Arts / Performing Arts / Arts - Houston

Houston Health Care Workers Share Their Heartfelt Writing During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Vital Partnership Between Inprint and Houston Methodist Produces Remarkable Reflections

BY // 07.23.20

As the world came to an abrupt halt in mid March, arts events and programs large and small around Houston had to cancel, as well. One community arts program likely only missed by a few, at first, was a writing workshop for Houston Methodist employees created through a decade-long partnership between Inprint, Houston’s foremost literary arts organization, and Houston Methodist’s Center for Performing Arts Medicine (CPAM).

During these Covid-19 months as the Medical Center became in some ways the metaphorical heart of the city, CPAM found one integral aspect of its mission — to integrate the fine arts into the hospital environment — had become more important than ever. Yet in this new socially distant/stay-at-home world, fulfilling that mission became a great challenge.

Violinists
Performing arts in the hospital setting before COVID-19.

Writing With Hope

The loss of that one writing workshop gave Shay Thornton Kulha, senior project manager at CPAM an idea for a new collaboration with Inprint, to bring a bit of the writing workshop experience to the entire Methodist Hospital system.

“All of these changes, the size of our world, the scope of our day, the personal challenges that come from working at home, the relationship and childcare issues, all of these issues so dramatically changed,” Kulha explains to PaperCity, noting just a few of the reasons they reached out to Inprint to try to create a new program.

By April, the two organizations quickly put together a new initiative to provide writing opportunities for reflection in both remote video form and within the hospital.

“What we’re using the arts at this time for is to be able to actively reflect on the unique experience and give the health care providers an opportunity to take a step back and look at what they’ve been going through and continue to go through and express that in a healthy, creative way,” Kulha says of the program’s goals.

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The online video series features local authors, poets and Inprint workshop instructors Josie Mitchell, Cait Weiss Orcutt and Theodora Ziolkowski.

“These are all writers that we chose because of their experience in teaching community workshops and their particular sensitivity to the issues that are prevalent in our time right now,”says Inprint associate director Krupa Parikh.

Titled “Creative Writing for Self-Reflection” each piece runs less than 10 minutes, offers discussions about the power of writing for understanding and processing personal experiences and includes poems or writing selections from the likes of Emily Dickinson, Ross Gay and Naomi Shihab Nye as inspiration. Each video also offers prompts for writing that health care providers can use to get started anywhere and when.

“That was the goal, providing people the opportunity to write if they wanted without any pressure,” notes Parikh, with Inprint executive director Rich Levy adding: “It’s not a targeted dispersal of these videos. It’s like hanging them from a tree and you wait and see who approaches the tree.”

Houston Health Care Workers Share

My strength is a tree house. Tight, compact, very personal- yet overflowing, immense, and there for the world to see. With kids wrapped around my knees and a partner to negotiate the logistics of how to keep the world rotating, the tree house is strong. It is weathering the storm, listening to the howls of the world around it, and covered in the debris falling, but yet it still stands. ~Anonymous Methodist staff member.

CPAM sent out links to the videos across the Methodist system, but they also set up writing areas with the prompts at some of the new screening stations erected at the hospital’s entrances. Methodist staff can also find the prompts and writing tools in the serenity lounges created as spaces for a bit of refuge and a place to recharge.

Kulha hopes the prompts posted in these serenity rooms might give staff a chance to write through some of what they are experiencing, to “give them the opportunity to express themselves and then go back to their position and do their job effectively.”

She readily acknowledges that those who participate aren’t likely to make a career change to writer, but that’s not the goal. “We’re giving employees the opportunity to use the arts for self-growth and have that self-growth be positive for them.”

It matters not the race
In the thick of it survival’s our competitor
But even survival is fleeting

As we make the turn
A growing rhythm begins
Breathing deepens
Music invade movement
My drive now intense
Flint like fire as I kick

The finish lost from view
I become dust in a celestial wind
Except from The Race by James Paul Metz, Vendor Management & System Support Analyst, Houston Methodist

Fulfilling the Missions

“Right now one of the big challenges is making sure that we can serve different segments of the community that we’re used to serving,” Parikh says. “We can’t go into neighborhood and community centers. So looking for ways to make sure we’re still serving people and fulfilling our mission is what keeps us going. It was great to find an innovative, quick way to do this.”

Those inspired to write might want to keep those creations for themselves and family, but the CPAM team also encourage those who would like to share them with the rest of the community to send them.

Wake up my child before it’s too late
Stop exploiting lest you forget
The only way for you to survive
Preserve and conserve what I provide

Stop your foolishness, my child
Open your eyes and see the light
Or you will stumble in the dark
Or die alone like a lost lark.
Excerpt from A Mother Nature’s Love by Ma Rodelyn Berdin, PT, DPT, Physical Therapist, Houston Methodist Sugar Land

While Kulha and her CPAM team are only beginning to receive responses from people who have used or were inspired by the prompts, she has already seen a few patterns emerging. Reading through these bits of writing some narrative or metaphorical, she sees messages of hope and motivation.

“People are motivated to move forward and they feel confident that we can move past this,” says Kulha, but also finds, “So many of them are trying to show compassion and writing about the challenges in the face of that.” She gives an example of one Methodist staff member, a life-long hugger who wrote about how she thinks of the masks she sews as her new form of hugging.

CPAM and Inprint also hope to put together an anthology of the writing to become a kind of “time capsule” or archive of 2020 to look back and read upon.

“Then we’ll have an anthology of how our community responded to COVID-19 through creative writing and what that looks like,” Kulha says. “I think that will be a nice thing years from now when it isn’t such a guttural feeling that we’re feeling day in and day out.”

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