Day 22: January 22, 2023
Welcome to Writing Practice. The idea is simple: I send out a prompt, often with links to related published pieces to help fuel creativity. Then you write.
Write as much or as little as you like. I would recommend not over-thinking this, and just using it as an opportunity to jot down some words. I would also recommend just writing through – don’t try to make it perfect (that’s for later).
Some of these prompts may resonate, and you’ll find yourself writing paragraph after paragraph. Others will fall flat, and you’ll roll your eyes, or come up empty and feel frustrated. This, too, is part of having a regular writing practice. On those days of frustration or blockage, try to write something down anyway – even just one sentence, even just one word. And then take heart in the reality that, if we are lucky, there is always tomorrow.
WRITING PRACTICE DAY 22
DAY 22: Read the first section of The Orca and the Spider: On Motherhood, Loss, and Community by Grace Loh Prasad:
Once upon a time, in the Southern Resident community off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, a female orca gave birth to a calf but the baby died within the hour. The mother, known as Tahlequah or J35, carried her dead calf for a number of days, attracting worldwide attention in her spectacle of grief. More than a week passed and Tahlequah showed no signs of letting go, but as she became weaker the other female orcas in her pod took turns carrying the dead calf in a stunning display of maternal support and community.
This was no mere gesture. The calf weighed 400 pounds, and it’s estimated that the orca pod swam around 1,000 miles during what came to be known as the “grief tour.” Millions of people around the world empathized with Tahlequah and responded by creating essays, poems and artwork. We are naturally captivated when animals act in ways that seem to fit a human narrative; we instinctively project our own emotions onto other species. Orcas may actually be worthy of the comparison. Among the most intelligent and sensitive of mammals, they travel in organized clans, have complex social interactions, and communicate in a distinct language. Orcas live in matrilineal groups and stay with their mothers their entire lives.
After 17 days and several waves of news coverage, Tahlequah finally released her calf back into the ocean. The writer Lidia Yuknavitch tweeted:
Yes, I know I am not this Orca. But her letting go of her dead calf rings through my whole body. Letting my dead daughter go took over a decade—and her life and death became my writing. Sending human mammalian love to an Orca—for what is carried…
I, too, was touched by the story and thought about my own experiences with grief. I tweeted in reply:
I am thinking, our astonishment at the grieving orca reflects a terrible blind spot in our culture. No one who has lost a loved one stops mourning in one news cycle. We carry the grief for longer than anyone ever knows but it is invisible, which only multiplies our pain.
People are uncomfortable with the orca’s spectacle of grief, as though it is abnormal and unhealthy. No. We are the ones who are unhealthy. We expect and push people to get over profound sadness and loss too quickly.
For most people, Tahlequah was a heartwarming story about the power of a community of mothers. For me, it opened up a wound that I didn’t yet have the words for.
Write from here: What grief are you still carrying? If you let it go, where will it go? What grief have you carried for others?