Discover more from The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad
Prompt 260. Our American Symphony
& a back-to-school poem and prompt by Arden Brown
I have exciting news to share with you today! Last weekend, a project that my husband Jon and I have been working on for more than a year made its way into the world, when our documentary American Symphony debuted at the Telluride Film Festival.
The project unfolded in secret, though not intentionally. Only weeks after I learned of my leukemia relapse, we started filming from sunrise to long past sundown with our friend, the Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning director Matthew Heineman, to make a documentary about Jon’s Batiste Symphony No. 1, which later premiered at Carnegie Hall. At the time, I was reentering treatment, not seeing or even talking to many people and unsure of what my role in the film would be. But as the weeks and months passed, as we rode out the highest highs and lowest lows of our lives, the story morphed from a straightforward music documentary into one about love and art and survival—about what happens when the human spirit is tested again and again.
Jon and I attended the festival and made it to several screenings. The last was held in a city park, where about 2,000 people gathered in camping chairs with blankets to watch it projected on a big screen. It was surreal and a little overwhelming. Our voices were literally echoing off the canyon walls, and Jon was so unnerved that he kept his face buried in my jacket for the majority of the film.
That said, we’re so happy with how American Symphony turned out. Matt is a completely brilliant filmmaker and did such a beautiful job, and it was a joy to see how positively people responded to it. I’m especially excited for my beloved Isolation Journals community to see it, as it gets at the heart of the work we do here—reimagining survival as a creative act and transforming life’s interruptions into creative grist. I’ll let you know when it’s available to watch, and I may even try to cook up an early screening for paid subscribers!
We flew back from Colorado on Labor Day, and since then, I’ve been so tired and so happy to be home. Even though we’ve been riding out a heat wave in New York this week, I’ve been feeling an energetic shift toward fall, which is my very favorite time of year. Autumn’s back-to-school energy has always felt so powerful to me; I always see it as a time of creative possibility and an invitation to refocus. So as soon as I got home, I ordered some supplies—a bevy of books, some journals, and new paintbrushes—and I’ve been getting myself organized. Jon will be on the road for the next few weeks, and as much as I’ll miss him, I’m also excited to hunker down and work on a new book that’s been percolating all summer—in other words, to stop procrastinating (see The New Yorker cartoon below)!
Today, in honor of all things back-to-school, and especially the beloved teachers who populate our school-day memories, I have a very special list poem and prompt for you. It’s from ten-year-old Arden Brown, who just started fifth grade but can’t seem to shake the memory of her fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. R—. It’s so precise and hilarious and is a great reminder that teachers, who give so much to their students, are complex humans, with their own rich, fascinating lives. May it make you laugh and bring to mind a beloved teacher from the past. May it also help you recall the impact they made on you—and maybe even inspire you to reach out and say thank you.
Some Items of Note—
Earlier this week, I sent out a video replay of our workshop with my dazzling friend, the brilliant author Elizabeth Gilbert. In it, she shared her spiritual practice to cultivate self-friendliness, Letters from Love, with paid subscribers. It was “beautiful, tear-inducing, and life-affirming,” as one community member put it. Click here to experience it yourself!
We’ve scheduled our next meeting of the Hatch, our virtual creative hour for paid subscribers. It’s the third Sunday of the month—so next Sunday, September 17, from 1-2 pm ET. Carmen will host and help you develop a fall reading list and integrate your reading life into your journaling. Mark your calendar!
By popular demand, we’re bringing back our custom-designed Isolation Journal—plus a second, extra special piece of merch. Paid subscribers get early access—if you haven’t upgraded, you can do so below!
Prompt 260. My Teacher, Mrs. R— by Arden Brown
Mrs. R’s first name is Ann. She teaches fourth grade. She also runs marathons. She has run Boston and New York City. Mrs. R hates the Jersey Turnpike and the drivers on the Jersey Turnpike. She also dislikes metal water bottles, and the words "snow" and "satisfaction." She doesn't like children needing to use the restroom or her cat Otto tripping people. There used to be a very large tree in Mrs. R's yard. It was cut down. Mrs. R has two sons. They are both single and both live in Colorado. W— is the younger one, B— is the older one. One of them (I don't know which) is a designer or sometimes an architect. W— is bad at getting up in the morning. Mrs. R bought him an alarm. The alarm has a helicopter on the top. The helicopter flies off of the alarm in the morning. Then it beeps until you put it back on the alarm. Mrs. R's mother is in her 90s and dating again. She once made a very spicy soup. She added three times the spice called for. Mrs. R and her family had to eat it because they were poor. Mrs. R speaks with an American accent with some British thrown in. She says VAH-ses instead of VAY-ses. Mrs. R's husband is a surgeon. Mrs. R will faint if she sees blood. She makes him keep his papers out of the house. Mrs. R is neat. Her husband is messy. He leaves things everywhere. Mrs. R met her husband at a burger shop. She was an employee. He was a customer. Mrs. R loves burgers. Otto once tripped Mrs. R's husband at the bottom of the stairs. Otto is a bad kitty. Mrs. R says she is a rule follower, but that she did some bad things in college. Her worst was driving a car without a seatbelt. The car didn't have seatbelts.
Your prompt for the week:
Write about a teacher, cataloging what you remember (good, bad, and otherwise) and how you saw them as a child. Then write about them as the student of life you are today.
Arden Brown is a fifth grader living on a farm in central New York. She has a dog named Oban and a cat named Coco. She spends her free time reading and playing the violin.
For more paid subscriber benefits, see—
Letters from Love, a video replay of our workshop with the bestselling author and speaker Elizabeth Gilbert, where she shares her decades-long spiritual practice for combating self-criticism and tapping into an ocean of unconditional love
Marriage Vows & the Myth of a Good Catch, an installment of my advice column Dear Susu, where my husband Jon and I tackle the question, “Is it selfish to ask someone to marry you if you’re ‘broken’?”
On Matters of Life and Death, a video replay of my Studio Visit with the brilliant poet and extraordinary teacher Marie Howe, who imparts essential lessons about reading, writing, and life