How creative writing can make readers feel connected to people and places outside of themselves. | Monterey County NOW Intro

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier here. On Friday, January 21, as my working day was coming to an end, I went for a walk. The sun was starting to set but it was a beautiful day in Big Sur, clear and crisp. As I neared my house, a fierce gust of hot wind hit me, kicking up dust that swirled across the road and into my eyes. A small instinctive voice says: This wind is not friendly. It’s the kind that can knock down trees and power lines or fan a fire out of thin air.

I quieted the voice. It’s January! It’s certain.

Hours later, by the time the current died down along the coast, I had forgotten my instincts. But of course, we now know that the fire is exactly what happened – hot embers from a burning pile in the Palo Colorado Canyon were kicked up (and likely fanned) by high winds, eventually scorching 687 acres (including under Rocky Creek Bridge and on the west side of Highway 1) and destroying a structure. It was a situation that for many upended the idea of ​​a “fire season” and may well change the way we think about responsible land management. As of today, the Colorado Fire is “completed,” according to Cal Fire, at 98% containment.

But on Saturday, January 22, it was just beginning. I spent the day feeling restless and useless, worried about friends who were or might be in the line of fire. I was in that mood when an email landed in my inbox containing a poem written by Marie Butcher – a poem that now appears on the Forum page of the print edition of the Weekly published on January 27.

Butcher’s original title for the poem is “A World Flipped on Its Head”— the published version is modified in length. Here is an excerpt, further condensed:

How is the world turned upside down?

One minute you’re carried by the Milky Way, floating, you feel like you could touch the stars, hugging the galaxy –

You sang with the whales, hummed with the hummingbirds, drinking in the most glorious sunset, as if the Creator painted it and erased it before your eyes.

You’re going home on Highway 1,

and see a strange red fog in front of you. How could that be? Reflections of nocturnal construction?

No – it looks like an unearthly fiery red on gray.

You are filled with dread – Your heart sinks.

You turn the bend and that’s it…

as you feared, a giant plume of smoke and flame

blood red and screaming orange assault you.

You just turned the bend into Apocalypse.

The world has turned on its head.

It’s a prose poem, telling a living story while using poetic devices like line breaks to fuel a catchy, restless beat. Reading it that Saturday, I felt it reflected my own mental state. This is, in my opinion, one of the best things creative writing can do – capture an experience that is both personal and relatable, allowing readers to feel connected to people and places outside of themselves – same.

Butcher calls it a “process poem”– she began writing immediately after returning home safely after a day in Big Sur. “It was something I felt I had to process and write about immediately,” she says. Driving through the fire zone was “surreal,” she said, describing how people pulled to the side of the road near Palo Colorado to watch the flames. “It was almost like watching a movie.” Writing down all the swirling emotion and adrenaline, “it had a calming effect,” she tells me.

A poem is an unusual thing to read in the Forum section of the article, a page usually reserved for traditional opinion columns. And frankly, everyone on the Weekly the editorial staff is as fond of breaking format as I am. But I’m glad Butcher shared his writing with us and we mixed the form to give him a platform.

I also hope this will inspire other people to share their art with us. Although we don’t have room for everything in print, I’m always on the lookout for local artists to feature in the Local Inspiration section of this same newsletter. You can submit your creation (painting, drawing, video, song, etc.) here.

Last night brought stronger winds to the Big Sur ridges and this morning, February 2, I logged on to find that another winter fire, this one on the south coast near Jade Cove, had been reported. The jade fire is, thankfully, already largely contained as I write.

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