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Excerpt from "Readiness Quiz" by Shirley Harshenin

"Readiness Quiz: Are You Ready to Start Writing About Past Trauma?" by Shirley Harshenin



To assess your readiness to write about a traumatic past event. This selfassessment quiz requires you to revisit, in manageable increments, the scene/ event/memory and the associated emotional, psychological and/or physical responses of the past incident you wish to write about.


The nature of scale-based quizzes requires selecting finite responses that are often difficult to pinpoint and can be triggering. To lessen the likelihood of an adverse reaction, find a comfortable position in a room without distraction. Then, relax through deep breathing and practice 5-4-3-2-1 grounding or EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) tapping as needed.


Read each scenario-based prompt (P1-P9). Circle the letter that best reflects your response based on physical, emotional, and/or psychological reactions. “A” represents a best-case scenario. “C” is a worst-case scenario. Select “B” if your response sits somewhere in between “A” and “C”.


Provided at the end of the quiz.


P1. Your creative nonfiction writing course assignment is to create a list of memories you are forbidden from sharing.

A. You tap your pencil eagerly, trying to think of a topic; open a folder labelled CNF Ideas and start scrolling through the list: believe-me.docx, one-of-us-is-lying.docx, shattered-shattering-diptych.docx, shirley should-forgive.docx, texts-from-a-narcissist.docx, your-dad-is-dying docx.

B. Your response is between “A” and “C.”

C. A topic immediately emerges, along with a tightening in your belly.

P2. Your creative nonfiction writing course assignment is to find a container, a found form, for your story.

A. Cool, you love hermit crab essays for the distance they provide and start scanning your saved list of forms to try.

☐ Field Guide.
☐ How-to Article.
☐ Google Reviews.
☐ Tourist Destination Itinerary.
☐ Real Estate Listing.

B. Your response sits somewhere between “A” and “C.”

C. You love the idea of form and the safety it provides. Still, you press a knuckle into your cheek and start chewing. How much detail can you comfortably share?

P3. You select what feels like the perfect container for your story.

A. You are thrilled with your find and are inundated with splendid ideas to write about your chosen topic — juxtaposing two truths using the form of a visitor’s guide as an example. The most beautiful place on earth is also where horrifying events gouged gaping holes in your memory.

Breathtaking natural beauty — lush emerald forests that blanket moun- tainsides cradling the awestruck in its deep bassinet, crystal clear creeks to splash, raft, and fish that invite cupped hands to dip and drink from, that rush to a rocky edge, fall with equal grace and force concealing a corridor that hijacks your breath.

Historical facts — expropriation (BC Hydro dam, flood, force-move town), internment camp (WWI, immigrants/enemy aliens, prisoners forced to build roads). Critical footnote precautions and warnings — places to avoid, things not to do, questions best not to ask locals, the only road in is a ten-kilometre unmarked dead end. Visitor reviews — note to contact and interview the couple who landed there on a destination-less afternoon road trip.

B. Your response sits somewhere in between “A” and “C.”

C. You are thrilled with the pairing and flooded with brilliant ideas. Each one pushes your easy-glide pen across lined loose-leaf; lofty loops soon stiffen into increasingly illegible scritches. Each one conjures with increasing urgency a whispered warning: you can’t write that. Each one triggers the knot in your belly to tighten, your heart to beat faster. You remember to breathe. Deciding to take a short break, you binge-watch two seasons of Schitt’s Creek.

— Shirley Harshenin lives in the Okanagan Valley, BC. She believes in angels, caffeine, and the human spirit’s extraordinary resilience. Her work has been published in Room, Contrary Magazine, Nailed, and others. She won National Magazine Awards 2023 Gold-Medal in “One of a Kind Storytelling” category.

You can read the read of "Readiness Quiz" by Shirley Harshein in Issue 298 Winter 2024 of The Fiddlehead. Order the issue now: