The lessons we learn from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you and what did you experience from that failure?
“Ugochi, I’ve been trying to figure out how to tell you this but, I have stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma.” As these words left my brother’s mouth, my heart dropped. For a moment it felt like I stopped breathing.
My first instinct was to grab a pen. Writing poetry was the way that I had dealt with all challenges in my life, from relationships to social justice. Naturally, I thought the best way to process my thoughts and emotions would be the way I always had, through writing. But when I got to my room and opened my half filled, black and white composition book, the only things I could get onto the page were tears. I was frustrated, scared and angry. Here was my big brother: the person I had looked up to my whole life, the person that played vampires versus spies with me when we were younger, my number one life advisor. Here he was, facing cancer. I knew this was a problem that even make-believe vampires and late night talks couldn’t fix. And here I was, crying in my room alone waiting for words that might somehow change the diagnosis to appear on the page.
I remained that way for the next six months. I was uninspired, unmotivated, and spent all of my energy wondering if my brother was going to survive. Writing, an activity that always made me feel at home and comfortable, now felt strange and draining. I tried with all my might to write poems about my brother, to honor the pain that he was going through and the fear and sadness that I experienced. I lost hold of an art form that was supposed to help me keep control in a situation where I had none. When I searched for the right words, I instead found myself scribbling out every stanza that I forced onto the page. I felt like I was failing myself, my brother, and my craft.
The next summer, I went to a two week writing workshop at Kenyon College. After a school year filled with stress, anxiousness, and a lack of creativity, I was eager to reintroduce myself to a love that I neglected for too long: writing. I immersed myself in a world of writers. I had long conversations about the beat poets, or the impact of feminism on the American literary canon with other talented writers. I felt inspired and excited to be creating again, but there was one thing that still weighed heavy on my mind: my brother. As he went through his final rounds of chemotherapy, I knew he was getting better, but part of me was still scared.
Two nights into the workshop, I was sitting in the lounge with a few other poets, when I got a text from my brother: “officially cancer free!!” My heart burst with excitement and I rushed from the lounge to my room to go call him. The following morning, I went to the workshop and wrote about my brother. I didn’t write the emotional poems that I thought I would, the ones with dreary images of sterile hospital rooms, or his uncontrollable shaking. The poem was about us, our conversations, our memories, and our relationship. As I documented my relationship with my brother with a black ink pen and lined paper, I also mended my relationship with poetry. It was no longer a chore; it was therapy. It was healing. It was a celebration. It was me learning that the most important things take time.
I exhausted myself trying to write the perfect poem for my brother, when I should have slowed down and given myself the time that I needed to process my emotions and let inspiration come to me, rather than trying to chase after it. I realized that sometimes, the best thing for myself and for my writing, is to let things happen naturally.