Creating a Life Story, Year by Year, 8 Words at a Time

artwork by @ernio_art

In February, I drew this woman while experimenting with a digital pencil. I thought briefly about using the image — for a poem, or maybe a short story—but never found the right inspiration. She waited.

I happened upon her image again shortly after Thanksgiving and thought it was finally time to bring her to life. But she had haunted me for so long, I felt she deserved more than one story, I wanted to tell all of them. I needed help.

Loading her photo into a draft, I wrote a letter to my fellow poets and writers.

“I want to finally tell her story.”

Listing her lifetime in years (Age 1–80), I asked them to “tell us something that she did, or that happened to her, or simply in her life that shaped the woman she is.” The sole caveat: in 8 words or less. I published. I waited.

I am putting her life in your hands.

Within moments, I got a bite from a master of blending beauty and brevity, marika bianca. She wrote: “(at 23) She met the love of her life. (at 24) She let him go.” And just like that, in 11 words of subtle juxtaposition, her life began.

Tamyka Bell joined shortly thereafter with “She proudly stood on her own two feet.” — a line she crafted for Age 1 and so heartbreakingly repeated for Age 76. (Both Marika and Tamyka have brought life to my artwork before on Women : Power, as did fellow return poet contributors Rachel B. Baxter, Tasneem Kagalwalla, DHBogucki , Wild Flower, Meg and the mother of collaborative works Tre L. Loadholt.)

I delighted in watching lines come in from poets (adding Michael Stalcup, Indira Reddy, Elizabeth Helmich and Crooked Little Flower to the list above), fiction writers (like Lizella Prescott, Tom Farr, Alexandro Chen, Thaddeus Howze and Stephen M. Tomic), memoirists (Jessica Jungton, Gemma Kennedy and Gloria DiFulvio), published authors (Carina Sitkus, Nicole Valentine, Clay Rivers) and creative nonfiction stars (Stella J. McKenna, Jing Jing, Devon Henry, Christopher Daniels among them).

The crowd grew bigger with such prolific names as S Lynn Knight, Dan Belmont, Ryan Hussey and Heath Houston. And even relative newcomers (at least to me) including Noha Medhat, Rahul Misra, Sravani Saha and Kayt Molina joined in on the collaboration to create a full, complex and storied character.

In the end, I closed up the gaps in the remaining years, attempting to live up to the work which was already overwhelmingly special. I am beyond happy to see her fully realized and I can’t imagine creating her in a better way.

Read her entire life story, highlight away and follow all the wonderful writers who lent their talents:

My thanks and undying appreciation to those mentioned above who took time out of their own writing to breathe life into this woman.

Fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction may never be featured prominently on the homepage. But the community of storytellers and wordsmiths whose works bring heart to this growing corner of the Internet is alive and, well… kicking ass.