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26th December 2014

Much of what we do and think in life is determined by our own definition of it. We all define and describe experiences differently, and finding this out is one of the major purposes of the feverish human activities of reading, writing, talking, acting and discussing. The theme of my editorial is how creative writing can change the way we think and thus the course of our life.

In the email I sent out with the title last week I said that one of the things I envisage for Hour of Writes is to be a vehicle for literary response to contemporary issues and event, due to the fact that we rarely encounter the considered, triggered reaction from the creative hearts, souls and brains of the world’s writing people.

Working with the Deconstructing Donation conference was a fascinating experience. I sat in rapt attention through all the sessions which sounded the most interesting, unlikely, controversial or though-provoking so as to effectively disseminate, by Twitter and email, the subject for competition entrants. These covered the altruism behind donating blood and organs and its nature; donating for money; the lexicon of providing body parts and its bias; whole body gestational donation; being dead enough for donation; Denmark’s massive export of sperm and masculine pride (a piece referencing Hamlet could have happened, it now occurs to me…); canine blood donation and live feline kidney transplants; blood donation spikes and natural disasters; saviour siblings and the law; and milk siblings.

Deconstructing a subject doesn’t always result in a decision on one’s personal moral stance, or what one would do oneself in some of the situations put forward. I don’t currently carry a donor card and this is due to a non-committal attitude to the subject as an abstract about which I know too many squeamish facts.

The wealth of writing on the subject we received did however, fill my mind with the added dramatic ingredients of sadness, beauty, pathos, fairness, heroism and a sense of the different ways such modern transactions play out in real and emotional life settings, and this changed my way of thinking.

The piece about the young man struck down in a motorcycle accident, and the speed with which his organs were redistributed to correct other bodies gone awry was moving and inspiring; the brief consideration as to whether one might award a new heart to an octogenarian based on how good they had been was engaging and poignant; the speech advising future versions of ourselves with Auxiliary Organs to donate, to make sure poor and rich alike had access to perfect long life was thought-provoking; and the sonnet of organ distribution brilliant in its visceral romanticizing of the physicality of the process.

The Stranger’s Face I Wear is excellent and was a very close contender, laying out bare the massive identity issues connected with that most public and external of human soul adverts, the face. It’s the means by which we connect, relate not only with others but with ourselves, and the poem beautifully makes us realize why, though a similar process to a kidney or heart, this type of procedure is so very different in terms of the play of life.

A sensory image implanted in your mind can shape the way you react to a subject. Often if I need to feel peaceful I imagine Singapore - the spiced smell in the atmosphere, the sense of order, the warmth of the air, and the calm heavy torrential rain which seems to fall for an hour or so every afternoon. The poem which compares an organ donor to a flower propagating itself:

 

on his last night he twirls …

a dandelion man
dispersed …

 

performs a similar function, by making donation seem sunny and attractive, something more beautiful than my preserved, intact body. The result of this may well be that I start to carry a card.

‘A dying wish’ takes the subject in a different way, with a low self-esteem human managing to donate organs last-minute to in order redeem themselves, like a deathbed confession. I personally find the dandelion more inspiring, perhaps because it allows me to disassociate from the grisly struggling business of bloody removals and move into the realm of the mind’s garden.

AI 26th Dec 2014

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Many thanks to our guest judge Dr Laura Machin, and to the conference, Deconstructing Donation (http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/shm/research/projects/deconstructing-donation/) and all the speakers, for inviting Hour of Writes along and opening up this subject to the wider world, for its inhabitants to share and learn and literacise. 

My Notes