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  • Writer's pictureShana Ritter

The exhale

It feels as if the new year has just begun. The last three days sun has graced the days, and clear skies the nights. Cold and bright feels so different from cold and gray. I walk our newly turned one year old pup just past dawn and just past dusk well aware of the change that light coming on or seeping away brings. I have been meaning to post a blog entry for months and while I have been writing poems and journaling, I haven’t been able, or even drawn to putting together the words that felt right for this format. I am still not sure just what feeling right denotes exactly, but today feels like the right time at least.

After weeks of holding my breath, our breath, with Covid encroaching directly on our family, and insurrection televised live, this long exhale is a good time for new beginnings. I’ve never been much for new year’s resolutions but there’s never quite been a new year like this one either. This week of reversable dates, inauguration, soaring words and renewing hope, I feel like I am standing in a house with all the doors opened wide, light streaming in, tables and desks ready for work. So here I am, right in the middle of it with possibility as a partner.

The first weeks of January I spent rehearsing for a (virtual) play, Blessings from the Pandemic. A first time for me since college to be reading words written by someone else, with a group of actors, in front of a large audience that I could somehow sense but could not in any way see. Besides feeling part of a new community I learned a lot, a different perspective of reading, a different way to pay attention to language and the insight that what is really being sought after is meaning.

I am drawn first to the beauty language, the way it works and sounds, the images it holds, but what I heard again and again from the experience of doing Blessings is how important it is to find personal meaning from the words. All the craft, the careful election of sounds, the shades of an image, the rhythm of a line, contribute to whether or not someone you have never met, whose window looks out on something you can’t imagine, can take meaning from the words.

It seems such an obvious thing, a given, but while I often consider the reader as I revise a piece, I am most concerned with creating an entrance in. I want to be sure to leave open a window or a door, to create an invitation into the story or the poem. But I’ve rarely if ever thought about what the reader will take back out with them, what meaning they will construct on their own.

The experience of reading Rich Orloff’s Blessings from the Pandemic, a cycle of poems in a style of writing so very different from my own (he is a playwright and I have never written a play) opened me up to new faceted ways of thinking about the word on the page. It became an offering. The same way we used to go to a gathering carrying a dish and offer it up onto a long table knowing it will serve but not knowing necessarily how it will be eaten or who will share it yet trusting it will somehow nourish.

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