Mental Images

There are always mental images in my head of people, places, and things. Some of them I conjure up out of nothing which I guess is part of my writing process for short stories and poems. Yet, there are other images that come from real life experiences and environments. Things like conversations, a randevu, photographs, or a memory, can bring an unforgettable image to mind. Seeing these images help me to relive the experience. Certainly, I use this in my writing process as well.

I write from a place of nostalgia. I want to conjure up memories and feeling in the reader. I expect the reader to connect to the piece emotionally; whether a story, blog, or poetry. It’s the sole purpose of symbolic and sensory language. A writer wants the reader to see, to hear, to touch, to smell, and to taste it through how the words are expressed. However, true creatives want their audience to go beyond the five senses; they want the readers to feel something: pain, sorrow, love, desire, anger, jealousy, empathy, etc. These feeling make the story/poem/blog memorable.

You don’t have to be a writer to create these mental images for yourself and others. My husband and I have been working on remodeling the kitchen during our free pandemic- induced time. Part of that change was creating a coffee bar for me. As I placed tea cups and creamers and tea pots into the new cabinets with the glass doors, I had an image of a tea party I attended some years ago with my friends. The mental image brought a smile to my face. I took a couple of photos with my phone and sent them to my friends with the message: “I wish we could have a tea party!” Each of my friends answered with an positive affirmation, but one of them had a mental image of her own. She wrote back a memory from a Valentine’s tea party we had attended. This was a pleasant memory that caused a new picture to form in my mind.

There are times when mental images are the best type of closure. Recently, a dear friend and writing buddy sent me a picture of herself and her new surroundings. She had moved far away to be closer to her family during the pandemic. Her words and the pictures let me know how happy she was in her new environment. She was surrounded by beautiful scenery. Just outside her windows nature looked life a manicured park. She had also cut her hair. Her long dreadlocks were gone, replaced by a short natural cut. It made her look younger and serene. These are the mental images that come into my mind when I think of her.

Unfortunately, my friend died recently. COVID-19 took her away from us. I cried for her loss, for her family whom she loved so dearly, and for the beautiful gift that would be missed in the land of poetry and prose. I was angry. How could this happen to her. She was careful and wise in her safety decisions. She was happy and experiencing peace of mind and heart. It was so unfair. It wasn’t right. I communicated with her family and felt so inadequate in ministering to their grief. Yet, I found comfort in the mental images I had of her from our last conversation. I picture her even now enjoying the garden like setting she was so proud to show me. I imagine the poetic words it would have inspired in her and I smile.

Mental images can be both good and bad, but they can also be a great help in our healing and our acceptance of a new normal. We can change those images by using our own mental faculties to create worlds of joy and peace – different outcomes, continuations, and endings. We can develop the mental images we need to survive the ups and downs of living through a pandemic, politically riveted, socially disrupted environment. Start by reading. Read something inspirational: a letter, a poem, a story, a biography, etc. Share the images of what you’ve read with someone else. Talk about the words that helped you draw the pictures and feel the subject matter. Talk about your feelings. What does it remind you of, how does it relate to your own experiences, what would you like for the other person to experience with you?

It is important that we don’t allow the News, docu-drama, and social media to be the only images in our minds. We must generate our own sense of safety, security, peace, joy, and comfort. Look at some family pictures, take a virtual walk through cities you wish to travel to, remember vacation spots, new born babies, and how you met the love of your live. Create a fictional place in a story for your grandchildren, recreate the family home from fifty years ago. Use mental images to remain healthy and to create your personal sense of normal as you wait to settle into whatever our new normal will be. You can control the images of your mind.

Be safe! Stay sane! Be imaginative and creative! Create a positive mental image of yourself regardless of circumstances.

In loving memory of Michelle Birt. May your creative energy live on in generations to come. Rest in Peace, my dear friend.

Breaking Barriers through Commonality

Today, I had the privilege of listening to poets and storytellers during the Virtual Reading presentation of Poets & Writers, Inc. in conjunction with the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College. It was entitled: Honoring Our Elders. I tell you all this because these senior men and women were from a variety of backgrounds, and yet, they shared the common bound of creativity and life experiences. (It’s also worth listening to, and can be found on P&W Facebook page.)

These Elders were being honored for their creativity, but they were also honoring us by sharing their world perspective. Their works talked about coming to America as immigrants, watching the hustle of street dancers, missing their families, their pets, connecting with the past, lost loved ones, the current pandemic, and time both now and back when. In this large group of Elders one person was 90, another only 60. Yet, the common thread was their humanity.

How beautiful it was to see and hear people who were not bitter, not ranting, not worried, nor afflicted with the opinions and diatribe of a multimedia entourage. Each person introduced another graciously as a friend. Each person received encouragement, applause, and comments to urge them to continue their craft. Although multiracial, no race was disparaged. Although multi-economical, there was no classism. Although multi-religious, no religious discrimination arose. These were simply creative individuals who discovered a commonality in creative writing and expression, as well as long life in the midst of ever-changing times. They were true Elders exemplifying wisdom by coming together and sharing their heartfelt thoughts and words.

Why can’t this be the way we all relate to one another? Why can’t we focus on our commonalities instead of our differences? We may not all be poets, but we all have family. We may not be able to express ourselves through the written word, but we can speak the common language of love, concern, and hope. The Pandemic magnifies these commonalities more than anything I can think of. People are dying without consideration of race, class, or religion. In the end we all just want health and life for those we love. We all want some form of normalcy to occur again. We all hope for a cure. We all want a plan for safety that works. And yet, we allow politics and social ills to become barriers to our common humanity.

The Elders had stories to tell us about how to overcome these things. They have seen war, plagues, and economic depression. The have lived through lack and plenty. They have found ways to survive in community. We need to hear this. We need to see this. We need to embrace their stories for the sake of posterity. The Elders are thriving in community. How much more should those who are young find a way to thrive with mutual camaraderie as a community?

I was deeply moved by the Elders today. They told their stories, some with pride and others with timidity. Nonetheless, we were captivated by their longevity as well as their tenacity. These authors are leaving a living legacy just by their unity of purpose in their community centers and neighborhood centers. They will also leave a written record of what it means to work together in shared success.

Perhaps we can break the barriers by telling our stories. Perhaps we can find hope and ways to break down barriers by sharing our experiences and getting involved in our communities and neighborhoods If we take the time to listen to others, and especially our Elders, perhaps we can find our common humanity. History and time will show us we are more alike than we are different.

The Elders I listened to today were from the Dr. Edith Rock Elders Writing Workshop, Goddard Riverdale Community Center, Grand Street Settlement, Kew Gardens Community Center, and the Stanley Isaac’s Neighborhood Center.

Thank you Elders, you were a small representation of the hard work of yesterday to create a better tomorrow. I honor you with a new found respect. Thank you for sharing a part of your humanity with me.

Do you have a story in you? Do you know how to write it or how to tell it?