Reflection on Writing

by Matt Barrett

Read his story, Graffiti the Walls, here.

When I wrote “Graffiti the Walls”—about seven years ago—my grandmother had been moved into a home that felt anything like a “home.” You had to sign in to see her, enter a code outside of a locked door, then enter another code into a second locked door. It felt a lot like prison. The nights we’d spent at her house, eating chicken tetrazzini and her famous coleslaw, were now a distant memory, and I felt like I needed to say something in a kind of emotional burst that became “Graffiti the Walls.” I wrote it without thinking much about the details or the sentence structure—to simply allow my feelings to take whatever form they needed to, and what I noticed, after writing it, was that the energy in these words mirrored Nan’s life even more than my own thoughts. She was always on the move, always dressing nicely, exercising, finding time for her friends and even a glass of white wine. Unlike the sterile walls of her room, she lived a colorful life, and I hope the images here represent her vibrant nature.

I write a lot about people who have developed dementia, not only because I’ve seen it in my own family, but because I worked in a nursing home for six years throughout high school and college. And my hope for anyone who writes about this subject is that humanity and dignity take center stage. I often think of a moment, years after Nan was diagnosed with dementia, when she was suddenly lucid for twenty minutes. She spoke to my dad like she always used to, reminding him of things from the past, while also adding to his stories. We knew it wouldn’t last. And when she stopped speaking clearly, I thought, At least we had that moment together. But maybe that’s where the writer comes in—to keep these stories going, long after the moment ends.

Matt Barrett holds an MFA in Fiction from UNC-Greensboro, and his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Sun Magazine, The Threepenny Review, The Baltimore Review, Best Microfiction 2022, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Minnesota Review, The Forge, Pithead Chapel, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, trampset, Contrary, and Wigleaf, among others. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two sons and teaches creative writing at his undergraduate alma mater, Gettysburg College.

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