An Open Letter to Brian Arundel

April 4, 2018 § 9 Comments

arundelDear Brian,

In lieu of a Thank You note, I should be sending you a royalty check for all the times I have printed your essay The Things I’ve Lost published in Brevity 22. Perhaps writers should team up with musicians to claim monetary compensation for their intellectual property.

Brevity will also want a piece of the take, as will state and federal entities. I don’t know about you but, I am not feeling very generous toward the government these days. As I watch your imaginary check dwindle in size, it occurs to me that cutting a check is as antiquated as placing a stamp on a letter. I feel, however, that I should publicly give credit where credit is due and since I cannot find you elsewhere this is as good a place as any to connect with you.

I work as a nurse who works with patients receiving chemotherapy, and, thanks to a generous donation, I have access to a healthy supply of notebooks and journals. Some are jeweled and bedazzled, while others have faux leather covers. I delight in selecting just the right one for my patients. I imagine I am kin to Ollivander who selects the perfect wand for fledgling wizards.

There is time to talk in the space between lab work, pre-hydration fluids, and administering the poison that may be their salvation. Shelly was interested in alternative medicine options and I discussed a body of research demonstrating improved health outcomes for people who write about their illness. Shelly said she wanted to journal during her first cancer treatment, but the chemotherapy made it difficult to clear her mind enough to write a coherent sentence. Now, on her second time around, I suggested she make a list of the things she lost. Start with: I lost my hair. I lost my fear of hospitals, I lost my virginity…. Shelly and I talked about how writing helps take you out of the moment and allows the writer to look at the totality of their experiences. It is not illness that defines us but all the other things that make up the lost and found of a life.

Illness is the door most apparent when I write with my patients, but the illness is not who they are. It is a place to start. Shelly embraced the idea and held tight to the journal I gave her — a striped journal, reminiscent of Fruit Stripe chewing gum.

As I talked with Shelly, her mother-in-law sat quietly on the sofa. She later came out to the nurse’s station and asked if we could talk. The HIPPA alarm was raging in my head since there was nothing I could discuss with her about Shelly’s care. My brain said “No” but my lips said, “Of course.” As we stepped into an empty hallway she explained that she had been listening to the conversation.  She is a high school teacher and she wondered if I had heard about the shooting at her school. She said she hated going back to the school until today. She said, “For the first time, I can see a path forward. I can write with my students about what we have lost. I can help them through their grief” She thanked me and gave a sincere and tender hug.

Both the hug and thanks are yours to claim and do not belong to me.

I cannot begin to send you a royalty check to cover this exchange. Please know you are rich in good karma credits even if your 401(k) is feeling rather depleted.

With your permission, I will continue to use your essay for inspiration because even teenage boys show enthusiasm for a writing project that begins, “I lost a lot of blood.”

Your appreciative fan,

Joey Elizabeth is a mom, MFA student, and registered nurse who tries to insert biblio-therapy between rounds of chemo-therapy because healing is not the same as curing. A fellow nurse calls her an anecdotal artist. Her work can be found on the back of envelopes, via Blackboard posts, and in notebooks in the bottom desk drawer. You can find her in the kitchen making dinner or at

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§ 9 Responses to An Open Letter to Brian Arundel

  • Anna says:

    Wonderful mix of 1000% serious and sky-high humor. Thanks, Joey Elizabeth!

  • bethfinke says:

    Thank you for this. I lead memoir-writing classes for older adults in Chicago, and one of my writers credits bibliotherapy for helping ease her chronic back pain. I’m a believer!

  • Well now, that made me cry for “all the other things that make up the lost and found of a life.”

  • Lindi Roze says:

    Thank you for sharing. Gratitude journaling have helped ME in the past but this gives me a new place to start when I’m with someone who has a different story to tell.

  • juliestew2010 says:

    Thank you! I have been searching for a writing/journaling activity to introduce at the center for homeless teens where I volunteer. I am excited to share this with them.

  • Tom McGohey says:

    Perfect timing, Joey. Our local writing group likes to have optional writing topics for our monthly meetings. Our current one is “Lost & Found.” I considered doing something along the lines of a list, a la Whitman, but I’m excited to discover an even better model in Arundel’s wonderful piece. I’ll be sharing his and your own poignant piece with the group. Thanks for posting this!

  • Tom McGohey says:

    Where would I find your blog?

    • joey elizabeth says:

      To Tom and Friends, My Blog is only in my imagination for now but having connected with other writers in other spaces I wonder if there is an opportunity to join our muses together.

      I have used the Lost and Found idea as a group project having participants add one line for a combined essay. We have dry erase boards in nearly every room so it is a way to produce instant results.
      So many writing prompts are so lofty and grandiose but this is accessible for all ages and stages of creativity.

      I hope you will keep me posted on ways you use the concept.

  • […] has been a year since our last correspondence,  and I wanted to give you an update on the continuing adventures of how I use your essay with my […]

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