Posts Tagged #writing exercise

Power Outage

image of poem and writing paper

Power Outage, August 20, 2019

I like the sound of the cars, passing lonely on the rainy afternoon street, the way the sound of the rain rises up like a wave crashing, then falls softly to patter. I like the way the Catalpa dances, tossing her branches like girls toss long hair.

I wait for the power to surge back, for the refrigerator to chime in with the cicadas and crickets cued up by a pause in the rain, I wait for work to resume and life to go back online.

Far away, an alarm siren is hyperventilating, wailing up and down, hiccupping distress. Birds sing and then go silent as the rain begins and thunder rumbles again; chirping and trilling rise up as the sky dries.

The lights flicker on, and with them, low drone of machines waking and then gasping dark and dumb as the power drops out again. Nature rushes to fill the vacuum of quiet, thunder’s rolling again—or is it a dump truck, rumbling up Hamilton?

I like the feeling I have of being all alone, floating in a bubble of sounds that stream around me, under me, over me, as if I am bobbing in a warm river of thrum and strum, rattle and hum.

Across the street, Mary’s raspy voice floats, softened by the weather, “Hey,” she asks her next-door neighbor, “Hey, is your power off, too?” She sings the syllables. Fading rain pats the roof, gently, gently. The catalpa sways slowly now, back and forth, back and forth, steady, steady, like I swayed when I held my babies long ago.

I close my eyes, remembering the feeling of baby skin against my chest. Suddenly Mama’s right next to me, as if the storm has swept her into the house like a wind-sucked sparrow. Eyes closed, window open. Breeze tickling. We listen to the clouds lifting, to the birds calling. We take turns guessing Goldfinch or Cardinal, Robin or Wren, some silly game we began in 1992 and take up this August afternoon as if nothing’s changed, as if no time has passed, and nothing is ever lost.

 


This was the result of a two-part prompt. In a nutshell, part one is listening, eyes closed, for 6 minutes. Just breathing and listening, noticing whatever sounds are present. Part two was reading the poem “Aware” by Denise Levertov, then beginning a ten-minute fastwrite starting with “I liked the sound”.  (one of the phrases from the poem). Any poem that focuses on sound or listening would work for this two-part prompt. Try it and see what happens.

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Write about a time you were rocked and felt held

summer sky with dense clouds

Fastwrite prompt from a recent writing workshop:
Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Feel your shoulders relax.
Remember a time you were held, and rocked. Or a time you held someone, and rocked them. Any time you felt safe, held.
Begin there. Write for 7 minutes, focusing on the sensations, the moment.

Here’s what came up for me:


Sea-salt air hammock snugged around my sturdy body
little me in my chlorine-bleached Speedo
rope-web diamonding my solid thighs

Kennebunk sun, north sun
light as a cotton sweater on a cool morning
swaying, swaying, swaying, swaying away

Gulls overhead blue sky then pines then smoke bushes
green gaze rolling like a marble in the swing, swing
springs of the hammock singing along with my

Nonsense syllables wiggling toes and goosebumps
Queen Anne’s lacy head tickling my back
shivering me in the carrot-scented breeze

Summer waning, sliding swaying
far off a tractor growls in the Ricker’s potato fields…
at the fringe edge of the forest, a deer watches, dark eyed.



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Write about a time there were flowers…

white flower

plump smell, like baby skin, blooming
so beautiful so smooth
(everyone says so)
and I think of daisies and lilies and youth,
smooth and slippery

the sweet smooth skin holding memories in,
pressed like petals between book covers
dried papery flat, crackly as a map of a lost world:
how to find our way back when

we are all falling apart,
cell by cell,
moment by moment
going, going, gone—
still springtime’s tap pours out, keeps pouring
children smooth-skinned happy laughing cranky cries rise
on the wind near the playground
little feet wiggle in strollers pushed by vacant fathers, mothers
eyes lost in thoughts, worries

little griefs trip us, cracks in the sidewalk
all we can feel sometimes is the hard fall, smooth
stripped away scraped bloody

while above the sidewalk, a canopy of tulip trees
unfurls hundreds—no thousands—of trembles
petals waving
tiny flags alive in the breeze

when falling apart,
look up

Prompt: Hold a flower. Examine the petals, smell it. Breathe in.
Now: close your eyes, and think of a time from memory or imagination, when there were flowers. Go: write for 11 minutes.

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My mother never called anyone an asshole

crayon drawing of a smiling purple-haired woman, with "MOM" written above it.

A picture of me from some years ago, by my oldest child.
It reminds me of my mother.

 

Today in workshop: coloring back in time

In today’s Amherst Artists & Writers workshop, we finished with a prompt rooted in mindfulness and childhood memory.  Here’s how it goes: you choose a few crayons from a big bowl, make sure everyone has drawing paper, and together we all breathe in the smell of the crayolas.

Now imagine you are sinking back in time, drawing with crayons, when someone’s told you to go color. You have nothing else to do, and busily you begin to draw what you would have drawn then. We have twelve minutes. Draw until you feel moved to begin writing, just noticing the feel of the crayon as you make lines and scribble—as long as you want to, you can skip writing entirely—and then write until the time is up.

…What came up for my workshoppers was wonderfully diverse in tone, ranging from wry to meditative to inspiring. I’m always blown away by how writers can take risks and write from the heart when we relax and get in front of that internal critic. Try it yourself sometime! Playing is fun, and brings out creative ideas.

Here’s what came up for me:

My mother never called anyone an asshole

Orange, I thought it was orange but the name on the label said “scarlet.”

I remember the fatter crayons they gave us in kindergarten, fat like our fingers were. I remember the way the color flowed out onto paper and everyone noticed I could draw what I saw, a gift, they said, pointing. But I just wanted to be small and unseen.

Seen, I blushed like the red crayon and inside turned cyan and chilly like the car on winter mornings on the way to school.

Seen, they said, “Oh, look how cute, she’s so shy!” And how my mother never told them to “stop talking about her as if she’s not here. She’s listening, assholes.”

(My mother never called anyone an asshole, but if she were alive now, I think she would.)

Mama got feistier and feistier as she grew older. But back when I was in Kindergarten, she was shrinking pale blue and gray and lots of black skies. There were no petal or dandelion-colored flowers blooming in her smiles. I drew her tulips and daisies and roses. I used all the crayons in the big box, sharpening them with the little sharpener to make the flowers as real as I could make them, but they were never real enough for her to feel them in her heart, it seemed.

She was blue and alone but much later, when I was all grown up and she was dying, she was brave and alone, instead. She would have called an asshole an asshole, I’m sure of it—if only she’d lived a little longer.

She was blooming like a warm summer day, right as she died back.
(I just wish she could come back.)

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in this one, you’re…

cheetosIn this one, you are standing by the old canal at Holcolm Gardens. The sun has made your hair catch fire, the sun is coating your tanned legs and long arms with a honeyed light, and for some silly reason lost to me now, you are holding up a big red box of Cheetos, holding it proudly, as if you are Carol Merrill and the box of snacks is a glistening prize that a nervous contestant is pondering.

In this one, you’ve driven back east to visit me, with a loaded Magnum 357 tucked under the front seat for company. It was the last time I would ever see you, but I didn’t know that then.

I guess you never really do know?

In this one, you are as I imagine you still are — slender and strong, tough and flexible as a zip tie. I was sure, in the way only a young person can hope to be, that somehow we’d stay best friends forever. That some how the trauma-bond of our shared childhoods and barbed wire moments of our teen years would bridge the miles, bridge the chasm growing between us, already as deep as a Colorado ravine.

In this one, I was laughing and my boyfriend was squirting lighter fluid on the grill and you were smiling, that sharp sickle-shaped smile of yours. Behind your mirrored aviators, your sky-blue eyes must have been smiling too.

In this one, I already missed you, even though your were still right there, holding the Cheetos.

(This was a fastwrite from a prompt: imagine a photograph that you have in an album or on your phone; get a picture of it in your mind, and begin with “In this one, you’re…” Write for 10 minutes.)

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jump into the well of fear

graffiti saying 'jump in do it i did' pointing to water
Prompt: Close your eyes. Breathe. 
Name a fear you have. Breathe again.
Now, write about where it lives in your body. 10 minutes, go: 

My fear is not being understood by the people I love.

This fear lives in the dungeon of my throat. It is the murky water at the bottom of a bottomless well. There is no light here, and so I have to imagine how it looks: like a midnight mirror on a starless forever after. Nothing shines back at me, there are no glimmers of recognition, no waves of love, only swells of anger, churning the black water.

There are military ships crisscrossing the water, painted with lead-based gunmetal gray, their decks studded with heavy guns and heat-seeking missiles in evil-looking launchers.

My fear holds me hostage below decks on the largest of the battleships. I’m in a metal-caged brig in the deepest hold. The light is yellow and blurry and the air tastes stale.

A row of judges sit, dark-robed, heavy browed, convicting me of the crime of being myself. The primary judge is a white-wigged woman with a sharp nose. She addresses me, in a bored tone. “How could you expect to be understood,” she asks rhetorically. “You are not understandable, not acceptable.” She looks at me as if I’m a used tissue someone has dropped. She shakes her head in disgust. “Not understandable,” she repeats.

Like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, she only wants me to lose: my head, my heart, my voice, my confidence. But most especially, my heart.

My heart lies beneath this dark sea, at the bottom of the bottomlessness of this well in the dungeon of my throat. In my panic at being alone and not understood, I’d forgotten where I was. Here, in my body. I remember suddenly to breathe in, and when I do, I turn my gaze away from the judges. I listen to my steady inhale instead of their scornful murmurs. And I hear it. My heart. It is beating, far, far below the prison ship.

Steady dear heart. The dark water glows green. I know this even with my eyes closed, even in the prison of my fears, even as the judges cough and scritchy-scratch their pens across banishment decrees.

My heart swells, filling me with hope. A rising tide lifts all boats, even heart-sinking gunmetal battleships. The fleet of war ships circling my throat dissolves like sugar candy in the warmth welling up.

I think I’m ready to go deeper.

_____

I think about fear a lot. I read about it, too. Fear can literally get stuck in your body. Fear tends to incubate rather than dissipate over time, according to Joseph Le Doux, researcher/expert on the amygdala. Naming your fears and feeling them in your body can help you move past fear.

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my phone case is an asshole

phonecase

My phone case is shiny plastic, scarred now from use. It is the color of a cartoon character’s eyes, the mischievous female sidekick with a heart of gold’s eyes, eyes that sparkle and pop out from the screen a bright teal-y blue not found in nature.

The edges surrounding the black glass face of the phone are a matte-rubbery black, shaped like the buffering edges of the old Carrom pool table in the basement growing up. It’s a sturdy enough case, chosen entirely because it was on sale at Meijers and I did not want to wait for one to come via Amazon. I just bought what was on sale, in an okay color I didn’t hate, so I could stop worrying about dropping it.

I didn’t notice that on the back, in raised black emboss, the phone case sports a logo composed of a black asterisk set within the hug of two parenthesis.

I think of Kurt Vonnegut, in his novel Galapagos, where he told readers up front he was going to kill off a lot of people in the story, and to lessen the shock, he would add an asterisk before the character’s name in the chapter preceding their untimely demise.

Vonnegut had a thing about asterisks. In Breakfast of Champions, he includes an illustration of an asterisk and explains it is a drawing of his asshole. Or an asshole, anyway. I don’t quite remember the specifics, just that, ever after, I cannot look at an asterisk without thinking of a puckered anus.

I think of this every damn time I drive past a Walmart.

I imagine a group of designers coming up with the 205th round of logos.
One of the designer is maybe was a big reader.
Maybe she threw in the asterisk, as a joke.

This is how things go. You’re joking, and they take you seriously.
You are serious and they think you are joking.

I think of the little towns, in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, all across the country, hollowing out in their pretty centers, ringed with ugly box stores that you cannot walk to without risking your life.

I wonder if anyone’s ever watched me talking on my phone and thought, “Oh hey! Asshole!”

I wonder if I will ever be able to think of asterisks as I did as a girl, when I read in a book I can no longer summon to memory that aster means star, and that makes me think of skies and night air and falling in love and not finding the book you were looking for, but finding something else entirely.

Of driving as the sun sets and the stars come out, but you are driving too fast to see them until you stop like you did last night, and open the back door for the cat. The house is pitch dark and the sky is covered with stars and the nearer glows of the fireflies.

 

Note: this was a fast write from a prompt in Pat Schneider’s “Writing Alone and With Others,” in which she suggests that if you find yourself blocked, to stop trying to write that novel or poem or whatever it is that won’t come, and instead, choose an object and begin describing it. You can jump from one object to another. What is important is that you choose something concrete, and just go! See what comes up. I picked my phone case and was surprised at where it went and what it brought up. It was fun. I forgot to worry about my novel which isn’t going anywhere!

 

 

 

 

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