Art, Movies, Lit, Theater

The Trouble With Communicating Awe

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Gabrielle Idlet (gidlet@gmail.com)

Writing About Something That Knocked You Out

Awe: for some of us, it happens once a year if we’re lucky. It quakes us when we stand on a bluff, gazing at a wall of silver mountains. It sweeps us skyward if we’re lucky enough to fall in love.
If we follow a religious or spiritual practice, we may have this experience of being overcome by reverence for what we encounter more frequently. Awe might be what we seek, giving due respect to the majesty of the world with all its grit and complications.
It’s terribly difficult to communicate awe to someone who didn’t share the experience. “I’m telling you, it was amazing” means not much (I heard once that the only person who is interested in a dream is the person who dreamed it). Walt Whitman managed it dazzlingly. Most all of us haven’t a prayer of following his lead.
But it’s worth trying. If I tell you about something gorgeous that astonished me, if I tell you about a mundane event that stunned me, maybe you’ll feel it, too. Maybe the grace that was visited on me will be transferred to you.
This piece, by Monzer Mansour, is a response to the following prompt: Write about something that knocked you out.

"When we arrived, I was in a raunchy kind of mood, a little cranky, a little distracted, but about what I wasn't sure. Suddenly, having walked not more than about fifty yards into the place, something like a presence seized my attention, drawing me in with a powerful and mysterious pull." — from a story by Monzer Mansour

By Monzer Mansour

“It’s called the Grotto. Check it out. It’ll be worth it. Trust me.”
L.C. went on to explain a little. Apparently, the Grotto was some kind of large retreat site run by the Catholic Church where architecture devoted to prayer and devotion is located among many trees and plants and outdoor space. A botanical garden sanctuary. It struck me as kind of strange that L.C. would make that kind of recommendation as he never has been or pretended to be the religious type. After arriving in Portland, it turned out that our hotel was maybe ten to fifteen minutes away from the Grotto. With our rental car, it was easy to follow through on L.C.’s suggestion.
Portland, Ore., is a nice city, a very cool place with an easy manner, and well-organized. And, as we saw firsthand, the Grotto is indeed a verdant oasis located squarely within the urban scene — a beautiful expanse of trees and placidity that springs up from the concrete and the city shops. True to the Portland spirit, all people from any faith (or no faith) are welcome at the Grotto. When we arrived, I was in a raunchy kind of mood, a little cranky, a little distracted, but about what I wasn’t sure. Suddenly, having walked not more than about fifty yards into the place, something like a presence seized my attention, drawing me in with a powerful and mysterious pull.
And so we walked in the direction from which the presence seemed to radiate until we came upon what looked like an outdoor altar in front of a wall about 200 by 200 feet, stone upon stone upon stone. A white ivory looking statue of Mary seated and holding the deceased body of Jesus in her arms stood in front of the stone wall. There was a wood railing about 10 to 12 yards in front of the statue and we leaned on the railing as we went down on our knees. After a few minutes I said to my daughter, Morgan, “Just leave me here, and go to the church service if you want, but I don’t want to move.” So I stayed, and kneeled, and remained still, and stayed some more. Peace enveloping. Deep, quiet joy. Illuminating. Real. Pure. Blissful. The Grotto.

Writing Challenge

Write about something that arrested you, using this technique:
▲ Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Now, zero in on the climactic scene in your story.
▲ Next, play that scene through as if it were a silent movie. Picture each part of the scene vividly. Remember colors, textures, shapes. See if you can tell what season it was just by the visuals in the setting. Look at people’s facial expressions and gestures and body movements. Notice what’s in the foreground, the background. Most importantly, notice what’s weird. The weird things are the things that make this story absolutely your own.
▲ Repeat this process for the sense of sound, touch, smell, and even taste. You may not have eaten anything in this memory, but maybe you were on a dirt road and could taste dust in your mouth, or maybe you tasted the metallic flavor of adrenaline because you were feeling anxious. All the while, comb through for the weird, unique elements.
▲ Open your eyes and jot down everything you remember.

Send your 400-word response to gidlet@gmail.com and your writing may be featured in a future issue of TFW.

▲ Gabrielle Idlet is a former Writer-in-Residence at the Sundance Institute. She has crisscrossed the country from Los Angeles to New York more times than she can count and is proud to call Fayetteville her kinder, gentler home. gidlet@gmail.com

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