Category Archives: Writing Prompts

Been There, Done That

The Prompt:

Today, page 48 of Room to Write asks us to write 101 places we’ve been or 101 ways to dance. The goal is to list them as quickly as possible, ideally within 15 minutes. I’m choosing to run with Places I’ve Been:

Response:

1 London
2 York
3 Edinburgh
4 Inverness
5 Bath
6 Dover
7 Calais
8 Paris
9 Nice
10 Cannes
11 Monaco
12 Vernazza
13 Corniglia
14 Riomaggiore
15 Monterosso
16 La Spezia
17 Parma
18 Rome
19 Venice
20 Florence
21 Salzburg
22 Munich
23 Dachau
24 Interlaken
25 Zurich
26 Barcelona
27 Berlin
28 Oberammergau
29 Dusseldorf
30 Amsterdam
31 Stockholm
32 Pula
33 Rimini
34 Budapest
35 Saalbach
36 Vienna
37 Besse
38 Les Deux Alpes
39 L’Alpe d’Huez
40 Geneva
41 Courmayeur
42 Pesaro
43 Anzio
44 Sermoneta
45 Mougins
46 Juan-les-Pins
47 Sevilla
48 Grenada
49 Malaga
50 La Mancha
51 Madrid
52 Southampton
53 Chipping Camden
54 Tywardreath
55 Fowey
56 Falmouth
57 Flushing
58 Devon
59 Woebley
60 Bristol
61 Manchester
62 Wolverhampton
63 Ashby St. Ledgers
64 St. Albans
65 Brighton
66 Canterbury
67 Cambridge
68 Oxford
69 Windsor
70 Portsmouth
71 Isle of Wight
72 Lewes
73 South Downs
74 Greenwich
75 Blackheath
76 Bibury
77 Stratford-upon-Avon
78 Chawton
79 Chicago
80 Disneyworld!
81 LA
82 San Simeon
83 Monterey
84 San Francisco
85 Carmel
86 Paso Robles
87 San Luis Obispo
88 Los Osos
89 Santa Barbara
90 Tamarindo
91 Buenos Aires
92 Torres del Paine
93 El Calafate
94 Rotorua
95 Queenstown
96 Auckland
97 Christchurch
98 Marrakech
99 Istanbul
100 Mumbai
101 Delhi

Reflection:

Wish I could say I got this one in under the wire, but it took me closer to 20 minutes–mostly because I kept checking Google Maps to verify spellings or remember names of places caught in my head–in which case, I should’ve just powered through with a description or best-guess spelling (as I’m sure I still managed to botch plenty!). I clearly ran with cities, as that seemed the easiest way to start out and made for some fun (albeit quick) reminiscing about past travels.

The point of the exercise is to stretch ourselves into our well of memory. Just when we feel frustrated because we can’t find inspiration from either imagination or experience, an activity like this can remind us of all we truly have to draw upon. Maybe it’ll dislodge an idea for a story setting. Maybe it’s an experience you had, or people you met, in that location that can figure into the plot or characters, or simply lend rich description for visualization and texture.

Who knows, but by the end, I actually felt disappointed that I’d already hit 101. I feel like I “wasted” spaces on places I’ve might’ve just made a train connection, not leaving room for more of those where I had proper experiences–but that’s how free association of thought works, I guess! When I delved into my memory well, I suddenly relived the sequence of certain travels, connections and all (which is some of the logistical nitty-gritty that could figure into stories, to add a layer of reality). I barely scratched the surface of my home country and state, for cryin’ out loud! 🙂

Here’s my actual travel map:

Screenshot 2016-03-08 19.26.29

Actually, it would be fun to try this sometime and only focus in and around my hometown so that I’d have to branch out beyond cities and list things like schools and grocery stores and playgrounds. Or try the “Ways to Dance” option as a more imaginative exercise, as I figure at some point you just have to start making up moves. Um, which sounds amazing.

Well then, I’ve made my journey round the world in 20 minutes. Tag, you’re IT!

 


Looking Back & Flying Forward

Happy 2011! The past year has added another ring to the trunk of my tree, and as I trace a finger around the circumference of bark, I’m elated to be looking back on a year of frolicking, friendship, and focus, an enchanting year of feeling more at home overseas and in my new freelancing capacities, while still basking in the joy of home-home periodically—this last visit being an especially candy-coated one of icicles and white Christmas lights glowing from beneath inches of snow, of attending Nativity plays, marveling over how a bee could have stung my niece inside the house in December, hearing an older nephew’s voice deepen, and initiating a younger one into our Finer Things Club on the basis of his Harry Potter knowledge…of laughing with siblings, savoring parents, celebrating with in-laws, toasting with friends, and sharing chocolate fondue with several former students at the quaint café where I used to grade their essays :).

And, of course, it was a whooping, whirring, sometimes wilting, but always whimsical year of writing, but one that has now gotten me prepped for the humbling undertaking of querying and thrilled to start up new projects. Time to get warmed up, then…time for this monkey to fly.

The Prompt:

Today, page 44 of Room to Write asks us to write about flying—how it makes us feel, where it takes us. As an alternative, we can perform a free-writing by starting with the word “flying” or “wings.”

Response:

Flying these days inevitably makes me think of airports and how such places that used to represent adventure and freedom have now come to mean “goodbye.” There’s still anticipation in it, still excitement in it, yet somehow I also worry that with every new flight I take, the world becomes less unknown and more trodden. Nevertheless, flying is still my gateway to other perspectives, other features, other values, and flying is what will bring me to my 6th continent next weekend and allow my greying UK-ified skin to gulp up some Vitamin D. Flying is soaring, feeling the air rushing against my face as my heart rises into my throat and my stomach sinks to my bladder or clenches at my spine, it’s loop-de-loops and spinning spirals, then having to peel the cape off my face. It’s Peter Pan, it’s Superman, it’s the birds that escape the pavement and the predators and sing me out of slumber. Flying is icy pressure beneath my fingernails as they pierce the air and a tickling tug at my toes as their wake sucks a vacuum into being. It’s hearing the crackle of joints as my wings finally unfurl and spread out in a stretch that luxuriously takes my breath away before expanding my lungs with cool purity. Flying is connecting, an efficient means of traversing the distance between A to B or of ascending from thoughts to ideas, information to knowledge, sense to sensibility, for even when not stepping onto a plane, it is only opening a book or reading an email from Mom or closing my eyes atop a pillow that yet makes me fly. Flying is high-speed, forward-moving levitation, or it’s the freedom of imagination I enjoy while never feeling more grounded.

Reflection:

BeezArtist.com

I didn’t do a full-on free-write without stopping, but I did let my thoughts meander wherever they fancied sentence by sentence. No surprise that, being between a recent and upcoming plane trip, the word first took me to modern air transport, though it still didn’t take long to get to the actual action at hand, physically and metaphorically. Not my most creative effort, but a productive enough burst before bedtime to motivate me to wake to a day of more fruitful word-weaving tomorrow. I think when I found my mind wasn’t fully taking flight by writing tonight, it started yearning for a book—someone else‘s writing :). Fair enough. We become better writers by reading as well, so time for me to check-in (i.e., get in my PJs), get my boarding pass (grab my novel), check my bags (ditch any emotional baggage at the bedroom door), board my aircraft (climb into bed), switch on my reading light (uh, that’s really the same thing in both scenarios), and get ready for take-off!


So, uh…Did You Bring Any Protection?

*blush*  Get your minds out of the gutter.  What kind of monkey do you think I am?!

“The best lightning rod for your protection is your own spine.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have long neglected my little writing prompts that originally kicked off this blog, mainly because they’re aim was to get me over writer’s block, and it worked!  I’ve been cranking until I’m crossed eyes these recent days on revising my manuscript, and for the time being am keen to step away for a bit to clear my head.  So…

The Prompt:

Today page 43 of Room to Write asks us to list the protections we use in our everyday lives or, indeed, our writing.  We are to then have our main character embody this protection in a scene or simply write a new piece without using writing-protections (e.g., a different place than the usual, without a word/page limit, etc.).

Henry VIII's armour

Response:

My everyday protections include:

– smiling

– expression through writing versus speaking

– diving behind a book or in front of a computer/tv

– my giant headphones and iPod

– sarcasm

– my forked tongue, when need be

– stubbornness, which includes a common refusal to say, “sorry”

– quiet pensiveness, reclusiveness

Hm, given that codpiece on Henry's armour, perhaps he could've used this protection as well...

– over-analysis

– verbatim recall of prior conversations (one of my more superb defenses)

– cold silence or, conversely, inane babble

– hats, cardigans, and sunglasses

– take-away caffeine (somehow just holding the steaming paper cup is a fortification, regardless what’s inside)

– sleep

– my quilt

– a hybrid superiority/inferiority complex that’s a bit difficult to describe…

I’ll stop there and address the second part of this exercise by first peeling off one key writing-protection of mine:  the ability to revise.  So I’m just going to write this off the cuff and not obsess over how it comes out, leaving it raw in its first draft form.

So, that said, I have certainly infused a lot of the above protections into my protagonist, who I’ll continue to address by the pseudonym “Margaret” (whoops, there I go, still protecting…and for whatever reason protecting the fictional :)).  I could probably find one-to-one matches for almost everything on the list, but here’s just a few examples:

“Margaret beamed one of her fake smiles in maneuvering in ninety-degree angles toward her.”

“Writing was so much easier than calling; writing gave control, the ability to pause, reread, and revise.  Margaret didn’t trust herself with speaking any longer; the restraint in talking to her parents was difficult enough, and they alone embodied the innocence necessary to not pick up on vocal cues.  Her not-so innocent friends and brother, on the other hand, were risks she couldn’t take.”

“Shaking off the mundane tasks of Everyday-Land and shoving in a thumbnail to spear a dog-eared page, Margaret tiptoed into her alternate universe at the delicious creaking sound of a hardcover binding blooming into action.”

“She’d banked an increasing number of slumbering hours ever since that first day […] and she wiled away the afternoons on indulgences like prolonged soaks in the tub and otherwise luxurious daytime lounging.  The solitary nature of her days quieted her mind to her earlier paranoia, distortions in perception that she’d ascribed to stress-induced fatigue.  [It] all dissipated before her like the steam that rose off the bubbles in her lap.”

The sun shied away behind the clouds, making Margaret’s sunglasses redundant, so she reluctantly removed them.”

“She’d lately taken to […] a route of anonymity that concealed her among side streets rather than parade her before rows of shops and sidewalk cafés.  She didn’t want to be observed, though sometimes played a mental game that she was hiding from the paparazzi lusting to lavish her with attention—somehow desiring to be a Nobody while still feeling like a Somebody.”

And that kitten definitely has claws when she needs ’em to shield her inner vulnerability.

Reflection:

As much as this character isn’t supposed to be me, it’s interesting to look back on her through this lens and realize how cognizant I am of my defense-mechanisms, as reflected in this mirror.  I reveled before in the fact that writing can be a protective filter of our thoughts by virtue of its revision stage, yet it is also something that leaves us exposed, unveiling raw emotion, intellect, and imagination.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt (and continues to feel) timid about posting a blog, putting those ideas out there for anyone to read and judge.  Getting something “in writing,” after all, carries that sense of no-turning-back, as though signed in our blood or chiseled in stone.  There’s both a structured permanence and organic fluidity to it that just fascinates me, but I’ll leave that to another blog topic on another day.  For now, I suppose these blogs do allow us to go back and edit, but I’ll keep my promise and not exercise that protection ;).  In fact, I’m not even going to let myself read this over before I press “Publish.”  Ha, take that!

What are your protective layers?



The Fear Factor


The Prompt:

I love how Bonni Goldberg relates writing to medicine when it comes to protecting us against our fears:

“You take small doses of your fears in combination with written words and they create a kind of antibody: a cathartic human experience that authenticates your strength and fragility.”

Page 42 of Room to Write, then, asks us to write a list of our fears and describe one in more specific detail.

Response:

Some things I fear:

– geese

– clowns

– confined spaces

– death (mine, but mostly loved ones)

– being in any way “too late” for anything by the time I move back home

– losing my sight or hearing

– the debilitating effects of aging

– having children

– lack of purpose

– never finishing my book

– rejection

– regret

Okay, I think that’ll do.  Now, to pick just one…it’s tempting to go the route of writing-related fears, but I think I devote enough of this blog to that!  How about the “too late” factor, as I feel it’s one needing more explaining:

The fact that my aging parents continue to age in my absence while living abroad positively terrifies me.  I know many will find that irrational and say that I have to live my own life, but I will never, never forgive myself if something happens to either of them while I am an ocean away.  Just writing this right now is bringing me to tears.  It is something I really, truly cannot stand to fathom.  And I don’t want to miss out on my nieces’ and nephews’ milestones, nor do I want the littlest ones to not know their Auntie.  I am not the person who realizes what they have only when it is “too late”; I’m the person who has always known perhaps too clearly, which is why I would have never left in the first place if it were only up to me.  I don’t think of it as something holding me back; being with my family is actually part and parcel of my life’s ambitions, so anyone who thinks I should feel otherwise can suck it 🙂

My own aging has started to frighten me as well.  I don’t consider myself to be old, but my husband and I have agreed to wait until we return home to our support network before starting a family, at which time I will most definitely be at the infamous cut-off age that younger mommies love to throw out there as the danger zone of higher risks and mandatory tests.  Gee, thanks for making me feel geriatric.  Sorry my last decade has been pleasurable and focused on my needs and catering to my own identity before I give it over so fully to a little person of my making.  I genuinely hope I didn’t just offend any mothers reading this—I think parenting is the most noble occupation for one to assume, but it’s not my fault that I didn’t get married until after my friends were already popping out kids and that other life changes have thrown me for a loop such that there’s a lot I need to get sorted before I feel I could do a remotely good job of it myself.  So I’ll put off applying for that particular position a bit longer; yes, I know, at my own risk.  *eyes rolling*

Returning to find that my old job (for which I was only 1 year away from getting tenure) is not remotely available to me anymore is scary.  I moved the very week that the economy tanked, and what I’d considered a recession-proof job has still managed many layoffs since then, and some departments have frozen their hiring.  Barring that, even if I can vie for a position, perhaps I’ll be judged negatively for my time away from teaching; the powers that be may frown upon my rationale, not find value in how I’ve chosen to apply myself since then.  Even worse, what if I fear teaching itself?  After such a long hiatus, I’m no longer riding the momentum of consecutive years ramping up in the profession.  The flexibility (and sleeping in!) of my present days will be lost, and never doubt the intimidation of staring down 125+ teenagers a day and, even worse, their parents who will too quickly point the finger at you for the consequences of their own lack of parenting at home.  Then again, if I end up not having kids of my own, teaching is a great way to play surrogate.

I think what is overall frightening me is the realization that my life at home did not simply freeze once I took off on that plane, preserved in its tableau of near-perfection while I have my fun and then return to reinsert myself seamlessly back into it.  I will not be entirely the same person either, after all; current experiences are carving me from a square to an octagon-shaped peg.  So I fear the transition that will be repatriation, after expatriation was already so difficult.  I fear feeling out of place in my own home and possibly acknowledging a discontent that wouldn’t have otherwise been there.

But, you know, so be it.  Rejoining my family, starting a family, returning to teaching…I cannot think of three things more worth facing that fear.

Reflection:

First of all, allow me to apologize.  Addressing personal fear just automatically lends itself to a whiny rambling of self-pity, so thank you for bearing with me through it if you’ve made it this far 🙂  I don’t think this activity has brought out any special writing, per se…the fears are plain, so embellishment didn’t come naturally—the way I wrote it is not creative or revelatory.  It didn’t make me realize anything new about myself.

Maybe selecting a different fear or writing in another frame of mind would have made all the difference, but the one thing I can take away from this exercise is the fact that Goldberg was right!  When I started writing about this, as I said, it made me cry—it thrust me into my fear and made me tremble in the face of it.  And yet the more I wrote, the easier it was to pull out of this vulnerable state; putting it in writing made it very plain to see that, while my fears may be justified, they really aren’t as big of a deal as I sometimes let them be.  The more I wrote, the more my heart quieted and the more my mind said, “Poor you with the wonderful family and profession and wonderful period of creative flexibility and travel that you have in-between.  To have had it as long as you did is a gift, and you still might get your cake back to eat it too—or even be okay if you don’t.  So in the meantime, buck up.  Deal.”

In short, facing my fears was embracing my blessings.

And you, brave readers of mine?  What are you so afraid of? And how might your fears impact your writing?


Show Me, Show Me, Show Me How You Do That Meme

These have been busy days causing much blog-neglecting, so for now I shall finally snag the writing activity from Corra McFeydon’s A Lit Major’s Notebook blog as I told her I would.  I had also told her I had a Spotlight Award waiting for her when her blog was up and running again, which is still out there for the offering, though I know she will graciously not accept 😉

This is in keeping with some of the writing prompts I follow that allow for brevity…it’s like an ink-blot test, really, offering insight through metaphorical self-perception:

– If I were a season, I’d be autumn.
– If I were a month, I’d be October.
– If I were a day of the week, I’d be Thursday.
– If I were a time of day, I’d be 23:00.
– If I were a planet, I’d be Saturn. (I like a good accessory).
– If I were a direction, I’d be West.
– If I were a tree, I’d have the perfect branch to sit and imagine on. (and there’d be a monkey in me)
– If I were a flower, I’d be dried jasmine blooming at the bottom of a tea cup.
– If I were a fruit, I’d be a tomato.
– If I were a land animal, I’d be a cat, sleeping in a sunny window.
– If I were a sea animal, I’d be manatee, fooling sailors that I’m a mermaid.
– If I were a bird, I’d be a mockingbird.
– If I were a piece of furniture, I’d be a chaise lounge.
– If I were a liquid, I’d be red wine.
– If I were a stone, I’d be sedimentary.
– If I were a tool, I’d be a level.
– If I were a kind of weather, I’d be alternating showers and sunshine, UK-style.
– If I were a musical instrument, I’d be a piano.
– If I were a color, I’d be burnt sienna (consult your Crayola box).
– If I were a facial expression, I’d be a raised eyebrow.
– If I were an emotion, I’d be anxiety.
– If I were a sound, I’d be fingers tapping on a keyboard/piano keys in inspiration or a flat surface in impatience.
– If I were an element, I’d have an even atomic number.
– If I were a car, I’d be a Volkswagen.
– If I were a food, I’d be cheese.
– If I were a place, I’d be lined in dark wood paneling and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, flickering in candlelight.
– If I were a flavor, I’d be spicy.
– If I were a scent, I’d be spicy 🙂
– If I were an object, it would be fun to be unidentified and flying, too.
– If I were a body part, I’d be the eyes.
– If I were a song, I’d be “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
– If I were a pair of shoes, I’d be black ballet flats.
– If I were transportation, I’d be my own two feet.
– If I were a fairy tale, I wouldn’t want any contemporary retellings of me to star J-Lo.
– If I were a holiday, I’d be spent traveling.

Oh yeah, and if I were a song, I’d also most certainly want you to rock out to me (men, apply that guyliner):


Team Gaucho: Gaffes and Gallivants

Real Bloggers United

What happens when two Yankees with an empty tank and wallet take to the open Patagonian road?

Join me on the journey of two victims of their generation, taken directly from a worn, leather-bound journal that joins others like itself in chronicling the travels of an ignoramus. This was my guest post at the now defunct Real Bloggers United in response to its “Holiday” theme.

 

Patagonia:  Pesos, Pussycats, & Petrol

 

This memoir is a direct transcription from my 2007 travel journal, when my husband (fiancé at the time) and me traveled to South America’s Patagonia. This particular entry involves our roundtrip road-trip from El Calafate, Argentina to Torres Del Paine, Chile.

El Calafate, Argentina, 29 March 2007

The Blackberry calleth us to consciousness early yesterday morning, but we waketh not early. Both needing sleepy long-time, we snoozed a bit longer until, rriiiipp! Off had to go the Band-Aid of blissful sleep so we could ready for our next adventure. Off we went around 10:30am to seek out Ruta 40. Missing our intended turn, we luckily remained on route to Esperanza, which was a longer, but easier way to take—paved all the way until the border, whereas approximately 70km of our originally mapped journey would have been unpaved in addition to the 100km or so leading into Chile and to Torres Del Paine national park.

Once past Esperanza, just as the guidebook promised, we could see the jagged torres on the horizon for the rest of the drive in. Between us and that wicked vision looming in the distance was a vast openness of dry plains and low hills, much like the American West. Turning onto a gravel road to cross the border, the Argentinian immigration/customs site came out of nowhere—a couple white buildings standing solitary in an ocean of uncultivated, unpaved land, making its sister Chilean border patrol seem like a bustling metropolis in comparison.

Just driving into the park was an experience in and of itself: the sinister blades of stone once in the distance now crept in upon us before we knew it—utterly thrilling to behold. The whimsy-factor was certainly upped by the plethora of guanacos we encountered roadside (at one point, they must have numbered at least 50), as well as ostrich-like birds, the choique. Check 2 off the wildlife-indigenous-to-the-area list, 3 if you count the dead skunks on the road; happily, we did not check puma off this list.

Feeling lame that we naïve, Starbucks-and-ATM Americans had not thought of withdrawing more Argentine pesos or exchanging to Chilean ones in preparation for our border-crossing, the park guy at the administrative office let us pass on the condition that we’d pay on our way out. Reaching our campsite off Lago Pehoe after more twists-n-turns, we were ecstatic to leave the car and stretch our legs in the presence of such awe-inspiring natural wonder.

Perhaps just as awe-ful (really, as in awful) was the simultaneous realization that we needed to spend our remaining pesos for the camp site, and, therefore, had to find a way of obtaining Chilean cambio in a realm of no ATMS, as well as fill our car with fuel.

Prior to finding fuel that evening, we had—after a brief hike around our new surroundings—walked a kilometre to the neighboring hotel in hopes of exchanging cash or using a credit card. No. So we walked back to our site, hopped into the car and drove the other way to the other neighboring hotel. Si. I was able to exchange 120 USD for 60,000 Chilean pesos, 30,000 of which would cover our park access. The remaining 30,000 had to be budgeted carefully, a concept neither my husband nor me are very savvy with.

It was at this hospitable location that we were directed to our fuel source 15 minutes up the road to take care of Desperate Need #2. Before we left the hotel, I had befriended a baby gato that was killing me with its cute mewing in the parking lot until we nearly killed it when it crawled under the freaking car when we needed to back up and leave.

The rest reads like a hybrid drama/horror movie: I had to tempt the kitty far from the car so my husband could start it up and maneuver it for exiting, at which point my guilt-ridden goodbyes to el gato were replaced with the shrill yell, “Open the door! OPEN THE DOOR!!” as I ran to the car to out-chase the kitten running after me. You see, the door on the passenger side of our ancient VW Polo always had to be opened from the inside because it was broken. Regardless, when I looked back in the midst of screaming bloody-murder, the kitten had since stopped following me a great distance off; it was instead preoccupied with new people who’d just driven in and likely thought I was an American Psycho not only ditching a poor kitten but running screaming from it and trying to hop into a moving vehicle. The pièce de résistance would have been if my husband, in trying to make a speedy getaway, had dropped the transmission right there.

Ah, but returning to the Gas Quest, we drove to where the hotel had directed us. The owner of whatever that establishment was informed us this wasn’t where we could get gas, yet at the last-minute called out to offer to sell us some. We took his word on the price, and our 4 litres were delivered to us in a juice bottle and “pumped” into the tank with a jerry-rigged device that likewise appeared to be made of some sort of beverage container…

When we got back to our site with a tank filled in unorthodox fashion, we found there were slim pickin’s at the wee campsite store for dinner, so we thought long and hard about how to allocate our remaining pesos: 14,000 to dinner at the restaurant since there was zero available we could cook ourselves (unless we desired a Starburst/marshmallow/M&M bouillabaisse), and I think another 12,000 to water, oatmeal, marmalade, and firewood in prep for that night’s warmth and this morning’s breakfast. This newfound necessity for frugality, however, didn’t stop us from investing good American dough in a bottle of wine (Chilean merlot) to have with dinner, the very tonic that probably contributed to the Fight-Heard-Round-the-Camp, which eventually unfolded during said meal.

Ah, well. It was a kiss-and-make-up morning with the new day amidst pink mountains and hills full of rainbows. The melancholy thing about rainbows is that no matter how clearly they appear, when you chase them, there is nothing there. They are fleeting. The magical thing that happened to me this morning, though, was that, just as I was gazing out the window and registering this very thought as I watched a rainbow dissipate on reaching it, another one leapt out from behind the hill almost immediately thereafter, even brighter and more vividly distinct in its color spectrum than the first, if that could have been possible. Huh. Not so fleeting after all, those rainbows…

Well, once we awoke this morning, packed up our tent, and ate our most delicious oatmeal/marmalade-combo, we washed our dishes, got the auto packed, resigned ourselves to a 2nd day without showering, and set out around 9:30-10:00am Argentine time to retrace our steps out of the park—but not without making a wee side excursion for a brief and easy hike to a nearby waterfall. Well, easy in the wide-gravel-path-and-low-incline sense, fierce in the wind-is-so-strong-it’s-as-though-the-wicked-mountains-don’t-want-us-here sense. The spattering rain was actually painful, and the lake waters whipped upwards in broad plumes of spray…not a bad day to not spend in the park. The hovering clouds prevented the fantastic views of the torres we had yesterday, so perhaps it was just as well we had to leave…

…until, holy mother-f***ing s***. Life became The Amazing Race.

We had just barely enough gas to reach Esperanza, the next town with ever so slightly more commerce than the “towns” we’d been through—indeed, the beacon of “hope” (the town’s namesake) we relied on to employ automated machines accepting credit cards, perhaps.

Instead, as we rolled into our 2nd station of the day (the 3rd fuel source of the previous 24 hours), why no, in fact, they do not accept credito and apologize for the inconvenience.

We drive to the café across the street, with persisting hope that they will exchange cambio or accept the plastic, but our situation became increasingly hopeless. And we still had almost 300km more to drive.

As we walked out to the lot, a tour bus just unloaded its human cargo for leg-stretching at the café. I told my husband they might be our only hope, that we would have to beg for “money, honey” (yes, I used those words in a time of crisis). I wouldn’t have considered it had I not seen it successfully executed so many times on The Amazing Race after non-elimination rounds. Sadly, reality TV differs significantly from “reality” when you don’t have a cameraman running around with you. Who knew what leverage that could be internationally, when good Samaritans will come out of the woodwork for their 15-minutes of fame.

After asking a tour member for cambio given our predicament, he insisted that the station would offer credit as an option. This was seconded by another man, despite our insistence that they didn’t. We got back in our car, pooled our cash and held our breath; I pondered anything that we could possibly pawn. Though we saw a credit card machine on the station counter, just beyond loomed the same sign we saw before stating cards wouldn’t be taken. It is not often that one finds oneself in the situation of slapping down 3 different denominations of currency on a gas station counter, asking for the attendant to please accept. He and a coworker thumbed through our combined 4,000 Chilean pesos, 2 Argentine pesos, and 4-odd U.S. dollars (barely exceeding 10 USD in total, and our U.S. coins no doubt being worthless to them), which they somehow deemed acceptable and worth 15 litres to us.

With assurance that this would bring us back to El Calafate (and an actual 17 litres added to our malnourished tank out of the goodness of their hearts), we were on our way with sighs of relief, a grin on our faces, a sense of adventure, and not a little lesson learned on not taking modern alternatives to cold, hard cash for granted.

The tranquility of yesterday’s sunshine and low winds, though, remains at the forefront of my mind when I think of Torres Del Paine. I think of its aqua-grey lakes and how their waves sounded like a million pearls tapping and colliding as they cascaded and rolled over one another in crashing to the shore. I think of the twilight looked upon through a teardrop-shaped tent window. The experience wasn’t restful, but the memories already are.

And that much more so three years later. We can’t wait to return…with a wallet loaded with local currency and tank filled with fuel. 🙂


On the Borderline

Oh goodie, this is a fun one—a game of sorts for those days when you fear the tap to your creativity has run dry and you just can’t write.  Well, you can.  Given some direction—rules, if you will—you might be surprised when you spring a leak 🙂

The Prompt:

Page 41 of Room to Write asks us to choose one of the following words:  fence, road, boil, or fall.  Then:

1. Write the first words that come to mind when you think of your chosen words.  Write them in a list form until you hit the bottom of the page (or your computer screen…I decided to do 20).

2.  Keeping the list in the exact same order, develop a story in which every line uses one of these words.

Response:

He rode the fence on the issue.

Sure, he realized the importance of establishing boundaries,

but was this something to fall under such restriction?

He was already on the border of sanity as it was.

One thing he was never good about was choices,

options that left him speculating which path to take and leaping to cynical conclusions as to what menaced him ahead on each.

In this way, even the gift of choice wound barbed wire round his psyche

and threatened to strangle his pride with the chain-links of fear he entangled himself within.

He never was a man of conviction, willingly crossing picket lines to not rock the boat with authority

and practically tying their strings onto himself as if he were some wooden puppet,

his thoughts and actions the property of someone else, always.

Facing the crossroads that he was now, he tried to envision vast farmland

dotted with livestock and caressed by the open breezes.

In this vision was also a garden; yes, there must be a garden in the back,

serving as the division of pleasure and labor,

where his legal troubles could be checked at the gate and all he would know of the world was a blooming fortress.

He then frowned at the way even his fancies imposed a natural barrier around him,

and wondered if he wouldn’t constantly need something to hold him back—balancing on the precipice of order and chaos as he was—

yes, something that would keep him penned in for his own protection and the safety of the world below.

He struck a match against the brick ledge, the final demarcation he would draw.

Reflection:

Today is definitely one of my days of feeling groggy and uncreative—there’s so much to take care of on all levels of my life, so my preoccupation with it all is almost paralyzing me into doing none of it.  In light of these kinds of days, I really appreciate an activity like this that confines me within a short set of rules; for as much as I think I’m a creative spirit, I’ve always functioned well within parameters.  Maybe that’s why the word “fence” is the one that leapt out at me 🙂

Anyways, if you ever find  yourself in a writing funk, I can promise you this is a good way to shake up your stagnant creative juices; there’s no pressure to how this sort  of piece will turn out, just that you follow the rules and keep on to the end.  Maybe it’ll go straight to the rubbish bin, maybe you’ll actually pull something from it to recycle in another work.  Who knows, but this took me less than 10 minutes, so surely you can afford that little bit of time to see what results.  It also has potential as a good lesson in working with motifs/extended metaphors in following through on a theme.

So, obviously I use these writing prompts to get me going, but I’m curious about YOU.  What is it that gets your brain-blood flowing and inspired to write again during periods of creative dormancy?


Same Difference

The Prompt:

Page 39 of Room to Write asks us to draw at least 25 comparisons between 2 different things:  something that’s around you right now, and something else that’s either an object, person, or concept.

I’m going to compare the old Victorian church outside my window to marriage 😉

Response:

1.  Soulful, can inspire

2.  Houses both joy and grief

3.  Immense, sometimes imposing

4.  Intricately constructed; always something new to see from a different angle

5.  What appears outside is not always indicative of/relevant to what’s occurring inside

6.  Wears with time

7.  Built one brick at a time

8.  Requires faith and commitment

9.  Can be alive with song and community

10. Is empty when neglected, hollow and echoey

11. Fundamentally the same structure throughout time, yet must adapt the way it operates to change

12.  Needs to be scheduled into a busy life

13.  The lushness surrounding it periodically gets chopped away, but does grow back, and more lushly for it

14.  Is a vessel of new life, on varying levels

15.  You get out of it what you put into it

16.  Can house hypocrisy

17.  Can’t please everyone all of the time

18.  Needs constant maintenance

19.  Provides sanctuary

20.  Provides education

21.  Requires attentiveness—not just hearing, but listening

22.  Requires reciprocal communication

23.  Requires an open heart and mind

24.  Cannot operate without thankless hard work

25.  Comes around collecting, making you pay now and then

Reflection:

These were the first 25 things to come to mind, and I’m sure that some of them are redundant with each other—I found it getting really hard by around 18 or so!  A very fun and brain-flexing activity, though, when trying to assess all that is similar between things otherwise so dissimilar to one another.  Writing involves an abundance of comparisons, after all, as such devices as metaphor and simile help us communicate more vividly and stylistically, drawing parallels within the universe to illustrate the connectedness of all things.


The Kitchen Culprits

"I suspect: Colonel Mustard, in the Kitchen, with the Candlestick."

The Prompt:

On page 38 of Room to Write, Bonni Goldberg describes the kitchen as a “symbolic place” that is “well stocked with associations, memories, and metaphors.  Today, then, we are to write about our kitchens as though we are detectives on the scene, conducting a forensic analysis of sorts as we use visual clues to deduce what may have happened there and how the kitchen reflects who we are.

Response:

With trepidation, I approach the kitchen.  Squinting as I scan the grey and black-splotched stone of the countertops, I pan my head to the kitchen island.  I crouch like a jungle cat to bring my eyes level with its flat surface and frown at the otherwise camouflaged crumbs to be spied at this angle; I straighten and peer over the infected area more closely, pressing a fingertip into the crusty debris and raising it to my tongue:  digestive biscuit…dark chocolate…Marks & Spencer.  And do I detect a hint of sesame, poppy, and pumpkin seed cracker?  Hmm…before I can analyze further, my attention is usurped by a darkened stain a mere inches away.  Blood!  No, it’s not red.  Urine!  Ewwww, no, we may leave crumbs, but we’re not that uncivilized (at least I’m not).  Tea!  Yes.  Dripped when pouring yerba mate from my iron Japanese tea pot.  Phew.  Aside from that, a benign burgundy pasta bowl rests on its wrought iron stand, bearing oranges, apples, and bananas (green-turned-yellow ones, only…the second they start to spot and infuse the room with that banana smell, they’re outta here!), standing squatly beside the coin jar and miscellaneous utility bills.

I redirect my focus, then, on the longer, L-shaped countertop comprising the kitchen corner.  A food-stained cookbook (used at long last!  Hurrah, newly discovered inner Domestic Goddess!) reclines on its wrought iron easel next to the paper towels, obscured only by the blue Brita-filter water pitcher that hangs here due to no space in the wee London-sized fridge as well as my aversion to drinking cold water because it hurts my teeth and throat.  Adding to the clutter on this side of the sink are a couple crystal wine goblets with little puddles of deep crimson collected at the bottom.  The sink is suspiciously empty…yet the anal-retentive way in which the hand soap, lotion, washing-up liquid, and sponge are aligned behind it indicates that exposed dirty dishes are not an option in this space.  Turning my head further right, I see a retro-style chrome toaster tucked into the corner, chillin’ with its buddies the french press, tea pot, and all the tall cooking/serving utensils standing to attention atop tiny silver stones inside a clear vase.  Which brings us to the stove…hmm…more crumbs and stains, and a red tea kettle splattered with grease.  This doesn’t happen on my watch; the husband clearly was the last to cook.  Salt, pepper, knife block, and corkscrew are still present and accounted for on the stove’s other side.

But wait a minute.  Something is amiss.  I turn round in circles and rove my line of sight all about the wooden cabinetry that surrounds me.  Where are all the major appliances?!  Thief!  Whodunit?!  Inhaling and exhaling rapidly, my heart thumping against my breastbone, I slowly sink to a squat as the scene starts to flicker like a film reel, and the words Crouching Tenant, Hidden Dishwasher splay across the silver screen.  I extend my hand toward the sleek metal handle protruding horizontally from one of the cabinet doors; held in my clammy grip, it yields with creaking resistance as I draw it down like a drawbridge.  The dishwasher!  A musty, swampy smell wafts out as I pull out the lower drawer:  dishes are segregated into different quadrants by dish, small plate, large plate, and miscellaneous.  It becomes evident I was the last to load the washer, as they would otherwise be arranged haphazardly in such a way that only a third of the dishes would be able to fit, indeed if they made it into here from the sink or countertop at all…I shudder at the thought and return my gaze to the efficient logic that does, thank goodness, reside in front of me, then close the door.

I stand with fists clenched, resolved to find the rest.  In a flurry, I throw open all the cabinet doors to reveal what lays behind, and it’s as though the kitchen is a life-size Advent calendar when the hidden goodies are revealed:  a fridge, a freezer, a washer-dryer—you heard me.  Remember, it’s London.  Why not do laundry in the kitchen?  Why not risk perishing a painful death in flames when the water from the washing cycle drains out and is automatically replaced with searing heat?  Just as I think it, a vibration unbeknownst to me earlier begins to thrum with more aggression, shaking the tile at my feet.  I look to the washer-dryer and notice a spin cycle in play, remembering that what the spouse lacks in dishwasher-loading-strategy (will be commencing his virtual training soon via the Tetris game) is readily compensated for by his penchant for doing laundry.  I become more cognizant than I’d like to be of all the untoned bits hanging off my body as they shake along with the machine.  The humming rises in volume as my breasts and biceps begin to blur, and I dive to the carpeting in the adjoining living room with hands clasping my head as the drum propels our terrified clothing about like a jet engine about to send our flat airborne.

A minute later, all is calm.  Quiet.  I crack an eye open to scan the perimeter before making another move.  Turning myself about, I army-crawl back to the washer and wait for the click to signal I can open the door.  As I do so, hot steam rudely breathes in my face, and my husband’s boxer shorts look to me hopefully as they cling to the edges of the drum and leave my panties to fend for themselves when they peel off and fall to the bottom.  With a pissy sigh, I climb to my knees, then feet.  My inner Domestic Goddess has long since fallen and rolled down Mount Olympus, so she mutters under her breath as she trudges out of the kitchen to retrieve the drying racks and thinks about tending to that damn dirty countertop.  At any rate, case closed.

Reflection:

If anything, this exercise has reminded me I need to clean my kitchen 🙂

I think it would have been interesting to have tried this activity a couple years ago when I was still single and living alone to compare/contrast with how I approached it here.  It seems clear that many of my present kitchen’s connotations relate to my adjustment to cohabitation and those little domestic idiosyncrasies that occur between couples.  The dynamic of the setting is also influenced by virtue of being in a different city and country; there’s a cultural impact on physical features and layout that differs from what I had in the States.

Overall, I enjoy this sort of “investigation” based on visual clues and have used it overtly already in my current manuscript—there’s a scene I included for comic relief in which my protagonist wakes up after a night of heavy wine-drinking and follows the trail of evidence she herself left behind to figure out what she did before passing out.  Based on a true story, of course… 🙂


The Monkey Meltdown

Real Bloggers United

What happens when you combine a tiki, whiteboard, and woman pushed to her brink?

To start off on a tangent, I’m back in London and rubbing together what brain cells I have to work with during my lingering jet-lag…zzzzzzzz…

I promise to get back up in my tree and swingin’ on the vines again this week, but first allow me to share another guest post of mine that featured on Real Bloggers United (“RBU“). This is a personal memoir that I offered up for RBU’s July theme, “The Day My Patience Died.”

 

No Child Left Behind…That Can’t Bring His or Her Own Self Forward

“We dance round in a ring and suppose,
But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.”
Robert Frost

There was a time last year when my patience was whittled to its tender core, its raw, throbbing nerve exposed until it one day collapsed in the throes of death.

Allow me to provide some context.

Three years before my patience died, I began my career as a high school English teacher after leaving the Finance field. It was a challenging first year of self-doubt and pining for the safe confines of my cubicle, questioning if I’d made the right decision in sacrificing money and lifestyle to pursue this entirely different path. But I persevered—it was a shift in identity, but one I’d chosen, and it taught me that it isn’t all about me after all…Helping teenagers recognize their abilities and become the best versions of themselves is a calling and a blessing.

Three months before my patience died, I moved to London as a newlywed. It had been a summer of transition—of ending a school year, of beginning a marriage, of packing…of resigning. After a few months of settling in, I registered with a London teaching agency, interviewed, and found a long-term substitute (supply) position on the outskirts of the city, to commence just after the New Year.

Three weeks before my patience died, I was touring Ireland with my husband on our way back from visiting the States for Christmas. That rolling landscape, unfathomably green for January, helped to quell what was steadily curdling within me: panic. Panic that I’d accepted the job within hours of flying home for the holidays; panic that I was now only days away from starting; panic that the school provided me with no materials so I could plan my units. For those who haven’t taught, I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to plan out lessons in advance. Sure, you end up having to modify on the fly depending on what’s working and what isn’t any given minute, but that’s exactly why you need the game-plan coming into it. The unpredictable is inevitably going to happen, so having an organized, logical basis to work with is all that will give you some semblance of control when the day sucks you into its current, taking you where it may as it tosses and tumbles you on its foaming pedagogical waves.

Three days before my patience died, I was poising to quit, and the next day I phoned the teaching agency to request replacement. My patience was already on its death-bed, you see, and it was time to call in the sick nurse. A unique intersection of factors (which I endearingly call “The Perfect Storm”) had gotten me down—the emotional trauma of relocating as an accompanying spouse, the aforementioned lack of resources/support from the school as I tried to adjust to a new national curriculum and procedures, the guilt that my lack of UK training could possibly sabotage student achievement. But the one factor that proved to be the last straw to break the proverbial camel’s back, however, lasted right up until…

…three seconds before I banged my Tiki stick on the floor and spontaneously decided on a new methodology.

(FYI, the Tiki is a carved wooden stick I bought in New Zealand and use as a pointing tool and “zero noise” signal—no, not for corporal punishment or conjuring hexes…yet).

Right. It was time for a change in tack. Why? Because after breaking up three fist-fights my first week and continuing to enjoy that privilege over the next, I was a bit tired. I came from a suburban school district in which a light congratulatory pat on a student’s shoulder could’ve gotten me sued, and here I was practically shoving my foot against one student’s face to gain better leverage to pry the other off and grip him (or her!) in a bear-hug, thereby preventing another pounding. And when they weren’t fighting, they were incessantly hopping out of their seats and jabbering off topic, as students will do.

As a result, lessons never reached fruition due to behavior I admittedly couldn’t manage effectively (despite learning I could be quite the physical powerhouse when need be). The advice I always received from the toughened urban teachers was to yell and yell loudly, which I really did try. But aside from hurting my throat, it really didn’t make a difference and only left me not liking who I was by the end of the school day. Ultimately, I knew I had to stay true to myself, and if that wasn’t enough, well then, I wasn’t meant to be in this position.

Nonetheless, I still had to survive the last week. And, as an educator, I needed to teach! So my patience finally died when I handed my Years 9s a worksheet and asked them to silently read it and write their responses. On seeing that only six students had, in fact, followed the directions, I was done.

It was time to leave children behind.

“Okay, if you, you, you, and you, you, and you could please gather your things and come up here to the front of the room, please,” I asked as I pointed to each of the six diligent students. Might I add that these were also my quietest kids, thus the most reluctant to participate in class, especially when their shy ideas were squashed by their more unconstructive, attention-seeking peers.

I could tell the chosen students were confused, but I warmly encouraged them to continue toward the front. As for the disengaged kids already sitting there:

“All right. You guys’ll have to move back.”

I’m still surprised how no one really questioned me at this point. The obedient and disobedient alike followed my instructions and got up. They loved being out of their seats, after all.

“Okay, so you six, let’s bring these tables a bit forward, and if you two don’t mind just bringing those chairs round so we’re close to the whiteboard. There, that’s great.”

They got themselves situated, and, within close range of the Chosen Six, I proceeded to explain in a normal speaking voice (i.e., not the teaching one that speaks over students instead of bringing their volume down):

“Okay, so this isn’t going to be easy, but what I need you guys to do is concentrate really hard on listening to me. Just ignore those yahoos in back. Let them screw off; we’re not going to care. I can’t teach someone who doesn’t want to learn, so I’m letting them choose for themselves whether they want an education or they don’t.” At this point, I wasn’t even looking at the outlying students, only my Chosen Six. “I refuse to raise my voice—we should be able to speak civilly, so just stay with me, and we’ll be okay.”

With their modest, smiling faces nodding in assent, I proceeded to ask the same question that minutes earlier had met with blank expressions because three-fourths of the class hadn’t read what they were supposed to. This time, my quietest students had the confidence to answer.

“Yes, very good!” I said, promoting their esteem further by writing responses on the whiteboard, transcribing their intelligence for posterity (at least until I had to erase it for the next period…).

Their smiles grew and their eagerness to share more ideas flourished in multiple raised hands. There was no question they felt the buzz of receiving individualized attention and having earned status among an elite few.

The Unchosen Ones were quick to pick up on this. And, after a time, some of them wanted in on it, too.

One girl who typically looked at me with a deadened stare from the back of the room while sucking her thumb was never one of my allies in successful lesson execution, usually only pulling her thumb out long enough to share in the smacking and unruly chatter that prevailed back there. This day, though, she collected her bag and stood to walk to the front of the room. She politely asked for another handout, as hers had been balled up and thrown elsewhere by then.

I should probably address at this point what, precisely, was going on in the back of the classroom while I was conducting this little experiment. Well, brazen tomfoolery, that’s what. A little over half of the other students were up on their feet and throwing paper wads into the rubbish bin that they’d positioned on top of a table. They were yelling and jabbing and singing with Dionysian abandon given this new, unusual liberty. The seated ones, however, eventually turned to face the front again, and from their eye contact, I could tell their ears were straining to hear what was transpiring among the Chosen Six.

Or should I say Chosen Seven now that the thumb-sucker had joined us and started offering up her ideas—very good ones at that. A minute later, two other girls left their seats to drag them up front as well. One by one, some boys made the move, too, including the one who’d started to yell to me, “Hey, Miss! Hey, why aren’t you teaching us? Miss, why won’t you look at me? Hey!”

I handed each newcomer a fresh handout and welcomed them with, “In coming up here, you’re choosing to learn. If you can’t participate in this lesson, I’d honestly prefer you go back and do whatever else you want. I won’t get mad; you won’t get in trouble. It’s entirely your choice.”

They stayed with me.

By this time, given the loud ruckus in the back managed well enough by only a few boys, the Chosen Seven + Several More (who shall henceforth be named The Ones Who Chose Education) had felt the need to abandon the tables altogether and pull their chairs closer to the whiteboard, forming a tight semicircle around me.

By the end of the period, only three boys remained in the back.

“This was our best lesson, guys! Awesome job; I’m really proud,” I congratulated as The Ones Who Chose Education exited after the bell rang.

But as my day continued, other challenging classes had to be endured, and I was yet again demoralized by the time I returned home that evening.

Consequently, the next day as I walked back to the classroom to confront my Year 9s again, I had already given up on the experiment and figured I’d just resume instruction (or lack thereof) as usual and engage in survival mode for the last couple days. In trepidation and defeat, I approached the classroom door. I passed through the threshold, and almost audibly gasped at what I saw…

* * *

There was a day I had believed my patience died, but I lived to tell the tale. And live on I did with a renewed sense of satisfaction and confidence, as well as a question on my mind:

Had my patience died that day, or did what didn’t kill it only make it stronger?

* * *

I passed through the threshold, and almost audibly gasped at what I saw: a group of Year 9 students who arrived earlier than me. I had caught them out of their seats and right in the middle of—

—pushing tables back and dragging chairs forward. They were rearranging the classroom into exactly the way we’d left it the day before. They were making the decision for me.

I followed their cue, then, and conducted the lesson in this way again.

Two students (only one from the day before while the other had been absent) shot baskets between empty tables filling the open expanse of the rear two-thirds of the classroom.

Twenty others squished together with their notebooks on their laps in a semicircle around the whiteboard, choosing Education.

 

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