There’s not always a clear story behind my stories, particularly my flash fiction, but “Nadine’s Broken Heart” began in my creative nonfiction classroom, after an extended collaborative exercise on the lyric essay (an exercise loosely adapted from Brenda Miller and Suzanne Paola’s Tell It Slant). We discussed Alison Townsend’s flash in Brevity, “Valentine,” and then covered the blackboard with metaphors, sayings, song lyrics, lines from poems, and titles that contained hearts. Students in groups of four or five chose one, or generated a new one, to use as a focus for free-writing. When they were finished, they passed their free-writes around in their groups and worked on assembling a lyric essay—segmented, fragmented, braided, layered—with pieces from the free-writes or new scraps of writing and riffs. At the end of the night (our night classes are several hours long), they read them out loud to the class. Everyone was astonished. Everyone applauded. Despite having done the exercise before, I was astonished again at how well it works.
Naturally I drove home that night thinking of hearts. And metaphors. Went to sleep thinking of hearts. And music. Dreamt of hearts. My own heart. I woke up the next morning with an image of Nadine’s heavy heart: “Nadine could barely roll out of bed in the morning and had to brace herself against the wall to push her shoulders back and straighten her spine.” Nadine took it from there.