Monthly Archives: January 2010

Dialogues of Destiny


On page 10 of Room to Write, Bonni Goldberg informs us that, whether we’re intending to explicitly address it or not, our views on “destiny” inevitably come through in our writing.  I suppose on now considering this, it does seem avoiding it would be nearly impossible, as such a perspective would be firmly rooted in our worldview and how we approach setting our life goals.  Whether our belief in destiny is definitive or something we’re exploring, our characters will ultimately portray that belief or exploration themselves, even if to the contrary as our little Devil’s Advocates.  As a matter of fact, in one of the more recent chapters I’ve written, my protagonist does outright discuss her views on destiny with another character, so perhaps I was destined to get this writing prompt so soon thereafter, to help me revisit and develop that concept further.

The Prompt:

As for what today’s prompt does indeed ask us to do, we have two choices:

1)  Write about “destiny” for two pages; or,

2)  Write a dialogue between characters  from one or more of our pieces discussing their respective beliefs in destiny.

I’m opting for numero deux.  However, my spin on it is going to be as such–in homage to the recent passing of JD Salinger, my character will be speaking to none other than Catcher in the Rye‘s own Holden Caulfield.  I’m also going to conceal my character’s actual name for demented reasons known only to me.  Let’s call her, “Margaret” for now.

Response:

Seated on parallel wooden benches in the echoing open hall of a grand urban train station, Margaret is no longer able to ignore the penetrating glare  narrowly skimming her shoulder, fired from a bench directly in front of her.  Normally, she would retreat into the safe cavern of her shyness around strangers or move seats altogether, but she senses something troubled in this young man’s gaze akin to her own melancholy.  He doesn’t appear threatening; he is quite clean-cut and looking smart in a well-tailored overcoat.  It is only the red hunting hat that he dons that signals a mild alarm that something about him might be off.

Overwhelmed in fearful curiosity as to what his attention may be directed to at her side, Margaret summons the confidence to speak.

“Are you all right?”

Perhaps the ear flaps of  his hunting cap muffle the sound from reaching his notice.

“Are you okay?”

The young man’s eyes dart up with a start as he recognizes he’s being addressed.

“Sorry?”

“Sorry, I know I’m being random, but I was just wondering if there’s something near me that’s bothering you.  Hopefully, it’s not me.”

“How’d you be bothering me just sitting there?” he notes, trying to affect a blank expression, though unable to conceal an innocent bewilderment.

“I don’t know.”  Margaret reddens, feeling silly that she brought this all upon herself.  “I guess I might remind of you someone you don’t like.”  That sounds logical enough, she thinks.

Becoming conscious of his hat, Holden takes his turn to flush, and as he slides it back genteelly off his short, unexpectedly graying hair with his left hand, he extends his right over the back-rest to invite Margaret to shake it.

“Holden.  Nice to meet you.”

He’s a gentleman; and soft skin. “Margaret.”

“Sorry if I creeped you out and all.  It’s nothing to do with you.  I’m not a madman or anything, I was only looking at the graffiti.”  He gestures to a word carved in the wood a mere couple inches from her right arm.  “It’s nothing to do with you.”

Margaret interprets this repetition as a polite way of telling her to butt out.  “No, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to pry.”

Picking up on her embarrassment, Holden replies, “No, don’t worry, I don’t think you’re being nosy or anything.  I shouldn’ta been looking like I was staring at you and all.  I mean, I don’t mean to be rude.”

Seeking to get past this mutual awkwardness, Margaret rotates her head and leans forward to better read the carving.  “Destino,” she reads aloud.  Huh.

“Means ‘destiny,’ I guess.”  When Margaret doesn’t speak, Holden nervously rambles on.  “You know, I hate graffiti.  I hate messing up stuff that’s supposed to look nice.  Just the idea that some phony would sit there and have a goddam knife to pull out and slice into this nice varnished wood that’s here for everybody else too depresses the hell outta me.”  On observing her furrowing brow:  “Pardon me, ma’am.  Excuse my language.”

Conscious of her expression, Margaret tries to shake it off flippantly.  “Oh!  No, no.  Not at all.  Takes a lot to offend me, trust me.  I was just thinking about what you said.  I totally understand.”

Encouraged, Holden continues.  “It’s just that I see this stuff everywhere, and it depresses me, if you want to know the truth.  I saw a goddam ‘F*** you’ written on a wall in my little sister’s school, for Chrissake.  I hate that.  It’s lousy to write something like that in a kid’s school.”

Margaret grins inwardly at Holden’s critical cursing about cursing, and  she finds her interest piqued by this complex youth approximately half her age.  It seems he might be game for waxing philosophical for a brief while, at least to kill time.

“Well, I’m not a fan of graffiti either, but you have to admit this is a nicer form of it.   I mean, maybe the person wasn’t ‘phony’ at all, but seriously contemplating what that word means.  Maybe they were celebrating that their destiny had just been fulfilled, or praying so.”

“Believing in destiny is phony.  There isn’t any such thing, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a goddam phony bastard himself.”

“You’re quite cynical for your age!  I take it you see yourself as the master of your own fate, then?”

“I don’t think I’m the master of anything.  We’re all stuck falling through this phony world, laughing at jokes we don’t even think are funny and taking an exam or doing work that we’re brainwashed to believe is important and stuff, and for what?  Money?  Reputation?  Pay a dime to dance with a pretty girl?  None of it adds up to a pile of beans when all’s said and done.  We work ourselves to the bone to end up dead, and then what?  We can’t take it with us.  No, I’m no master of anything.”  Just then, Holden looks off into a realm of thought invisible to Margaret and quiets to almost a whisper.  “I’d like to be.  I think I could be.  If I could just catch those crazy kids when they came falling.  I could be the master of that.  I really think I could.”

Trying her best at interpretation without being too invasive, Margaret asks, “You’d like to help those that can’t help themselves.  The ones that Destiny hasn’t been kind to?”

“I know it sounds crazy, like I’m some sort of madman and maybe I am, but I can’t stop thinking about those kids.”  He raises his red hat back to his head as though unconsciously and pulls it over his ears snugly.  “Goddam graffiti.”

Though she has no clue what kids he’s talking about nor where they’re falling from or why, empathetic soul that she is, Margaret attempts to soothe Holden by relating the best way she can.  “I feel that way, too, sometimes.  That life can be random, and we just have to keeping rolling with the current with our heads above water as best we can.  But overall I think that flow might still be taking us somewhere, with or without our consent.  Or not.  I feel for others’ disillusionment, too, and would like to think someone would be there to catch me if I fell.”

She doesn’t expect it when Holden looks her directly in the eye just then.

“Too late,” he shakes his head.  “But don’t worry, because it’s too late for me too.”

Margaret is perplexed at the seeming sage quality in this kid.  “How so?”

“We’ve grown up.  We can’t ride the carousel anymore.”

Margaret lowers her eyes.  “I don’t think we should give up on ourselves just yet.  I’m not giving up on me, anyways.  I think Fate has something in store for me yet.”

“So you think you can still do anything about it?”

“Yeah.  Well, I’d like to think so.  I mean, I do believe in free will.  More than just tossing my hands up to the skies and saying, ‘Ah well.  So be it.'”

“You’d sounded more like you believed in destiny before.”  Holden is looking at her skeptically now, sizing up her capacity for phoniness.

“I do.  I guess I’ve just always figured we still operate ‘freely’ within that larger structure already put in place—by God, or whatever you might or apparently might not believe in.  What I’m trying to say is that I personally think we have an ultimate destiny, even if the paths we take to get there and the experiences along the way are for the most part controlled by us.  There might be those ‘little events’ planted here and there for a purpose, then, like occasional guideposts or guardrails to keep us on track.”

Peering at her stoically from beneath his cap, Holden does not look convinced.

Margaret presses on with the proverbial college-try.  “I remember reading somewhere, in someone’s blog, that that was their theory on deja-vu, that what we see that feels so familiar are actually signs that we’re on target…like on some level we’ve already lived out our destiny, and what we see as deja-vu is the playback, in brief clips, to show us that what we’re doing, at that exact point in time, is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing and where.”

“I don’t know what a ‘blog’ is, but that’s an interesting thought.  It really is, no kidding.  I get those sometimes, too, those deja-vus, but I don’t tell anybody about them or anything because those Pencey crooks’d think I was a damn sissy and knock my lights out.   They really would.  But still, I get them.  The deja-vus, I mean.  I figure they only mean that I’m crazy and all.  Like my brain is on the fritz.”

“I don’t know if we’ll ever really know what they are, but I think it’s safe to say they’re not a sign of insanity.  Whatever those ‘Pencey crooks’ say, it happens to everyone, even them, whoever they are.”

“They don’t matter anymore.  Never did, really.  You’ll probably think I’m crazy for saying this and all, but it’s my kid sister that’s got everything figured out, if you really want to know the truth.”  Holden instantly appears to glow from within at the mention.  “That kid kills me, she really does.  You would like her.  I mean, it’s not like she’s perfect or anything, but she’s really likable.  Old Phoebe’s the real deal.”

Margaret smiles kindly at the sibling sentimentality.  “So, do you think Phoebe would believe in anything like Destiny?  Does she not need you to catch her?”

The corners of his mouth turn down a perceptible degree.  “No.  She doesn’t need me for anything at all.  All I do is let her down, but I don’t know what I’d do without her, though, that’s for sure.  That kid’s pretty much got it figured out, she really does.  She’s not going to need to rely on Destiny or anything because she’ll make her own.  She’ll grab the goddam reins of that carousel horse and get it to race around the other way.  I really think she could do it, too.  If she wanted to and all.”

“Holden, if you can believe that of anyone, you can’t be a total fatalist.  Surely you can believe it of yourself, then.”

Holden eyes Margaret up and down, only just then noticing that she’s an attractive woman.  He always did like them older, but this time he isn’t feeling sexy about it.  He isn’t quite sure what he’s feeling, except that it’s the same sensation that dissipates through him when he is hanging out with his sister.

“Old Phoebe,” he says, pretending to ignore Margaret’s insight.  “She kills me.  She really does.  If I could stuff it all and put it behind a pane of glass, I’d do it.  I would.  That’s the problem with Destiny, you know.  She moves life forward, closer to being older and supposedly wiser and all that crap.  No, we’re all just tumbling through space, even Old Phoebe.  Some’ll get a softer landing than others, is all.”

Holden does not so much as jolt a fraction of a millimeter when the loud speaker unexpectedly blares its announcement of a train ready to depart its platform.  Margaret, conversely, is thrown from the jumbling and intersecting thoughts coursing through her mind in the wake of Holden’s words, the speaker’s static-y proclamation slicing through her reflection with familiarity.

“Oh my God.”  She leaps to standing.  “My train.  Holden, I have to go.”

Margaret knows she needs to flee with hyper-speed to make her train, yet the morose energy surrounding Holden is compelling.

Holden, young gentleman that he is, likewise rises onto his feet and removes his hat with a modest bow.  “Ma’am.”

“Margaret.”

“Margaret.  Meeting you just now has been sort of like–“

“Destiny.  I know.  Holden?”

He extends his right hand out for her to shake.  She makes a motion to meet it when the loud speaker bombards them again.  Distracted from thought, she operates on instinct and embraces him firmly.  On reluctantly disconnecting, she sways back and, on pivoting on her heel toward the direction of her platform, she rewinds the movement only to seize the red hat out of Holden’s hand.  Reshaping it with her fist, she finds solace in the body heat it has retained.  She briefly brings it to her lips to offer a fond peck–closing her eyes to inhale its fibers simultaneously–before affixing it back on Holden’s head.

On resuming her pivot, she turns her head counter to the spin to ask again, “Holden?”

“Yeah.”

“Catch me.  If you can.”

Holden, the warmth of his hunting hat trickling down to consume his entire being, sucks at his lower lip for a second.

“I’ll try.  I really will.”

He offers Margaret a quasi-salute behind her back as he watches her meld into the masses that carry her like a current toward her next destination.

Reflection:

* sigh *
Rest in peace, Mr. Salinger.
Find peace in unrest, Holden.  (And you, too, “Margaret”)


More Messiness from the Membrane


The Prompt:

Room to Write page 9 is yet another freewriting activity, this time launching from the word “game.”  If you’re writing this by hand, you’re supposed to fill 3 pages before stopping.  The idea, once again, is to unleash whatever comes to mind without thinking about it–writing needs to be messy sometimes.  In the trash might be some treasure to incorporate into your writing projects, but if there isn’t, no need to feel guilty in just discarding it.  Goldberg likens it to the necessity of mixing clay before being able to mold it into a sculpture.  Okay, then, time to find what comes out of the ol’ grey matter tonight.

Response:

GAME game on you have a problem with this?  bring it bring it on sucka I am so sick and loathing of people who play these petty games don’t leave things be lose all sense of perspective and just lose themselves in nonsense the rotten recesses of their own minds and feeding nothing to those who need it most giving not but taking all and dumbly standing by to let others pass without lifting a finger to help in the endeavor and they watch and they jeer and they crumble in their own self-loathing they forget the rules they impose on themselves but hold others strictly accountable and whatever happened to the happy connotation of game child’s games they were fun once but it’s acceptable when children not adults playing at children’s games mild lost to tea and egg pie and muddle gunk and tomfoolery wizened but not wise enough they bore me tore me ripped me off and can now f*** off for all I care the consequences may be harsh but I can withstand I can withstand I speak boldly but pray I can can really hold up to this torment this swallow this this this junk that they may expose me to and I try to hold my head above the the cesspool not inhaling its chunky funk and drowning from it stabbing my brain with it it’s dead dead sinking fallen swollen hardened whitened flaking and saturated and wallowing on its own at the bottom but I will rise I must rise I must stay above and do so by not being so lofty the helium I pump into my ego my conceit my superiority my arrogance will not be what lifts me in the end but be the iron ball bearing in my waist coat pocket that pulls me down the gravity of the situation that levels where I ought to be and nothing more.  floating atop the refuse of others’ garbage and spew and not being able to lift from it for I contribute to it my face down in spongy stench and adrift with secretions of my own fallacy i drift  wade I stroke I preen I try to stay clean try to stay dry until I reach the island before me just a few strokes further yet with every splash comes another wave to send me back further from where I started the fish nibble at my toes and I catch my breath and try to inhale the purity calmness gaseous extremity that I can believe in the cool quake calmness of din and then I reach the apex of snow and glide and glisten along my way the sunny fresh extremes of hilltops glossed in icing and glint and free falling to a furry escape.

Reflection:

I don’t know if my onscreen attempt would have reached 3 pages or not, but what I do know is that my brain physically hurts now that I stopped.  I’m very tired, for one, but another reason is the simple fact that freewriting is like bench-pressing for your mind.  It’s a way to keep it bulked up and toned at the same time as setting it free.  This time I actually typed with my eyes closed, going back afterwards only to correct for spelling.  I found that visuals came to me more clearly that way, even if I couldn’t pause to think through how to describe them well enough.  I can’t say I can find anything to salvage from what I spewed above, but it was worth the attempt.  It’s all about “showing up on the page,” as Goldberg says.


Exploring Form

The Prompt:

Addressing our existing or yet-to-be-created written pieces, page 7 of Room to Write gives us two options:

1)  We can compose a new piece of writing without considering what form it will take–that is, approach writing organically and allow the words to dictate their structure, not be boxed into it.  The idea is that writers do not and should not try to slot themselves into a specific category of writing–essayists can be poets, poets can be journalists, vice versa and etc., etc.  We may be hindering our writing by forcing it into a convention and, even worse, we may be regarding ourselves as failures when we do not succeed in one genre without giving consideration to how we might flourish in another.

2)  Spinning off #1, we may instead choose to select a piece we’ve already written in some form or another and rewrite it following an alternative genre:  e.g., short story, poem, essay, performance monologue, creative nonfiction, or children’s story.

Given my yammering about my 4th grade poetry anthology in a previous post, I’m going to choose Door #2 and convert one of my existing prose snippets into a poem.  It’s not a form that I gravitate to naturally, and I can’t recall any poetry I’ve written since high school (usually of the lovesick teenager variety in my diary) except maybe a sonnet in grad school.  So the piece that I am transforming below is something I freewrote and later revised in preparation for inserting into my current book project if it ends up fitting in anywhere.

Response:

Late night bath—

The drain releases overhead.

*

Flipping pages,

Pausing for a moment’s thought,

Eyes drift unconsciously

To where it nests,

An evening bag in her line of sight.

Eyes plucked from pensive pause,

They focus yet still do not,

Enrapt are they in the celestial body

Of the beading

As though staring into milky heavens,

A private observatory of unrestricted skies,

Free of constellation form

And twinkling the more for it.

*

Lens zooms in,

Eyes and mind allured,

And only then an awareness

Of rising volume and intensity.

Water trickling,

Encompassing her

About her

Around her

Within her

Deafening her

Drops stream then bead

On her skin

Blood courses with new coolness.

*

Close-up transcends

stationary to tracking

As she rises

Approaches

The dazzling hexagon,

Its glittering lid swept open

Its reflective remnants stared into

Seeking out that which sought

Until

In a flicker irretrievable

She sees them:

*

Fogged green

And glaring back.

Reflection:

I’m not sure what I think of this.  It’s nothing profound, but surely something that if I truly sought to perfect as a poem, I could go through countless revisions and take it into even further directions.  The original piece is intended for a larger work, so it begs the question whether it can stand alone in poetic genre.  I tend to think that it can, as the poetic form allows–if not effectively requires–gaps in the story as it’s explicitly told, instructing the individual reader’s imagination to construct implicit meaning to allow the tale to flow within one’s own interpretation.

I obviously did not take my prose piece word for word, and in deconstructing and reconstructing it in this way, I found myself deleting prepositions left and right and allowing myself to shift into  passive voice at times–the beauty of poetry, after all, is that unless you’re writing a traditional one that wears a corset of rules as a sonnet does, there is no strict convention.  It does not have to rhyme, it does not have to allot a certain number of syllables per line (not to discount the genius that is Shakespeare’s mastery of iambic pentameter), it does not matter how long or short each line or stanza is (sounding a “barbaric yawp” to you, Whitman!), and grammar and punctuation are a free-for-all (Miss Dickenson, what a rebel in petticoats you were).  On this last point, what I did have a hard time with was the punctuation–even knowing that it was entirely up to me and how I deemed it supported my words best, I still gravitated toward conventional mechanics in that respect.  Judging when to insert line breaks, however, came more easily, as it’s such a simple yet effective visual tool for emphasizing words and phrases via isolation versus italics, caps, or bold font.

This exercise also brought my attention to the poetic devices already embedded in my original piece, which reassures me that I am incorporating a variety of such in my prose to hopefully better appeal to the senses and facilitate understanding–the ones I spy in particular (and which are color-coded in the poem above) are metaphor, simile, anthropomorphism, alliteration, and assonance.  The fact that I did not need to intentionally plant them into the poem for the sake of the activity tells me that I am listening to my words as I write them and endeavoring to paint mental pictures.  It is not always that these come through in a first pass, however–actually, while it’s wondrous when they come naturally, it would be too inhibiting to constantly be deliberate in incorporating them when first generating new writing.  Instead, it’s good to approach writing the way Goldberg seems to be encouraging us to (and as exemplified in this Dead Poet’s Society clip), by letting go and riding with the current on the first draft.  Subsequent revision is then our opportunity for elaborating with detailed description and devices where needed.


“Snot” (you heard me)

*jabbing fists up into sky repeatedly in excitement*  Yeehaw, kids, today we get to have some silly, gross fun.  You may have noticed that I skipped over page 5 of Room to Write–I did so intentionally not because I discount the value in that exercise, but, rather, because it is one best undertaken on one’s own on an actual sheet of paper.  You see, my dear friends, page 5 was about writing an entire page of “junk”–utter feces that you know is bad and write because you know it’s bad.  In this way, you can reflect on how much knowledge you do indeed have on good writing, as  you have to know what’s good in order to know what’s bad.  Make sense?  The cathartic moment of that drill is to then rip out that sheet of paper, crumple it, and toss it in the rubbish bin.  Ah, we’ll all have to try that one…sounds orgasmic.

The Prompt:

All right, so to finally get around to today’s exercise, then:  SNOT.  Yup.  Write a full page about snot is what Goldberg profoundly asks us to do.  When finished, reflect on how you felt before, during, and after writing.  Consider if there’s anything worthy that could be included in one of your writing projects and/or brainstorm other possibly offensive topics that you could tackle.  This is like sweet karma for my dual-mucus reference in our first freewriting activity 🙂

Response:

SNOT.  Pick it, lick it, flick it at someone you hate, or store it under the table top.  Yeah, you go ahead and pretend that your fingertip never happens to wander to your nostril, hesitating at the threshold in trepidation of the darkness within, then penetrates through only to delight in the tickling of the hairs lining the nasal cavity as the fingernail goes spelunking in search of gummy treasure.  It whistles as it works, and, when it hits paydirt, shovels up a hearty scoop, greedily trying to carry back to the light more than it can muster.  It attempts to go back and pick up what falls behind, only to lose another sizable clump of slippery sponge, and as it feverishly attempts to recover that latest bit, it sheds even more.  Time out.  The fingertip calls it.  It exits momentarily to give its epidermis breath and reassess the situation.  Cupped within the nail is a miniscule glob of goo with a nose hair projecting out of it–that’s worth something, at least.  Wiping the semi-precious cargo onto the quilted square of two-ply toilet paper, the search party ventures back in, regretting that there’s not enough room in that cave to bring reinforcements.  The fingernail drills deeper and deeper, its strategy being to plow the remnants of what it previously left behind further up the passage until they congeal into one super gob that it can hopefully hook itself under and up and scrape back along the upper lining in dragging it back to the open air.  The risk it runs is severely high, however:  it is possible, just possible, that the nail will in fact shove too far and, not having the grip it thought it did, end up tossing the booger into the narrower recesses of the sinus, where not finger nor fingernail can ever pass.  Beads form upon the fingernail as it contemplates this scenario, shortly before it curses itself in having the thought, as now it needs to fear self-fulfilling prophecy, and as it thinks very hard with whatever equivalent of grey matter a fingernail might have to think with in trying not to think pessimistically, it comes to and…doh!  The Super Gob is gone.  Tucked into the nether reaches of the nasal passage as unwillingly anticipated.  Defeated, and not a little sullen, the fingernail allows itself to be dragged out by one pissy finger for a royal berating back at camp.  Meanwhile, the gob nests where it thinks it’s safe for the time being.  It causes discomfort to the nose and giggles at its being the source of a high-pitched whistling every time its human host tries to breath.  It sits there contentedly, feeling victorious and stronger than ever in its new super-fun super-size, until….being without a nose, it cannot distinguish in particular that the stinging it feels also smells of mint, eucalyptus, a dash of clove, perhaps?  It only knows that it BURNS, and its super-fun super-size doesn’t seem so formidable any longer.  Indeed, it’s losing its goo to a mucus-slide, as its sides go from gelatinous to slippery liquid oozing back down towards the light.  It tingles and elongates and slides down through the shining, tickling hairs, amassing in a puddle inside the soft, powdery fibers of a tissue.  Coughing and hacking as if it had a throat with mucus inside to cough and hack up, the liquefied snot reconvenes with the rest of its original self (spotting others it recognizes fallen into the same paper wad—“Grandma?  Uncle?  Is this Heaven?” it asks).  Before yielding to a final defeat as it tears away at a piece of the white tissue to wave in surrender, its eyes, if it had eyes, fall on the key to its demise.  Shaking a fist as though to curse the gods (and as though it had a fist), “Olbas!” it cries…”Olbas!”

Reflection:

Yowzah.  Okay.  Um, to reflect on that, then.  Well, before writing, I was very excited about the topic, as it gave a chance to make up a lot of nonsense while still being able to be descriptive of something real that I have quite a bit of experience with (oh come on, like you don’t, too).  After the series of reflections that the previous prompts asked for, this was the first delving into fiction.

While writing this, I found it coming to me almost unsettlingly easily, making me think along the entire way, “Wait, I think I know exactly what that would look/feel like,” and then question, “Why in the hell do I know that?!”  As I saw the bodily components become “characters” in their own rights, the debate was then how realistic to maintain the “tale”…are the nail and the finger a single unit, or separate entities?  If those or the nose and the snot themselves are, in fact, characters, then to what extent do I anthropomorhize them, for being body parts in and of themselves, can they have body parts of their own to enable them to see, feel, smell, etc?  How to maintain consistency, and to what extent must consistency be maintained when it is approached as fictitious?

After writing, I felt rather relieved because it was a challenge trying to come up with different descriptors for something so disgusting, and I had been feeling embarrassed about how gross I was getting while at the same time reveling in the freedom of it.  I felt satisfied with the closure I gave, as Olbas Oil has been a true beacon unto this sinus-sufferer this winter season.  It felt like sweet redemption.

So, if I had to contemplate other social taboos that may be worth exploration in my writing, the first things that come to mind are: poo, sweat, dandruff, eye crust, ear wax, pubic hair, semen, yeast infections, menstruation, belly button lint, toe jam, scabs, drool, belching, farting, and diarrhea.  Have at it, if you dare…


The Impact of Words

The Prompt:

Page 4 of Room to Write asks us to describe the first incident in which we were affected profoundly by words.  In describing this, we should address what led up to the encounter, our physical reaction to it, and anything else that was happening simultaneously.  We’re free to fill in the gaps with fiction, if we please, and perhaps construct it as a poem.  I’m going for prose, but you do what you will.

Response/Reflection:
I can’t swear that it was the first time words ever profoundly affected me, just that it’s the earliest memory that my pea-brain can pinpoint right now.  It’s arguable, after all, that I was first profoundly affected when I first learned how to read, but I don’t recall there ever being a “Eureka!” swell of emotion then; it’s more so the appreciation that I can attach to it now in retrospect.  I think of the metallic-spined Golden Books that kicked off my reading career, and my red paperback of The Story of Ferdinand that certainly made its place in my heart–but, again, a meaning established in my adult years when I so needed to hear truths put simply in my ever-increasingly complicated world.  And I wish I could remember the first orally articulated words that may have moved me, but I think it would have to be when I myself took on the challenge of words, the composition of them in forms of my own choosing if not creation, that stands out as most pivotal to the writing life I’ve embarked on since.

I think it was fourth grade when I submitted my first “book” into the running for my elementary school’s Young Authors Contest.  It was an anthology, actually, a collection of poetry that I carefully entitled, Poems of Modern Style.  I suppose I classified them as “modern” based on the youthful and pop cultural content they covered (the ’80s punk aesthetic being a component) as well as the fact that I did, with the exception of a few haikus, create my own poetic structures to follow.  It’s difficult to recall what exactly led up to these choices; I can only assume I chose the poetic medium because I couldn’t think of a plot around which to develop a decent story of any length (not to mention I’d probably noted the failure of my previous year’s prose piece, something about a lost bunny or puppy trying to find its way home.  The dialogue was painfully monotonous; I clearly knew nothing of dialogue tags at age 7).  So I suppose I had a range of miscellaneous ideas floating through my head that did not necessarily follow a cohesive theme, yet could adequately be dumped under that catch-all descriptor of “modern.”

The poetic form gave me the freedom to explore all these ideas in flowing form or fragmented sketches.  Yes, I was 8 years old and an avid Shel Silverstein reader that was of the school of thought that all poems had to rhyme, so constrained myself in this respect, but it was rules like rhyming or the number of syllables measured in those haikus that really did prompt me to stretch and squish and swap words to comply with those forms without sacrificing meaning.  That would be, then, when I caught the first glimmer of understanding how word-rich the English language is, that there are so many degrees of meaning even among synonyms that we are at liberty to play around with all sorts of words in trying to find the specific ones that truly convey what we’re seeking to say, whether in isolation or combination.  Poetry forced me to think more deliberately, weigh each word’s worth more when there were so few alloted to a line and so few lines beyond that.  Sure, I certainly remember cranking a couple of those out, feeling satisfied enough on the first try and ready to move on, but there were others that taught me the value of revision and being a discerning reader of my own writing.  I further recall that I had drawn illustrations to accompany each poem, demonstrating that interplay between word and image and how they create meaning in synergy…or maybe it was also because I loved to draw and thought it made the pages pretty.  (It did.)  I painstakingly copied the final versions down onto construction paper of alternating rainbow colors and bound it all together to submit for the judging.

This process acquainted me with the eye-strain and sore hand muscles that accompany writing, but also with how these symptoms of pain were salved by the flutter in my stomach that signaled both the thrill of creative achievement and the anxiety over what others may think once I placed my baby in their arms.  And even the agony of anxiety was utterly diminished when they announced the results:  I was a finalist.  I didn’t end up winning, but I had made the top four, and that was the first external recognition I’d received of my words that wasn’t just a grade on an essay.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have relied on outside reinforcement, but it was the validating boost this shy girl needed to affirm that what I’d worked so hard on and genuinely enjoyed all by myself was something of merit that others could enjoy too.  In the short-term, it inspired me to tackle an illustrated “novella” as a sixth-grader two years later for that same contest (I won, even got to go “on tour” reading select chapters in different classrooms) and cemented a love affair with words that will stay with me for a lifetime.



Lack of Memory

The Prompt:

Spinning off the previous prompt, Room to Write now challenges us to freewrite on what we DON’T remember.  This can consist of memories we’ve tried to recall or wish we ever had, or can be entirely sarcastic in the vein of, “I don’t remember asking you for your opinion.”  And because it is freewriting, we are to write continuously without pause. so it won’t necessarily make grammatical sense.  Before I get started, I’m going to make a quick run to the loo so I can concentrate, otherwise, I’m going to write a lot about not remembering my bladder ever hurting this badly or the last time I soiled myself.

Ahhh…that’s much better.  Okay, now I’m ready.

Response:

I DON’T REMEMBER the exact moment or day when I first met my husband, I just remember knowing at that precise instant in time that I wished I had met him before the boyfriend I was dating at the time.  I don’t remember ever being the first to say, “I love you,” because I don’t remember ever being one to willingly succumb to the mistakes most women make.  That said, I don’t remember why I let myself over-analyze those first relationships so much and not assert my opinions more.  I don’t remember when I first started doing so, finally, but I’m sure my husband sure does as my first real victim.  I don’t remember I don’t remember I don’t remember I don’t remember I don’t remember why I let myself go ahead and choose a college major that I wasn’t passionate about, and I don’t remember why why why why why why I let myself go forward with that career as long as I did.  I don’t remember when exactly I ever felt I had a clear grasp on my future and what I was meant to become.  I don’t remember so much about my grandmother, as she died when I was only five years old, and I don’t remember why, when she was alive, I was so shy any time she spoke to me.  I don’t remember why I was so afraid of Minnie Mouse when I was three and at Disneyland that I started bawling and made her cry, too, in turn.  I don’t remember much about my grandfathers, other than what my parents have told me about them, as I was not even alive when they still were.  I don’t remember having a close relationship with my longest living grandmother, who I knew until my adulthood, as I don’t remember ever knowing how to start a conversation with her and be genuinely interested in most things she had to say, at least, not until it was already starting to be too late.  I don’t remember why I didn’t make more of an effort to know my extended family better, other than perhaps because I felt close enough to my immediate family members, that the rest weren’t necessary.  But I don’t remember so much of my ancestral history, how So-and-So is related to What’s-His-Name, and I won’t ever remember these things after the ones who do pass away and won’t be there to remind me.  And thinking of that terrifies me of all that I’ll cease to remember over time, all the details and breaths that we each take in each other’s company that we should be recording in our minds and hearts because of Time, that fickle and fleeting mistress that ultimately takes all away and the memories that went with it when we take them to our grave.

Reflection:

Hm.  Not so thrilled about this one.  That was really, really hard.  I mean, it entails trying to remember what you don’t remember and trying to do so nonstop without thinking about it too much.  I never fully let go of it like I was probably supposed to because I knew I’d end up spinning off in some other direction and deviating from the task at hand, God forbid.  I understand the principles of writing and keeping with a theme and maintaining consistency in plot and characters, etc., but I wonder if my problem right now, the reason I’m having difficulty getting on further with my novel, is that I’m too insistent on holding onto this kind of control and that to get where I’m planning to go really does require letting go and going off the beaten path, that that will actually be the true path to the end goal, even though (especially since) it’s not the shortest point from A to B.  I guess I shouldn’t be reveling in this as though it’s some big new realization…I’ve known it all along, and these exercises are reminding me that I was not remembering that…

Huh.  Isn’t it something how things can come full circle like that.


Memory

The Prompt:

On page 2 of Room to Write, Goldberg challenges us to another freewriting exercise, this time not being allowed to stop until filling 2 pages.  I’m going to be writing mine on a computer screen, so I’ll just keep going until I’ve written what I estimate would fill 2 journal pages.  The other parameters we are given is that we are to begin with the words, “I remember,” and launch into whatever memories we can recall, however recent or long ago and however accurate or real they are.  The idea is to again tap into that mass of grey matter we cannot consciously access, and if we get stuck, repeat “I remember” until additional memories dislodge.  Wish me luck, and the best to you as well!

Response:

I REMEMBER squinting in the sun for what felt like at least 5 minutes because my older sister had told me that staring at the sun was a sure-fire way of having to get eyeglasses.  I remember always wanting to wear eyeglasses as a kid, to the point that I did, in fact, stare directly at the sun on a cloudless day and eventually received a tortoiseshell pair with fake lenses for Christmas (interesting that it was only two years later, in 8th grade, when I really did need glasses, and was prescribed my first pair after being diagnosed with far-sightedness and astigmatism).  I remember also always wishing I could wear braces, once again getting that little gem of a wish granted by freshman year in high school.  I remember wanting a lot of things as a kid that I eventually did get, or never got and realized it was the best thing I didn’t, but one thing I remember always having and always savoring was the happiest childhood with my siblings and parents.  I remember my sister dancing in a baby pool with me even though she’s nine years older and wrote song lyrics to dance by–I believe the song was called, “Twisting by the Pool.”  And yes, we did the twist.  I remember in much more frigid weather, my brothers who are seven and ten years older than me chasing my BFF and I around the snow-covered backyard and pelting us with snowballs.  I remember my sister building snow fires with me in the “cave” created by that giant evergreen in the backyard when the heavy, wet snow weighed down its branches to offer us dark yet dry seclusion within.  I remember wiffle-ball games in that backyard, my brother whipping a ball at me so fast and totally on purpose and it smacking me directly in the thigh and leaving a very big, very red mark.  I remember standing in the grasses of that backyard in solitude, taking in the warmth and happiness of a summer vacation sort of day, and how sometimes when I looked into the clear blue sky, I would see what I called my “fairy”:  it wasn’t anything that I made up nor actually believed was a fairy.  It was a strange sort of translucent illusion that looked like a flower with layers and layers of petals, and these layers and layers of petals would appear to rotate inward as though on some sort of circular conveyer, rendering the image a glowing and flashing clear light of movement that recurred to me time and again without apparent rhyme or reason.  It’s been a while since I’ve seen it, diminishing, perhaps, with my childhood like beliefs in Santa and the Easter Bunny.  Maybe it was my fairy, my very own private one, my guardian angel that is still with me even though childhood fancy doesn’t allow me to see it anymore.  Or maybe it was just a since-healed impairment in vision caused by staring at the sun for a long, long time.

Reflection:

Whew, okay, that wasn’t so bad!  It was interesting to find in that process how quickly the memories got flowing one after another once I got started, so much so that my fingers couldn’t keep up half the time.  I really think I could have gone on endlessly, when you consider how many different years in different locations and spheres of people you can reflect on, but go figure that I ended up focusing on my childhood backyard most.  I was all of a sudden transported to that arena where I spent so many summer and winter vacations playing with my family, friends, or just on my own, and while I didn’t get very descriptive of it in my writing, it was as though I could see every blade of grass and leaf to be had back there.  Clearly, that setting was a meaningful stage for those initial developmental years, and I think if you try this exercise yourself, you’ll learn something about what you value.  You may even be taken into negative memories, which could be that much more telling of you and the meaning you make as you move within the world.  I really hope some of you do comment on this with your own freewriting, as it would be fascinating to see what you unearth and how you evaluate it.


“Diving In”

The Prompt:

To kick things off, I’m beginning at the beginning.  Page 1 of Room to Write prompts  us to “dive into writing by choosing any one of the following words that have more than one meaning:  bear, cleave, lie, sewer, tear, or desert.”  The idea is to freewrite without thinking, never stopping, and if truly stuck, just keep repeating the last word written until you’re out of it.  Making sense is not the point.  Ready?  Am I?  * deep breath *

Response:

LIE lie to me you lie there in your stinking sheets wrapped in sweat mucus tears stains and you lie to my face behold that that that that lying lie there bait me with baited breath your soul swells sinks stinks and yet you think of me lie to me heave atop me spoil me spoilt the milk your nectar nectar nectar nudity becoming you seemingly impossibly I walk there too drifting apart the start so long ago such nonsense you came to you came atop me you bludgeoned me berated me beckoned me fiend.

Reflection:

Okay, my first thoughts on that are that it was really, really hard.  I found myself constantly pausing to write more deliberately and having to work hard to force my mind to free itself…in a nutshell, too much thinking.  It was also difficult doing this using a keyboard vs. pen, so I may switch to handwriting for prompts like these and just transcribe it here after.  For now, though, I’d like try out a screen-purifying software available for Mac called WriteRoom that replaces the clutter of the monitor screen with a plain black background and basic green font–in essence, reverting to the way word processors looked a couple decades ago to bring the focus back to WRITING.  Words for words sake.  Must say I love it.  I’m going to try freewriting on another word, then, using the free 30-day demo of this tool, then copying it back here.

2nd Response:

SEWER plunging to the depths of the sewer we rake through the sewage and stumble upon a sewer feeding the eye of her needle with threads woven from hair gone down the drain it’s coated in mucus and filth yet she’s smiling she darning socks with it she’s reaching down into the funk and pulling up another clotted handful of it and wrapping it about her arm for safekeeping she motions to us to try on the sweater that’s resting in her lap she wants to make sure the arms are long enough and we say we’ve heard of hairshirts before lady but this takes the cake we’re off and puddle-plunging our feet growing larger with swells of feces compounding on them with every step as the water splashes up to our hemlines and ruins our clothing with putrid stains and we hear the little lady calling after see bet you wish you had a new sweater to change into now!

2nd Reflection:

Hmm…WriteRoom definitely helped clear away distraction.  My other conclusion?  My mind is a strange and twisted corridor to meander through, and I blame my sinusitis for the repetition of mucus in both entries.  Sorry if my subconscious made you gag, folks.  Not all posts will be like this, but I have to say I’m a big fan of the freewriting exercise.  I remember my Sophomore English teacher assigning us the first few minutes of the day to this, which we’d keep in the same notebook and later use to generate poetry.  Not saying that I’m seeing any pearls of wisdom in what I churned out tonight, but I must say my brain actually feels like it just lifted freeweights and exploded past brittle picket fences that had been keeping it hindered.  Definitely a useful tool for breaking out of a rut.


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