol, you want to think that her wails will be as loud as the sirens.

Should I say fat chance? Do I sound bitter? I don’t mean to be. Divorce happens. We were doomed from the start and I won’t pretend otherwise. But let me give you some advice. Don’t let Linda end up loving the dead you more than the live one. After all, the dead you will always be around. Go home after my memorial. Take the afternoon off work, unheard of, I know. And when Linda arrives, tell her something she can’t forget.

Susanna Yoon

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I’m In!

Some of you know that I’ve been accepted into Seattle Pacific University’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program. I have been accepted in the “Creative Nonfiction” genre, which means I will be writing memoir and essays.

This writing program is four years old (I heard about it in its planning stages and have been waiting to apply) and is the only one in the country that includes a foundation in Christian spirituality and literature.

SPU’s website says, “What distinguishes our program from other MFA programs, then, is its focus on the relationship between literature and faith, its integration of the spiritual disciplines, and the reading of literary classics of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the curriculum.” You can read more about their philosophy.

The program is low-residency; most of my work will be through correspondence with a professor who is an accomplished writer in the field. Twice a year, I will travel to a ten-day residency where I will take intensive classes with everyone else in the program. It is small and highly selective, so I’ve been told being chosen is a testament to my writing ability. I begin with a 10- day residency in Santa Fe, New Mexico this summer at St. John’s College. Seattle Pacific is the home of Image Journal, which sponsors the annual Glen Workshop at St. John’s. Those of us in the MFA program will have the opportunity to take advantage of the wide array of Christian writers, musicians and visual artists who will be at The Glen.

Our winter residencies will be on Whidbey Island, so I’ll enjoy some lovely scenery but never actually set foot on campus! If I stay on track, I will graduate in the summer of 2010 and will have written a book length work, as well as having commented on sixty books by others––I think “annotated” is the term, and I have no idea what that means, so I better learn fast! My exposure to literature in college was narrow and specialized (i.e. books about the Viet Nam War and Feminist movement), and I’m ready to explore The Canon. My first reading assignment includes Confessions by St. Augustine, and Dante’s Divine Comedy.

I know that God continues to call me to use my gift of writing in the world. I spent last fall discerning whether this was the time in my life to say “Yes” to God once again and begin such a big undertaking––20 to 30 hours of work each week. With my “baby” heading out-of-state to college, my husband traveling internationally frequently, stable clergy leadership to assist me in ministry, and a growing number of leaders in my congregation, I felt that it was. I figured if I didn’t get accepted, then God would let me know I should wait. The opposite happened. I received amazing letters of recommendation, wonderful critique of my writing sample from my writer’s group, encouragement from my family, spiritual direction group and prayer partner.

Now all I have to do is the work!

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Writing Prompt 45

Try writing from a voice completely out of your realm of experience.
Be as outrageous and authentically foulmouthed (think Billy Elliott) as your dare.

The Letter that Got Me Blacklisted

Warning this post is rated R for language. Yes, you've heard it at the mall, on campus, in countless movies, but the sensitive among you, be forewarned.

A few years ago I decided to enroll at a well known Christian Writer's Conference, conveniently located near my home. I signed up for a fiction workshop where we emailed our work out in advance. I sent my Letters From the Dead (which I've been posting here individually), thinking that I'd get some good feedback from people of faith. I was writing, after all, about theology--life, death, regrets.

Shortly after sending my letters, I received an email from the instructor. She'd received complaints about my use of language. One of my characters, an inner city teen was killed in a drive by shooting, and she said tasteless things like, "Fuck" and "shit." The instructor said she understood why my character might swear, but this was a Christian writers' conference and perhaps I'd like to send a different story. I was willing to give it a chance, until I received the other writers work.

One man wrote a "thriller?" about a self-proclaimed vigilante who picked people off with great glee and the latest weaponry in order to save the United States from the new godless regime. It was okay to litter the pages with dead bodies because at times of extreme emotion, he said, "Darn."

A woman wrote about an abused wife who killed her husband by driving him off the edge of a cliff. She jumped from the vehicle just in time, and it was all good. She did what God wanted without once swearing.

In writing, we often talk about the inner critic, or the inner censor, to try to ignore her, and write what's deeply felt. I didn't want to censor the other writers imaginations or writing (as they did mine) but I was as offended by their "Christian" writing as the other writers were about my "inappropriate language." I wanted to ask where in their writing were the What Would Jesus Do messages? Non-violent protests, community organizing, caring law enforcement officials arresting batterers, safe houses, women's shelters? I couldn't in good conscience offer any positive comments on the writing, but then, I've never read any "Christian genre fiction," so what do I know? I withdrew from the workshop and got my money back.

Here's the letter that made me the bad girl of the Christian writer's workshop:

Yo Peanut,

‘Sup girlfriend? Did I pick the wrong time to go to LaSondra’s to borrow her rhinestone jeans or what? I’m like just opening the gate and that Taco Bell dog of hers is yapping and jumping on the chain link and I’m all, down you little shit and I hear it all before I see it. Tires squealing and the gag me stink of burning rubber and the Camaro engine roaring like a fucking 747 landing on the house and shouting something something motherfucker. Then DeWayne comes bombing down the street and then bullets like rocks on fire go slamming in his back and he crashes onto me like a two hundred pound balloon. Pop! Next thing I know everything’s like totally hot and white and my brain feels like fried egg on the sidewalk in that stupid commercial and everything is noise, volume all the way up, ear bleeding noise. And I’m all wet and slippery like a fish on land. Then bam. End of that shit.

So like I don’t know and I shouldn’t be telling you this shit. You’ll have nightmares and pee the bed and Mom will spank you and it’ll be my fault, but sorry I just have to tell someone, and no way can I tell Mom. At first I was like where the hell am I and where’s DeWayne and he better get his ass here quick and tell me what the fuck’s going on, since he’s like the reason I’m in this mess. Thanks to him, I missed Halloween 4 with Tyrone Friday and that was the night we were gonna do it finally. Yeah, well, like they say, Denial ain’t no river in fucking Africa. DeWayne wouldn’t believe we was dead or some crap. It’s like, man, I was so not ready for this. But here it is.

Now no way mom’s ever gonna let you out of the house. But this time it totally wasn’t my fault, I think. Okay, so don’t be like me. Have some goals and shit. It’ll make mom happy and maybe that way you could like keep part of me alive or some weird-ass thing like that.

Don’t forget about me, okay? ‘Cuz even though you are––I guess I’m supposed to say were––a royal pain most of the time, you’re bad for a six year old plus you got the great hair and I have to admit, I was jealous but not anymore. You are my one and only baby sis. So chill in the crib and step light in the hood. Wish I could come home.