Category Archives: Writing Prompts

In the Year 2030

So, folks, this week we’ve found ourselves the victims of an Internet hoax that claimed yesterday, 6 July 2010, was the very day that Marty McFly and Doc flew into the future from 1985 in Back to the Future‘s sequel.  The evidence of this was compelling:  a photograph of the time-traveling DeLorean’s dashboard (above).  Uh, well…see here’s the thing about living in the “futuristic” society that we do today:  computer technology has brought us a little something called “Photoshop.”  The actual date?  21 October 2015.

Do you realize what this means???!!! We still have five more years to invent the hoverboard.  Wicked.

In any case, I found this “news” of transcending time and space to be quite timely with regard to the next writing prompt…

The Prompt:

On page 36, Room to Write asks us to choose a fantasy of what our lives will be like in 20 years.  We’re supposed to “develop a reasonable plot that would make the fantasy work out.”  Otherwise, we can try the same exercise using a beloved character from either our own writing or a treasured story.

Response:

Well, I don’t know how “reasonable” this is, but in my fantasy future life, I’ll have published a few novels, earning not enough for a sustainable living on my own, but enough to supplement our travel budget—or, wait a minute, if this is my fantasy, I’ll up it and say that it’s also making the mortgage payments on that stone cottage in the English countryside that we’ll maintain so we can still get our UK fix after having returned to the States (eighteen years earlier) to start a family.

[okay, I’m grabbing the DeLorean’s stick and shifting this into present tense—it’ll be cooler, like I’m speaking to you from the future]

For we do have a family—Fate decided it for us before we managed to overcome selfishness and laziness on our own 🙂  Three children, two in high school, one in middle school.  Ever since the offspring have been old enough to poop and wipe by themselves, we’ve been travelling with them abroad as well as domestically (so they know how to appreciate their own country as well), taking them to London to show them where Maw-n-Paw started their married life together, pointing up to the very window out which Mumsy would stare and formulate her fictional storylines in penning her first novel.

Not much has changed with the old neighborhood, essentially as little as had changed in the century-and-a-half prior to then.  Well, the doors are painted different colors, and the streets need some paving—we have those hoverboards as well as hovercars by then, so they are no longer a priority!

“Roads?  Where we’re going, we won’t need roads.” – Dr. Emmett Brown, Back to the Future

[…oh, c’mon, I’m spotting the envisioners of Back to the Future an extra fifteen years here]

Wellll…no, okay, even twenty years out, I think we’ll be lucky if we’ve even converted to 100% alternative fuel automobiles, so I really don’t see the hover-anything happening.  Rather, every petrol station has outlets where we can plug in our electric cars, or hoses for those autos that run solely on baby shampoo.

I still sit at a desk tap-tappin’ my stories, even though computer keyboards are now archaic—replaced with laser light sensors that project from a paper-thin pad.  I decide to still play it old-school, vowing to use my last-generation Mac keyboard until it goes kaput, just as I had with my Jetta, dearly departed about thirteen years ago…(resto en paz, my little German car manufactured in Mexico).  I listen to my same old alternative rock 80s tunes, but not on the computer—I now upload my iTunes (just like the rest of my apps) by scanning the chip embedded in my wrist against my monitor whenever I order new music; the music then pipes into my inner ears through my veins, so no headphones necessary.  If there’s a video, it projects inside my eyes.  There is now an app for dreams.

My parents are still alive, and they are defying science with their amazing health and sharp minds.  There is no question they will be able to see our children off to university (not the one where I teach literature and film studies, though, having earned my PhD a decade ago), just as they did for my nieces and nephews.  Our Illinois home is a warm and velvety, pristinely preserved 19th-century house with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelved library with REAL BOOKS (they’re not obsolete yet) and a hidden door, an attic bedroom with a dusty sock monkey resting in a box, and an echoey phonograph reproduction playing my Artie Shaw—and, okay, my John Hughes movie soundtracks thanks to the vinyl records a friend gave me for my birthday way back in 2008.  My siblings still live near us and make me laugh as hard as they did twenty years ago, and the twenty years before that.  Some things never do change.

Otherwise, when it’s life at the English cottage with its durable thatched roof, it’s Wellies and soil beneath fingernails, raking the earth to make a garden bloom and feed us.  It is quiet.  The few cars along the narrow roads no longer make noise.  The iTune chip in my arm is muted.  It is only the insect-leg violins and fluting birds that orchestrate the score of a life of expectation now fulfilled.

Reflection:

Well, I had to stop it somewhere.  I look back on this and notice all the aspects of my life I inevitably left out—What job will my husband have?  What about friends?  In-laws?  Relatives?  What about the negatives?  The illness?  The loss?  What’s going on in the world?  Politics?  Other technologies?  Pop culture?  And on and on and on…it makes me ponder why I did describe what I did, what I chose to idealize and stretch as far as fantasy would allow me…and still feeling that I didn’t play with it quite enough or feel comfortable with what extent I could.  There was the temptation to write science fiction, yet the reality is that 20 years isn’t really that far out.  Though technology has made tremendous strides in the last couple decades (ah, to recall a time before email and mobiles), I don’t believe the same goes for people and lifestyles in general—so this is more a study in how an individual might evolve over time, the outcomes of choosing certain paths over others.

But if I did want to tinker with creative futuristic imaginings, I’d definitely have to leap waaaay farther out than 20 years…further than Back to the Future II‘s 30 years…something more like…the Year 3000:

So consult the crystal ball and do tell—what does the future hold for YOU or your characters?

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If The Shoe Fits

Ever see the movie Citizen Kane?  Well, there’s a montage relatively early in the film following the marriage of Charles Foster Kane.  The photos above do not capture the complete sequence (please click on any photo or here to view the full scene), but what we see from left to right is the progression of Charles and Emily’s marriage.  There are a few cinematic devices at work to show us in less than 3 minutes’ time that this couple gradually grows apart from one another emotionally:  mise-en-scene (setting/props), music, dialogueacting (body language, tone, proximity), and costume.  To focus on this last element in particular, we see the neckline of Emily’s garments climb ever higher as the cut and fabric of her gowns likewise shed their romance to become increasingly structured and rigid.  In this way, what a person wears can speak volumes for who they are and how they feel at a given moment in time.

The Prompt:

Page 35 of Room to Write asks us to write about clothes today.  We can “take a character shopping,” describe clothing we like, dislike, or has otherwise made a strong impression on us, or simply free-write beginning with the words “clothes” or “clothing.”

Response:

Oh goodie.  I’m going to take my character “Margaret” shopping, or at least raid her closet to determine what it says about her.

During Part I of her tale, I would take her shopping at a vintage shop for accessories as well as a contemporary store selling vintage-inspired clothing such as Anthropologie.  After that, it’s shoe-shopping!

– In the first chapters, she’s seen wearing “eggshell white kid leather driving gloves,” a “cameo choker” and “kitschy rhinestone cocktail ring.”

– In the later half of Part I when she has temporarily moved, thus only packs what she would need for a few months:

“The separation from her stored goods had been achingly painful—her weakest moment being when she cradled a pair of claret suede leather stilletos before lovingly packing them away with assurances they would be okay, that Momma would be back, as though tucking children in bed and promising no monsters would prey on them in the night.”

– And though impractical, you can still at this point hear her “high heels echoing off the walls as they clacked on the wood and cobbles.”

Towards the end of Part I, however, we already see how a shift in Margaret’s lifestyle results in a shift of her wardrobe as well.  At this point, I’d probably still be taking her to vintage shops, but, instead of jewelry, it would be for clothing more in the vein of Urban Outfitters.  These shopping excursions would be infrequent, though…probably just the one time.

– Getting pensive in the shower one morning, she finds herself wondering:

“What if she fell out of the habit of nine-to-five, of suiting up in business casual and charging at the world in proactive high-heeled fury?  She had been gravitating quite naturally to the irregularity of her schedule and informality of denim and limp old cardigans thrown over graphic tees, of every-other-day unwashed hair thrown into a man’s tweed cap.”

– Though she doesn’t wear jewelry anymore, she still accessorizes her t-shirts with linen scarves (that’s an effort, anyway), yet after she compliments her friend’s appearance and doesn’t receive one in return, she “shuffle[s] one now glaringly plain denim leg over the other.”

– We frequently see her in “her cardigan—that worn, pilled one of charcoal grey that had been her uniform for some time.”

– When our dear protagonist eventually seeks counseling for an issue you’ll better understand when you read the book ;), we do see a brief return to her previous style at the first two sessions:

“Margaret sat up and, knocking over one of her classic black pumps (she’d made a decided effort to dress up to par for this professional appointment, and had only removed the shoes to protect the couch cushions), reached for her handbag.”

“Margaret self-consciously fingered the vertical ruffles and cloth-covered buttons that extended to just below her chin.  Her cap sleeves were trimmed in a dainty band of lace.”

In doing this, she admits to her psychologist:  “It’s like I’m acting the role of myself…I’d forgotten, though, how much faking enthusiasm can actually generate the real thing.  It’s like if I make myself smile long enough, I can convince myself I’m happy.”

– By the third session, however:

“Margaret whimpered as she picked at the pills on her grey cardigan.”

“She tapped her Converse All-Stars around with her striped cotton toes.”

Aside from that, Margaret really only window-browses now when we go shopping.  She’s got her comfortable, casual staples and has no qualms repeating their wear often.  This isn’t to say, though, that she doesn’t still know how to turn up the Attractive Factor in her new lower-maintenance way:

– “Before he had left, however, she did not catch directly at his sleeve just as he opened the unit door so much as produce an identical effect by the way she stood at her bedroom doorway in just an over-sized t-shirt.”

Reflection:

Now that I’m almost finished with Margaret’s story line, I can look back and reflect that I’ve certainly been making deliberate clothing choices for her to mirror her life stages and emotional states.  However, I don’t describe much more than what I have above, as I personally feel that too much physical description of a character makes me as a reader too conscious of the writer behind the story, and it inhibits my own imagination.  I want my readers to be able to flesh out characters with their own brushtrokes, guided only by occasional suggestion. Hopefully, the descriptions that are there seem appropriate and are not too cliche for what they represent.

What do you think about characterizing through clothing?  What does it reveal or conceal?  Are appearances always as they “seam”? (pun fully intended—you ought to know how corny I am by now)


Kiss-and-Tell


The Prompt:

* blush * Today Room to Write, that saucy minx, is asking us to write about kissing (p.34).  As Bonni Goldberg says, “Besides being fun, it is an especially good practice for writing scenes between two people.”

All right then, I suppose I can share a snippet from a scene that I previously wrote while under the influence of wine (when I feel my most floozy) and the very next day yanked from the story.  It really wasn’t the suitable direction for the characters, but I’ve kept it within reach under the file name, “The Gratuitous.”  At any rate, this picks up from when a couple of friends have fallen asleep on the sofa together.

Response:

A couple stirrings later, she felt within a tighter squeeze and then a light brushing of lips atop her hair.  She thought she’d been mistaken, but no; the puckering sound of a fully carried-out kiss had sounded against her scalp, then her forehead, and was now moving in slow succession down the bridge of her nose until—

Their lips met.  Both of their eyes closed.  Soft at first, then hardening and spreading with each contact, more slippery each time.  Their tongues met, and together they began to swell and ebb with one another, pressing and pulling away only to heave again toward each other once more as their tongues now spiraled and lunged against their mutual provocation.

Reflection:

Oh, there was more involved, but I’ve restricted it to only the kissing part.  I have no desire (“desire” being the operative word) to become the next Danielle Steel, though kudos to her for, you know, targeting a market well.  Granted, I cut the scene because I felt it wasn’t right for these two characters to hook up, but I do tend to be prudish on stuff like this and wonder why.  I have no qualms thinking it or feeling it or even writing it down, but when it comes to my finished product, I censor.  Is it because there is so much of the gratuitous out there when, by definition, it’s unnecessary in furthering plot or character?  This point makes me recall the film, The Player, with Tim Robbins, who plays the character Griffin Mill:

Griffin Mill:  It lacked certain elements that we need to market a film successfully.
June:  What elements?
Griffin Mill:  Suspense, laughter, violence. Hope, heart, nudity, sex. Happy endings…
June:  What about reality?

The film itself includes the formulaic “hope, heart, nudity, sex” elements, just not where you’d conventionally expect them to be, thereby turning the formula on its head as a means of satire.

That being said, there must be a reason why the formula does exist.  Human passions prevail for the masses.  And what about the story line that has a real message to put forth that necessarily requires a bit of physical relations?  My sister, who writes under the pen name Nicki Elson, addresses this in her blog post, “Should I Have Faded to Black?” with regard to her recently published debut novel, Three Daves.  Set during the 1980’s on a central Illinois college campus, its protagonist (Jennifer) is one of the last American virgins  who seeks compromise between coming of age sexually while still holding out for the elusive “one.”  Jen’s solution to this moral predicament is both a practical and hilarious journey for her as she navigates through three boyfriends who share the same name but entirely different personalities—namely, David, Dave, and Big “D.”  To tell a tale like this, it is appropriate for the details to be explicit:

“She tentatively licked at his lips with the tip of her tongue to try and coax him in.  He teasingly flicked his tongue at hers but refused to take the plunge.  Jen whimpered in frustration, and he ended his torture, finally pushing his way into her mouth.  Jen sucked him in gratefully and clutched his head to hers to make sure he didn’t get away.” (p.67)

Whatever other sexual techniques we might learn during such scenes, it’s in the simple kiss when Jennifer genuinely loses herself in emotion.  The kiss, though only “first base,” can truly be the most sensual, intimate, and affectionate act.  And let’s not forget that kisses can also merely be pecks on the cheek or an innocent idea blown off the palm of a hand.

I’ve spun the bottle and now it’s pointing at YOU.  How about parting your lips and saying what you think on this topic?  What are your thoughts on kissing as an expressive act between people and its role in literature?  Have you ever read/written an effective portrayal of two characters kissing that you’d care to share?


Stomach Growls…


The Prompt:

Today, page 32 of Room to Write asks us to write about what we hunger for, be it literal or figurative.  Something to consider as well are the experiences that either satisfy or intensify that hunger.

Response:

Physically, I hunger for cheese, bread, and chocolate in all their incarnations, yet emotionally

…I hunger for purpose...for the sense that I am doing everything I could be doing to put my abilities to best use…for exerting the effort to live for others and not just myself…for finding the words that could possibly express the shades of meaning and atmosphere and convictions that I feel…for inspiration that will fill my pen and get my fingers tapping on the keyboard with direction again…for knowledge…for the deliciousness of knowing that I could never know everything—so learning will be lifelong—and yet always striving to attain the satisfaction of expertise…for the teachings and imaginations of others that set my mind free and move my heart to feel…I hunger to bring myself into focus against a background of others willing to fade into each other…for an equilibrium that will slow the clocks and speed my steps…for peace of mind that expectations are being met, including my own…for a synergy of intentions and actions…for simplicity and streamlining, a clearing of the clutter in my eyes and ears…for passion in everything I do yet the ability to know when to not care and put it to rest and for others to do the same…for recollection and holding close the memories that are dear or transforming…I hunger for family, for bedtime stories, for a front porch at dawn and dusk.

Reflection:

Primary factors that satisfy my hunger these days are writing, reading, and travel, as they constantly challenge me to reflect on who I am, what purpose I serve in light of what I ought to be, how my life/world-view might be reaffirmed or modified, and how I can continually work to improve myself intellectually and emotionally.

I find that these are also the factors that intensify my hunger, as I’m always left with an incomplete feeling of it never being enough, and I crave for more—more story line, better description, more countryside, better immersion into authentic culture…and where my travels home are concerned, one taste of hugging my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews and kibitzing as usual with old friends is enough to turn me into an addict, leaving the pain of withdrawal ever looming on the horizon in the form of a return flight.  Home is where I always felt full, so given everything I purged in moving abroad, my stomach and heart are left a bit emptier…there is a lot of fun to be had that suffices for a snack, but I’ve had to forage for alternative forms of true nourishment while feeling in a transitory state.

I don’t expect that what I hunger for is the same as anyone else, nor should it be.  That’s why life offers us a menu of assorted cuisine to taste or send back to the chef as we please, a culinary cornucopia of needs and wants to digest, some of us stuffing our faces, some of us grazing, some of us piling it on, some of us liking it on the side…all of us hoping that the bill isn’t too high…and, of course, we all tip differently 😉

Are YOU hungry?  Well then, welcome to McBlogComments; may I take your order?



Slippery When Wet

Just returned from a long bank holiday weekend camping in Devon with some pleasant drives and strolls through Somerset and the Cotswolds as well.  The English countryside with its rolling patchwork of greens and yellows and occasional puffs of white sheep and dairy cows—all accessorized in dense hedges or stony walls and cottages—is certainly an isle of inspiration for a writer.  Be they grasses or cobbles underfoot, the paths one treads here are a return to the natural state and the fundamentals on which we build our lives and stories.

The last writing prompt I followed involved fire; today’s regards that other element that seemed to so dominate my camping trip, whether it surged onto the coastal sands or pattered against our tent in the night.  I speak, of course, of water.

The Prompt:

Page 31 of Room to Write asks us to “write about water: tap water, ocean water, rain water, any water or experience or dream of water that has both wet and whetted [our] imagination.”   Well, I’ve written about my water dreams already, so I’ll try not to be too redundant here…

Response:

WATER.  It multiplies the Mogwai or signals an approaching T-Rex, melts the Wicked Witch or freezes Leonardo to Kate Winslet.  It helps kids slip-n-slide and makes T-shirt contests more interesting.  It conforms to the shape of its container and yields both its clarity and taste to the color and flavor of what enters it; yet I would not call it submissive.  No, it fills the container’s inner space to empty it of air and weigh it down, and it dilutes the efficacy of what it absorbs, dissipating it in its solvency whenever it can play this advantage.  It carves canyons and fjords in its liquid and solid states, eroding away in its slow, subtle way of feigning innocence.  Water cleanses away the toxins, rinses the filth; it quenches our thirst and hydrates our cells.  It cools or it scalds, it cleans or it floods; it can keep us afloat with its density or yank us down with its current, hold us up on a wave or crush us under a whitecap.  It ebbs, it flows, it dips, it swells.  It can flush out mortal life or baptize into one everlasting.  In its glassy calm, its surface can reflect our being and the wonder of the skies as it refracts the perceptions that penetrate deeper.  Water contains mystery in its depths, holding it beyond the reach of light, and yet what it sprays forth to glitter in the sun can somehow reveal all the answers.

Reflection:

Water has always fascinated me…as a little girl, I wanted to be a mermaid, and as an adult, I found a new way of communing with it when I learned to sail (the capsizing drill in 50-degree Fahrenheit Lake Michigan being one bonding session I could have done without…it was less fun the second time around when the main sail came down on top of me and trapped me underwater—not to fear!  I was an apt pupil and remembered my survival strategy :)).

Anyways, I find I often allude to water in my writing as analogous to emotions and circumstances, playing on the ways it can be a subduing or overwhelming force, an annoyance like a leaking faucet, or perhaps a current that sweeps my characters along the tributaries that lead into their destinies.  It’s a recurring motif, for example, from the very beginning to the very last sentence of my Sixteen Candles fan-fiction to play on the unfortunate fact that the narrator is literally unable to drink from the water fountain in the movie, which parallels her deeper “thirst” as she comes of age:

“Here [Sam] had the smartest guy in my physics club falling all over himself to impress her, saturating her ego with his deluge of compliments, but she gets all haughty and tense, as though struggling to ignore the persistent drip of Chinese water torture.

Girls like her just rinse and spit. They’ll spit out a mouthful and have the nerve to complain that they’re thirsty.”

I also can’t help but think of this element at the pen-tips of the pros, such as the way Stephen Crane wields water in his short story, “The Open Boat”:

“None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them. These waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white, and all of the men knew the colors of the sea. The horizon narrowed and widened, and dipped and rose, and at all times its edge was jagged with waves that seemed thrust up in points like rocks. Many a man ought to have a bath-tub larger than the boat which here rode upon the sea. These waves were most wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall, and each froth-top was a problem in small-boat navigation.”

No matter how light or heavy the content of a story, there seems to be an abyss of options for describing water or using it metaphorically, especially as it shares the complex dualities of fire that I’ve discussed previously.  In this way, it is a tap that could never run dry, so to speak.

So I’m curious—what are examples of water imagery that you have found effective, either in your own or others’ writing?


Swingin’ Over to the RBU Tree

Real Bloggers United

For what, pray tell, could this poor little panda have been incarcerated?

The Monkey likes to stretch its limbs in other cyber-trees sometimes, so you could formerly read my guest post over at Real Bloggers United (“RBU”) for all the sordid details of this particular case. RBU was once a lovely forum of diverse bloggers who devote quality time and writing to their blogs and readers—it wasn’t about ads and revenue but collaborating toward blogging with substance.  I was proud to be a part of this initiative while it lasted, but alas, all good things come to an end, so now I’m reposting my RBU contribution here.

Every month, RBU’s guest bloggers followed a specific theme, and this May was “Treasures.”

CSI: Chronically Sentimental Individual

Confession: I am a sentimental schmuck by nature.
Exhibit A: Bag of wallpaper shavings that has resided in my parents’ garage for well over two decades.
Motive: My change-fearing child-self cried so hard when my mom hung new wallpaper in our kitchen.
Defense Plea:
I do not recall how old I was at that time, but I assert that I was too young to know better. And if that defense is ineffectual, I’d like to call in a medical witness who can diagnose me with terminal sentimentality, as I continue to be prone to such attacks to this day (it’s genetic—my parents will testify on my behalf if subpoenaed). Regardless, I did not act alone. I believe that hanging from my arm at the scene of the crime were undoubtedly one of the two usual suspects.

Accomplice #1: Yammy Pie
Alias: Yammy
Species: Lamb
Present Location: Chicago, IL
Identifying Characteristics: Orange fur. Missing one ear and outright chunks of matted fur, leaving behind distinctive threadbare markings.

Profile:
The intent was to call her “Lamby,” but for some unknown reason I would not pronounce the “L” sound at the age of three. Once, my grandma attempted speech therapy in trying to get me to repeat after her, “Luh-Luh-Lamby.” For every failed attempt, I responded, “Luh-Luh-Yammy.”

Another time I overheard my dad and older brothers yelling at a game on TV, “Go Miami!” I looked at them with brows furrowed territorially and insisted, “No, MY Yammy.” (My inner selfish bitch blossomed at an early age, as you can see, but that is irrelevant to the case and should be struck from the record.)

Yammy was a friend and confidante for two blissful years until Accomplice #2 arrived on the scene to usurp my affections.

Accomplice #2: Amanda the Panda
Alias: Mander (pronounced ‘mahn-der’)
Species: Panda Bear
Present Location: London, UK
Identifying Characteristics: Course, pebbly fur, matted down and hardened from decades of hugging. Scratched eye surface (resembles cataracts). Pronounced indentation around the waistline caused by wearing a doll’s skirt that was too small for six months. [Note: Amanda grew one inch taller on our family growth chart during the early 1980s due to compression of aforementioned hugging. Therefore, be advised that she may now appear even taller.]

Profile:
Amanda the Panda was a Christmas gift from my parents when I was five. She has an “official” birth certificate that I scribed by hand with a blue ballpoint pen on a sheet of notebook paper. The document can presently be found in my photo album archives in Chicago.

Two years ago, I transported Amanda over the Atlantic in my carry-on so she could reside with me in London. On the occasional night when I’m sunken into a mode of regression, I will fall asleep hugging her, much to my husband’s dismay when he ends up having to spoon us both. I have been known to still sniff the bear now and then to find the comfort of my own scent like I did as a kid.

Amanda has survived soakings, hangings, and kidnappings. There was one occasion when my father took her and me to a Teddy Bear clinic so her arm could be stitched and wrapped in gauze.

No injury was sustained during one said kidnapping, however. Indeed, my older siblings had only staged her murder when they shoved her in the microwave. After I ran away wailing to the sound of them setting the timer, they replaced her with a pile of black and white soil from a potted plant and brought me back to see what I believed were her charred ashes. No charges were pressed against the offenders; however, this is why Amanda has remained in my sole custody after all these years.

Closing Statement:
As much as I try not to rely on material objects for meaning, I think it is only natural that those of us who suffer from terminal sentimentality will assign immense intangible value to the tangible things we can physically carry with us as time fleets away. With their appeal to the visual and tactile senses, our personal treasures are perhaps the closest we will ever come to a time machine for the speed with which they transport us back to our cherished past and integrate it into our ongoing existence. Is it the fur, stuffing, and curling shards of wallpaper that bear intrinsic value for me? Of course not. But the value I attach to them could never be appraised nor ever depreciate, and for that reason, I hold on.

I rest my case.


Fire Walk With Me

The Prompt:

Given the prevalent symbolism of fire across centuries of story-telling, page 30 of Room to Write asks us to share “a personal story, memory, or belief about fire.”  Or, we can conduct a freewriting beginning with the word “fire” and let it spread from there.

Response:

FIRE.  It takes life and sustains life.  It guides our sight through darkness or blinds us to what else we might find in shadow, revealing and concealing.  It illuminates our romance and dances upon the page.  Fire attracts the moth and repels the mosquito; it swallows the air and laps up the tinder that shelters us, spiriting it away in climbing smoke, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  It licks our bones clean and sterilizes the needle, preens the prairie grasses and purifies the water.  It  casts menace upon our faces when lighting us from beneath, yet shrouds in angelic glow when lighting us from behind.  Fire converts raw food into nourishment for our bodies, or consumes nourishment for our souls into raw emotion.  It is an exclamation that will clear a room within seconds or signal a gathering to share stories round its warmth.  It thaws, it soothes, it burns, it chars; it can fuel our hope or ignite our dread.  It can whisper to us in crackles and snaps, promising safety and comfort in a cold, barren landscape, or it can hiss at us like wind against our eardrums or a stampede rumbling down the hillside to crush us.  Fire is an element embracing our passions, sweeping exponentially in our lust or our anger until it sizzles into dowsing foam or, when there’s nothing more upon which it can feed, coughs its smoldering death rattle as glowing cinders close their eyes on a bed of black.

Reflection:

Ah, this prompt brought me back to my teaching days, when fire was so often imagery to analyzeI’ve actually used this exact same activity in class so that students could reflect on what connotations fire held for them.  And, as I can see above, I personally muse over the dualities of fire in all its functions and figurative implications.

This dichotomy is evident in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, in which fire goes from being a symbol of a romantic love to that of recklessness:

“O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright.” – Romeo commenting on Juliet’s beauty

“These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume.” – The Friar commenting on R&J’s impetuous actions

In just writing about it above, I found how naturally anthropomorphism came, describing fire in terms of carrying out human/animal actions—e.g., “laps up,” “licks,” “preens,” “whisper,” “coughs,” etc.  This immediately brings to mind the figurative and descriptive language William Golding employed to depict fire in Lord of the Flies:
“Smoke was rising here and there among the creepers that festooned the dead or dying trees.  As they watched, a flash of fire appeared at the root of one wisp, and then the smoke thickened.  Small flames stirred at the trunk of a tree and crawled away through leaves and brushwood, dividing and increasing.  One patch touched a tree trunk and scrambled up like a bright squirrel.  The smoke increased, sifted, rolled outwards.  The squirrel leapt on the wings of the wind and clung to another standing tree, eating downwards. Beneath the dark canopy of leaves and smoke the fire laid hold on the forest and began to gnaw.  Acres of black and yellow smoke rolled steadily toward the sea.  At the sight of the flames and the irresistible course of the fire, the boys broke into shrill, excited cheering.  The flames, as though they were a kind of wild life, crept as a jaguar creeps on its belly toward a line of birch-like saplings that fledged an outcrop of the pink rock.  They flapped at the first of the trees, and the branches grew a brief foliage of fire.  The heart of flame leapt nimbly across the gap between the trees and then went swinging and flaring along the whole row of them.  Beneath the capering boys a quarter of a mile square of forest was savage with smoke and flame.  The separate noises of the fire merged into a drum-roll that seemed to shake the mountain.”
The similes and anthropomorphism above create such vivid sensory detail; this is the kind of descriptive writing to aspire for.
Okay then, your turn.  Does fire bear a personal meaning for you?  What images, emotions, or beliefs does it represent?


IF I post this, THEN I’ll regret boring you, BUT I am doing it anyway…

The Prompt:

Understanding cause-effect relationships helps us to keep the events of our plot line logically connected.  Page 29 of Room to Write therefore asks us to freely write a list of IF, THEN statements to get us in the practice of thinking through how certain actions relate to certain outcomes.  We can start simple and go wherever it takes us.

Response:

IF the sun would peek out from its grey captors of  vapor for more than thirty seconds, THEN I would feel joyful.

IF I eat a dark chocolate digestive biscuit, THEN I probably won’t stop until I’ve had at least three.

IF I read on the bus, THEN I might get car-sick.

IF I read on the bus soon after eating, THEN I will most definitely get car-sick.

IF I pick at my belly button, THEN I will feel nauseous.

IF I feel nauseous from picking at my belly button, THEN I will feel incredulous that I would have wanted to pick at my belly button in the first place.

IF I am not an omniscient being, THEN I will likely have no way of knowing where you or anyone else might be at any given moment.

IF I have no way of knowing where you might be at any given moment, THEN it’s possible I may unintentionally call your mobile phone at an inopportune time.

IF you leave your mobile phone on when it should be silenced (i.e., at said “inopportune time”), THEN it is your fault when it rings.

Ergo, IF you express irritation that I phoned you at an inopportune time, THEN I will be irritated with you for misplacing your blame and feel less inclined to work with you.

IF I ride a bicycle long-distance, THEN my knees will inevitably feel pain.

IF I ride a bicycle long-distance, THEN the bicycle should be built for long-distance biking.

Ergo, IF you rent me a heavy-weight clunker of a cruiser with skipping gears to ride long-distance, THEN I will mutter obscenities into the wind about you through the duration of that ride and not find any of your jokes slightly amusing.

However, IF you buy me a pint at a lovely country pub as a break during the long-distance bicycle ride, THEN I will forget my pain and my anger and possibly love you again.

IF you tell me the “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?” joke, THEN I’ll likely have a giggling fit just like I did when I was eight years old when my older brother first told it to me.

IF I recall that joke, THEN I am setting myself up for wanting to play with its derangement more…

…So, IF the monkey fell out of the tree, THEN it might be dead.

IF I suspect the monkey is dead, THEN I might step closer to know for sure.

IF I step closer to the monkey to determine if it is dead, THEN I will wonder whether that is a very good idea in the event the monkey is still alive.

IF I suspect the monkey could still be alive, THEN I will worry about it pouncing at me and hurting me, maybe even infecting me with a disease…the disease that probably made it fall from the tree in the first place.

IF the monkey is suffering from a disease, THEN perhaps I should get medical help.

IF I consult medical help for the ailing monkey, THEN I might not make it back in time, or forget how to find it again altogether.

IF I forget how to find it again, THEN that was a colossal waste of time, and I have to live with the guilt of letting a monkey die.

And IF the monkey was already dead, THEN I’ll never know for sure because I would’ve left to get help before I checked.

IF I do seek help, though, THEN I can get help for myself, for visualizing this morbid scenario and finding the joke that inspired it to be so damn funny to begin with.

Meanwhile, IF I keep procrastinating from writing like this, THEN my novel will never be finished.

Reflection:

Can’t fight that logic, now can I…

This was definitely one of the more random, directionless prompts that I’ve followed so far, as you could take IF, THEN statements anywhere from the mundane to the complex to the silly to the serious.  To get started, it was easiest for me to start basic with the one-liners until I found myself wanting to follow a train of thought more and more, tracking a longer sequence of cause-and-effect.  As I entered into that chain-o-consequences, I most readily addressed a couple recent instances that really happened to me, as the IF, THEN format is a good outlet for bitter sarcasm…and then, well…then I just felt like going the weird route and trying to employ logic in a relatively illogical scenario until I felt bored and ready to call it quits so I can now move on to other tasks.

All in all, a decent exercise in giving a moment’s pause to consider the ripple effect of certain actions/attitudes, which I think will help make me more conscious of the logical outcomes that should result when I have a character do a certain thing or behave in a certain way.  As Bonni Goldberg says:

“Part of writing is keeping tabs on the nuts and bolts […] It may not at first feel as exciting as raw creation, but it will equalize you and prepare  you for the next creative surge.”


Blindfolded

The Prompt:

Whereas previously we were asked to write about something we can see through our eyes, imagination, instinct, and intuition, today page 28 of Room to Write asks us to write about what we can’t see—this can be something literally out of our sight, or figuratively hidden from our understanding or missing from our lives.  This should be freely written, beginning with the words, “I don’t see…”

Response:

I don’t see what it is that wakes me on time when I’ve forgotten to set my alarm, what prompted me to unlock my door and go back into my flat that one day to check the stove that, sure enough, still had a gas burner on from my morning tea.  I don’t see what it is that holds one person up when another might slam to the pavement under the weight of the world, or what it is that binds people together when the centrifugal force of their spinning lives would otherwise fling them apart.  I don’t see what it is that I sometimes think might brush against my face as it rests on the pillow, or tickle at my toes when they peep out from the kicked-askew bed sheet.  I don’t see what some people don’t need to see because they rest their speculation in faith alone or just don’t see the point, and I don’t see what other people try to detect scientifically as evidence of what they won’t believe in unless they can see it through thermal imaging or sound waves.  I don’t see the energy that humans exude, radiating onto and into others through smiles or kind words or enthusiasm or sucking it away through frowns or insults or indifference.  I don’t see what happens to that energy when a human passes on…that energy that, in all things, can neither be created nor destroyed, so must go somewhere when its host ceases to exist as a body in motion.  I don’t see the momentum of that imprint they made in life or if it continues to survive beyond death, filling the voids that person would have filled or instead dissipating into the atmosphere, joining the energy of yet-living organisms, lifting the wings of a bird, or watering a flower.  I don’t see what is perhaps best left unseen or may be nothing to see at all, yet is somehow something I want to believe in more than what I do see.

Reflection:

I guess the idea of this activity is to understand how what is absent (only because unseen) can serve as a great presence in our writing.  Perhaps it means our characters are missing something in their lives, and their search is what drives our entire plot; perhaps it is what we writers are missing and searching for through our stories—it’s a chance to find understanding.  I’ve indeed had characters explore some of this unknown, speculating through them how something so unseen could in certain ways become overtly present and necessary for them to confront and comprehend to move forward.

Do you find that your writing has/is helping you see what you’ve in some way been blind to?  What about your characters—are they having to confront something they can’t keep avoiding?  Is out of sight out of mind?


Cat’s Eye

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

– Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince

On page 27 of Room to Write, Bonni Goldberg tells us that it is not only with our eyes that we see.  Our inner eyes are comprised of three things:  instinct (“previous experience”), intuition (“gut reaction”), and imagination (“mental flash of possible  scenarios”).

The Prompt:

Look around at anything you literally see and visualize it more robustly by using the above three ways of “seeing.”  In doing so, we should observe which means of seeing is most difficult for us versus which comes easiest.  Today, I’m going to focus on a random image I viewed out the window two nights ago at a cocktail party.

Response:

Standing poised atop the intricately scrolling wrought iron railing of a second-floor terraced house window, the Ninja Kitty remains frozen with all four of its paws aligned in a perfectly straight line.  It holds its balance there for perhaps ten minutes, frozen in fear (or is it a calculating calm?) as it assesses the situation:  having tight-rope-walked itself to where the corner of an exterior wall juts out, separating the ledges of two different flats, Ninja Kitty stands with its two hind paws on the railing above one ledge while its front paws have traversed to the part of the railing where the second ledge begins.  At its middle, then, is the corner wall that, though an inch or two away, surely feels like a blade brushing against its fur, threatening the cat to jump as though it’s just walked the splintering plank of a creaking, renegade ship.

Ninja Kitty appears to have three choices:  1) leap off toward the sidewalk, testing the validity of the old conception that a cat will always land on its feet, 2) moon-walk backward to try getting back onto the first ledge, or, 3) keep easing forward enough that it can attain the leverage it needs to leap onto the second ledge.

Still the blonde cat hesitates, and I can almost perceptibly make out the “Fuuuuuuuudge” thought-bubble about to burst on the sharp tips of its ears; reflecting off the vertical slits of its pupils are the illuminated graphics of a mental decision-tree database, running through iterations of calculations as the cat sizes up its variables of physics.  Vectors and velocity methodically slide and sort and file away in Ninja Kitty’s mind until it’s the make-or-break moment.  This is happening.  And…NOW!  Ninja Kitty bows slightly and launches from its hind legs to alight gently and fully on the second ledge.

Victory is the feline’s, but, before it can even get its bearings and exalt in relief, there is a rustling at the shade drawn over an adjacent French door.  A flat occupant, I reasonably presume, who must have been looking on in peril from an unseen vantage, yet doing so impotently with no attempt at aiding in rescue.  Just as I judge the day-late and dollar-shortness of that cowardly individual, the dark pointed ears of another house cat materialize from underneath the shade.  Then and there, Ninja Kitty’s humility over its recent, dangerous, and embarrassing predicament is vanished, if it existed at all—within split seconds, the cats are rearing on their hind legs and clawing at each other through the glass, staking their outdoor/indoor territory as though it was one and the same.  Smack, scratch, scrape-scrape, they continue batting at each other with electric intensity, and, before I know it, Ninja Kitty is haughtily heaving itself back up on the railing (looking for a moment like it was about to do pull-ups) to no longer give this enemy the time of day.

And there it was, standing poised (in the opposite direction, this time) atop the intricately scrolling wrought iron railing, frozen with all four of its paws aligned in a perfectly straight line.  This was the point at which I looked away, disinterested.  That cat either knew what it was doing or didn’t learn from history and was thereby doomed to repeat it.  I conjecture it is living on its fifth life at most.

Reflection:

Ah, that was a fun little romp, though probably doing no justice to the profound quotation that opens this post!  And I imagine I could have taken it further and deeper if I’d chosen a human subject (sorry, PETA).

The whole scenario was amusing to actually watch, though (the glasses of wine I’d already consumed probably adding to the hilarity of the moment), and yet I can’t deny that I was simultaneously looking on in horror.  I couldn’t help but imagine the possibilities left to the cat in this seemingly impossible dilemma, yet my instinctive impression of how it was apprising the situation and would ultimately act was based on previous observations of cats and their cautious, arrogant mannerisms, as well as my intuitive understanding of what it means to be “catty,” as that feisty bitchiness is part of my own nature when I’m confronted 🙂  Monkey has claws!



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