Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: After reading “Empty Bottle in My Bones,” we got the distinct impression that the empty bottle possessed a hidden meaning for self-fulfillment. What was your plan for writing such a personal story and how did your feelings shape your writing process?

Bernadette Benda: When I wrote this piece, I had recently heard some writing advice that when you write, you have to hold nothing back, that there must be nothing between you and the reader. While I have always turned to writing as a way to process and experience emotions, I could feel myself often holding back when I wrote a piece with the intention of sharing it with readers. With this piece, I sat down with the intention of holding nothing back, keeping everything as raw and un-sanitized as possible. To write in the most honest way I could about what I was feeling and leave it at that, without trying to resolve or explain anything.

RR: We admire the way this essay grapples with self-doubt and anxiety. How do you see writing, and especially creative nonfiction, as a way of working through that kind of experience?

BB: Writing has always been the best tool I have to express any emotion or experience, but especially those messier, darker emotions that are harder to understand and harder to even admit are there at all. Written words are a safe place, in the sense that we can choose when and if to share them. Written words can make things seem smaller, seem more like things that can be overcome. Anxieties written down become containable, become understandable. I especially feel that short-form nonfiction provides a space to express things without having to worry about resolving anything. Some emotions simply need to be aired out in the open, not problem solved.

RR: It feels as though the narrator is contemplating “opening the bottle” later on. Do you think you might revisit these themes in future work?

BB: I think we all have bottles inside us that need opening, I know I certainly do. Whether I return to this subject or not all depends on how many bottles I open up in the future. But if I do, the contents will most likely find their way onto words on the page, as does mostly everything in my life.

RR: We see that you’re also involved with dance and the visual arts, which we’re intrigued by; what do you see in your own practice as the relation among these different art forms, along with writing?

BB: I have always felt that dance and writing make a perfect couple, though they are a rare and unusual pairing that makes me feel a bit like a unicorn at times. Both are ultimately just two different types of storytelling. Ballets and novels are very similar in their forms of narration, just as modern dance and poetry are alike while focusing on emotions and the abstract. Engaging in these two different art forms, I believe, has not just made me a better artist but a better human. Writing is often so solitary and sedentary. Dance gets me on my feet and moving, and sweat and increased cardiovascular activity always gets my creativity flowing. Dance also keeps me active in my local community, whether it’s teaching, performing, or photographing dancers and their performances.  

RR: If you put a message in a bottle, what would it say?

BB: Have hope.


Read “Empty Bottle in My Bones” by Bernadette Benda in Issue 11.1.

Bernadette Benda

Empty Bottle in My Bones

It was sunny. The day, the afternoon, even cloudless in the evening darkness. But in my ribcage I had a storm inside a bottle, sealed for so long that by the end of the night when I opened it, only a few raindrops came out. 

I had been sure by the forecast that it would rain all night inside me. Rivers to run down my bed and leave my face raw with salt. 

It only sprinkled. I was left dry. 

Now I carry an empty bottle inside me and am unsure how to fill it. With stones and shells maybe, pretty enough to put on a shelf. Moss and a spritz of moisture to keep a tiny ecosystem forever quarantined. 

Or keep empty. 

Empty like a photo album bought for a baby never born. Empty like gardening pots stacked in the garage, forgotten or no longer of any use. Empty like a house just moved out from, except no one ever moves in. Empty like a nest after a robin’s egg falls, and even the bird knows not to return. 

I think of smashing the bottle, but that would only break my bones and the heart it closely encases. 

I think of burying the bottle, but that would only suffocate me and I don’t want to die stuffed in darkness and dirt. 

So I leave the bottle alone. I walk and hope people don’t hear it clanking and knocking against my bones. I hope that nothing decides to crawl inside it before I can decide what to do and an unwanted guest becomes locked inside me. 

 I keep the bottle shut. 

And I keep the bottle out of the sun. 

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Bernadette Benda is a writer of nonfiction, poetry, and fiction, living in her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. She is a performer and choreographer of ballet and modern dance, a visual artist, and a freelance photographer.