Friday, December 4, 2009

Henrietta's Notebook

Papers were spilling out of Henrietta’s notebook yesterday. It was impossible to hide my curiosity: “What’s all that?”

“Oh, these? Just some thoughts I’ve been having.”

“Can I see?”

“Sure,” she answered right away.

She seemed glad that I asked. It was almost like she wouldn’t have mentioned anything if I hadn’t noticed, but she'd clearly brought the papers in to show us. One by one, she handed me the pages, her glance lingering across their surfaces as they left her hands. I could tell they meant something to her.

Soon, she produced an entire mound of papers, each packed with dense handwriting in every possible direction, filling rows and margins. Here and there numbers are sprinkled among words – I couldn’t tell what for. At the end of some of the paragraphs are heart outlines with smiley faces. I wouldn’t have pegged her as the smiley-face type. She is more intellectual than bubbly. Earlier in the lobby she had been reading a National Geographic article about Russia. Last week she had been telling me about the significance of the year 2010 in the Mayan calendar. Besides this writing class, she is also learning French and Spanish at the senior center.

All the pages contain writing, and some are layered with magazine cutouts too. Mad, dense cutouts. This stuff is raw and intense. This is no random scribble.

Helen exclaimed, “Look at the thought you put into that.” Her eyes were wide. I am sure mine were too.

In response, Henrietta apologized, “When I write, I don’t stop to proof read. I just write whatever comes out. So some of this may not make any sense.” And then, she turned to me, “Can you help me read this out loud? When it is cold, I have trouble seeing.”

She went into her purse to retrieve her reading glasses anyway.

Neither she nor I could decipher all the handwriting, so we ended up reading together, our backs bent over the table, our faces smelling the words – here and there we had no choice but to make up filler words on the spot. “Maybe the computer can spellcheck this for you when you put this up on the internet,” she said.

“You mean it is ok for all this to go on the blog?”

“Sure. That’s why I brought it in.”

“Henrietta, this is just - wild. This poetry. These collages. When you think random thoughts, they come right out like this, as poetry?” I didn’t know what to say so I kept repeating, “This is wild, this is wild.”

“You know, I’ve never shown this to anyone before.”


“No. I guess I never had the chance to but I keep doing this for myself.”

What an honor it is to see her work and then share it here online with all of you. Right now, as I write this blog post, our trusty volunteers are scanning her collages and typing up her poems – can’t wait to add them to the blog later this week for you to see.

Henrietta inspires me.