Tag Archives: memory

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:


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


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! ūüôā

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!



The Mind’s Eye

Now that I’ve confessed to initiating my submissions, I think it’s rather timely that I caught a film on TV last night that delivered a little¬†perspective.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Seen it or read it? I had read it about three or four years ago, and I’m not saying I think it’s a masterpiece or that the author is entirely likable, but the fact he wrote what he wanted to write and surmounted a massive obstacle to do so is commendable enough for me (not to mention makes me wonder what the hell I have to whinge about…).

The book is less than 150 pages, but if you’ve read it, you understand that there was nothing “short” about the process. If you aren’t familiar with the premise of the book, it chronicles the memories of a man (Jean-Dominique Bauby, former editor of French Elle magazine) diagnosed with “locked-in syndrome,” thus paralyzed from head to toe, other than the ability to blink one eye. The prison of his own body, then, became his enclosing “diving bell,” and after initially suffering an understandably defeatist attitude, he came to realize that his greatest mobility and freedom—his “butterfly”—was his mind and the imagination and memories it held. He learned that in this way he could escape to anywhere in the world, dine on the most sumptuous feasts, and do whatever else met his fancy. And thanks to the persistence of a hospital therapist, he learned he could¬†write a book.

Unable to speak, unable to move, this man wrote a book. And I speak of him in the past tense because he passed away within days of this book’s publication in 1997. But it wasn’t about the publication; it was the process itself that helped preserve his will to live.

And, clearly, the way it came about is remarkable. In my¬†second-to-last post, I talked about editing on a chapter-by-chapter, to paragraph-by-paragraph, to sentence-by-sentence, to word-by-word level; well, how about writing on a letter-by-letter one? As the woman transcribing his memoir would read through a special alphabet (arranged in order of the most frequently used letters), he would blink when she said the letter he wanted. Now imagine¬†approaching writing this way; this is a time-consuming, surely exhausting effort, so you’re certainly not going to waste any words getting to your point. Yet it’s the presence of¬†description that I remember astonishing me when¬†I read the book. He “wrote” vividly, expressively, demonstrating that some detail is worth working for; it’s necessary to conveying the true idea.

So as I’ve written before, as we hack into our own pieces and try to reduce word count, it’s important not to strip those ideas of their joy. Every word needs to matter, however, so we must be discerning in our choices. And we must remember what we’re doing it for. Is it in the hope of being published so everyone knows our name and kidding ourselves that it’ll make us rich? Or is it the sheer achievement when the odds may have been against us? The joy of the act itself and of sharing it with others? Think of the celebration it is to pen the triumph of one’s mind, capturing in words the life we’re infused with through imagination and memory. It is tremendously difficult work, yes, and yet doesn’t inspiration sometimes flutter through us in a blink…peppering our pages with butterfly kisses from the lashes of our mind’s eye…

From Sentiments to Sentences – Part II

Hiya! ¬†I’m back from where I left off yesterday. Hopefully I didn’t leave anyone in a great deal of suspense, as this post will only reek of anticlimax :).

What I was about to continue yammering on about last night, at any rate, was that sentimentality is not the only way my past informs my writing. ¬†To start, yes, I’ve had a lovely life—I’d be an ungrateful twit not to acknowledge that and count my blessings every day (I know, la-dee-frickin’-da, right?)—yet to be honest it concerned me this would hurt my writing, make it too naive, idealized, and anything otherwise be too two-dimensional and clich√©. ¬†And that’s a very valid concern…

I couldn’t help but peek ahead in my very-neglected¬†Room to Write book, where on page 90 Bonni Goldberg says:

“Where we come from influences both what we write and how we write. […] This is why six people can describe the same tree differently. Each person sees it through a unique set of experiences.”

And then she warns that:

“Clich√©¬†seeps into writing when writers forget or neglect to bring who they are into the piece.”

This reinforces what eventually got me over the above concern. ¬†Everyone’s life brings something to the writing desk, and maybe some of things I don’t understand first-hand consequently don’t have a place in my writing. Maybe this, then, helps me narrow down my focus, find my creative niche where what I do know can be optimized. ¬†OR maybe what I don’t know presents that extra intellectual-emotional challenge that could be enriching to explore further through research and imagination, as when a method actor immerses into a new role. ¬†In that way, I don’t have to be so pigeon-holed after all.

Then there is the simple fact that, despite general trend, my life of course hasn’t been entirely rosy! I know pain, heartache, depression, and have sharpened my teeth around anger and resentment pretty well in my day…I may idealize the past out of sentimentality, but I’ve also brought in the darker emotions from the tougher experiences I’ve had—case in point being the “writing-as-therapy” I mentioned yesterday. As a result, my protagonist shared in my own downturn, and in a way we worked through it together. ¬†Then, when I succeeded in pulling out of mine, I could outstretch my hand to lift her out of hers.

I’m not going to do the writing prompt today, but the exercise on that above-mentioned page from¬†Room to Write asks us to write about our origins, beginning with, “I come from.” In doing so, we’re to also consider the sensory details coinciding with our memories that, by virtue of experiencing them, have impacted who we are.

Now, to put my teacher-cap back on briefly, I can’t help but recall from this a poem I had to teach my sophomores during a unit on discovering our cultural identities and identifying how they shape our individual frames of reference:

Where I’m From, by George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

In ‚ÄúAn Interview with George Ella Lyon,” the poet says:

‚ÄúIf I weren‚Äôt from Appalachia (or from my family and my genetic expression and my experience — I don‚Äôt know how to separate these), my writing — and I —¬† might be bolder.¬† I might live in New York or L.A. and push it more. As it is, I‚Äôve chosen to stay close to home and to be somewhat restricted in what I‚Äôve written and/or published.¬† I anguish a lot about hurting or betraying family members‚ĶOn the other hand, if I weren‚Äôt from Appalachia, my work might not have the same support of noncompetitive colleagues, of a community of memory, and of strong voices from my childhood that still speak in my head.¬† Certainly it wouldn‚Äôt have its roots in the rocky creeks and high horizons, the enfolding spirit of trees that I call home.‚ÄĚ

Though kids inevitably groaned over reading and writing poetry, I always loved this activity because they’d surprise themselves—by recalling and isolating the simplest of images, smells, sounds, tastes, and textures, they’d craft their own “Where I’m From” poems that offered profound insight into who they were, and I think in the end they were proud, learning that if they seized the power to really know themselves, they could harness the power to write.

Such a simple exercise here, yet so dense as we draw out the good along with all the bad to build the organs and flesh around the skeletons of our characters and infuse them with blood and soul.

And YOU, my dears? How does your sense of self inform your writing?

From Sentiments to Sentences – Part I

Sentimentality is both a blessing and a curse.

I’ve demonstrated before to what extent I can cling onto the past in my guest post for Real Bloggers United, “CSI: Chronically Sentimental Individual.” ¬†Now, in the spirit of the recently passed Halloween, let’s just say my memories continue to “haunt” me…

But in good ways (hence, a “blessing”), though sometimes they hurt so good (hence, a “curse”). ¬†I first conceived this topic last week when my parents’ visit came to an end and they returned Stateside. ¬†Though the effect has had a few days to wear off, I remember how I walked home from the tube and almost couldn’t bear how everything I saw reminded me of them because of our recent walks around the neighborhood together. ¬†Forget that I’ve traversed that same route for over two years now and between their two visits they haven’t even been in London a total of two months…the memories with them seemed to replace my collective everyday experience. ¬†Same went for when I returned to the flat and sobbed over little things like the coffee remaining in the French press that we’d shared earlier that morning. ¬†I know, I know…it’s passed now, though¬†tonight I’m jolted with another stroke of sweet sentimentality from home, as I just checked my Facebook messages and saw one from a former student I taught my last year in the States. She was a freshman at the time and is now a grown-up senior about to graduate…simply cannot believe it! My babies! Anyways, she had the sweetest things to say, which made me really pine for those happy teaching years.

In view of such “ghosts” from my past, I find that they appear in some incarnation or another in my writing, perhaps in special homage of these special people and moments. ¬†“Write what you know,” they always say, and I do, knowing full well I am clearly not alone. ¬†I’m constantly reading intros to novels that state how they’re the “most autobiographical” of the author’s works, and, really, isn’t every work of fiction arguably so? ¬†Just ways of telling our truths “slant”?

At the time I started my current manuscript, I was in need of emotional healing to follow leaving home and career, so the tale I began to spin was much more so a “therapy” than an ambition. I didn’t care if it was unoriginal; I let my first chapters draw very much from my own background, which resurrected the spirit of my earlier happiness and allowed it drift and swirl around me in my new atmosphere. The words brought it alive, brought the people and the values back to me and reminded me who I was in an otherwise unfamiliar context that sapped me of purpose. The story certainly evolved from there into a terrain highly unlike anything on which I myself have embarked, but those early chapters gave my protagonist her core, and in doing so assured me of mine.

Among the sentimental inspirations from real life, there are very direct ones that creep up in sentences reflecting the comforting closeness of my family like:

“They weren‚Äôt the stuff best-sellers and blockbusters were made of, and prayed they never¬†would emulate what society spent its money on or turned its channel to.”

“Her mom multi-tasked concern for her child with rescuing bacon strips from their spitting inferno.¬† She wore her short, hairsprayed curls like a helmet ready to combat any threats to her family head-on.”

I’ve also incorporated actual snippets from childhood diaries and adulthood travel journals. Plucked entirely out of their original contexts, though, it’s crazy the way they fit in and communicate something entirely new and different and had inspired new offshoots of sheerly imaginative thought, not that from experience. ¬†It’s been like dismantling a clock and using some of its gears to operate, ooh, maybe something like the Happiness Machine in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine (which, in keeping with our theme here, is a valentine to Bradbury’s own childhood).

It’s all about our¬†frames of reference. ¬†No one could possibly perceive the world in exactly the same way that we do individually because we occupy separate space and move differently through it. This gives us our own private reality, then, and this is what writers constantly tap into to construct their fictional realities. ¬†And there’s more I’d like to say on this, but am realizing this is getting long, so I’ll break it into two parts. ¬†Fair enough? ¬†Cool. ¬†See you tomorrow.

Only in My Dreams!

I think after yesterday‘s heaviness, we needs must uplift ourselves with some ’80s radness! ¬†Oh, as if you don’t want to…don’t resist the urge to Running-Man or Cabbage-Patch if need be…

Ah…okay, fan yourself off. ¬†The reason I pulled this little nugget from the cyber archives is to set the theme as I backtrack to the writing prompt about dreams.

The Prompt:

Four posts ago, I mentioned that page 22 of Room to Write asks us to recall a dream: ¬†“It can be a recurring dream, one from childhood, a daydream or a nightmare.” ¬†As we write about it, we should be noticing which portions of the dream sequence evade our memory and which become sharper. ¬†We can fill in any gaps, change, or expand on any of it that we wish. ¬†I’d like to relate a few…


The first dream that leaps to mind is a recurring one that I had as a little kid. ¬†I know exactly where it stemmed from: ¬†a TV ad for a television station that had something to do with the seasons (or “series,” as they say in the UK) of its television programs not yet coming to an end…I don’t know if it was approaching summer re-run time or what, but what I do recall is that my dream was this extended variation of the advert in which I was the woman involved. ¬†I was wearing a peasant dress and being chased by a hunchback all throughout a dark, cobwebby, grey stone castle. ¬†The corridors, evil perils, and my evasive techniques would vary night to night, but every time the dream ended the same way: ¬†the hunchback would corner me at a dead-end. ¬†With my back against the wall and arms outspread, I’d merely repeat the line the woman in the commercial would say (though in my dream, it was probably sheer nonsense coming out of my mouth), and the hunchback would grunt, turn around, and walk away.

A recurring dream I started having later in life involved water.  The situations and story lines were always different, but the water would be there in some form or another.  Sometimes I was on a sinking ship a la Titanic, sometimes I was standing on shore watching a massive tsunami (of Deep Impact proportions) rolling in at me , or water levels for whatever reason would rise gradually inside my home.  In all of them, I had time to stare down my ultimate death and prepare the air to be swept from my lungs.

Adding to the list, I get that typical one in which I lose my teeth. ¬†Whereas the last two dreams recurred within the span of probably one or two years, this particular one with the teeth has resurfaced my entire life. ¬†I don’t always lose my teeth entirely; sometimes they are loose to the point of my knowing it’s only a matter of time. ¬†Again, the story lines of those dreams will vary, but within them my dream-self burns in mortification, as it’s a total blow to my vanity. ¬†I always feel entirely helpless and unable to hold them in place (not to mention terrified what the dental bill is going to come to).

And to conclude the list, yes, when I was a student I would have the dream about having to take an exam I didn’t study for or showing up to class wearing something ridiculous, but the curse of becoming a teacher is that you keep having those dreams!!! ¬†This time, though, it’s that I show up to class without having my lessons planned, or I show up at the wrong classroom on the first day of school, and the students are never very helpful to me in this dilemma. ¬†Since I’m on hiatus from teaching at present, I don’t get these anymore, except that just a few nights ago I actually had one of the more freakishly normal dreams I’ve ever had—nothing bizarre, really…same classroom and students as I really used to have…except that at the end, I broke down sobbing over how much I missed teaching. ¬†(Um, no need to call Freud in to psychoanalyze me on this one…I think Dr. Obvious can take it from here).

Okay, so what would happen if all my recurring dreams decided to recur on me at once?

I’m running through the corridors of the high school…it’s a centuries-old one in the vein of Hogwarts, and I’m late to teach my lesson on Beowulf…today, we are to debate to what degree Grendel’s mother is a sympathetic character, but I haven’t crafted my specific discussion points nor procured enough copies of the text to distribute nor written up or copied the handout nor strategized how to best divide my students up (Individually? ¬†Pairs? ¬†Collaborative learning groups?), and have I differentiated for their multiple intelligences?

I walk into the copy room only to see the photocopier spraying out sheets of study guides as a cluster of frantic teachers scramble to claim and collate their own; there is no solution nor sanctuary here. ¬†Panicked, I pivot on my heel and chase down the hall to an unfamiliar stairwell where I feel and hear the grumbling of a predator: ¬†Grendel! ¬†I trip up on the low hem of my skirts as I jog down the steps, my sweaty palms on the railing exceeding the pace of my slippered feet. ¬†I duck into the dank blackness of a janitor’s closet as I hold my breath to hear ever louder the rattling huffing of another; I will be trapped here if I stay, surely given away by the scent of my perspiration (or dry-erase markers), so my only hope is to dash and pray I do so in enough haste.

With my heart ricocheting off my breastbone like a racquetball in my alarm, I automatically navigate the twists and turns of the school halls, unsure of where to find my classroom and lamenting this loss in last-minute time to prep my lesson—when I arrive at my class, if I live to arrive at my class, alas, I shall have to wing it. ¬†I grind my teeth in anxiety, debating which is the lesser of two evils to occupy my mind away from the putrid, humid breath at my neck, only to find that my top front teeth begin to sway against the bottom ones. ¬†One slips out wetly, grazing my lower lip as it falls and trails bloody saliva down my chin; another tooth three teeth over then gets crunched between my molars before I suck it onto the bed of my tongue to better projectile spit it back at my foe in defense. ¬†By twos and threes, my remaining teeth ease out of my soupy gums, and I try to organize them with my tongue against the roof of my mouth as ready artillery; in rapid-fire, I spray them out, their pale ivory now bloodied pink, and they pelt my pursuer like quail shot.

I’ve bought myself some time.

Up a winding staircase I go, clacking against the polished stone surface, slipping to my knee before recovering quickly and charging onwards toward an upper level corridor open to the air. ¬†Heaving sharply cooler gusts of air through great gasps, I run headlong into the painted cinderblocks of a dead-end. ¬†Hearing the bell sound off, I realize it’s over…First Period has already started, and I’m not there to take attendance in time to send it off to the Main Office. ¬†Truancy slips will be issued, and it will be all my fault. ¬†I press my forehead against the icy surface of the wall and slowly roll my skull around on its pockmarked surface to spin and face my adversary.

And there he is, slightly worser for the tooth-bullets, but still formidable.  He growls in low rumblings with a taloned claw upraised, and I start to tell him something about television reruns when a surge of foaming saltwater blasts through the open windows.  I swallow it along with my words as my body flails for orientation and gives one last spasm in its urgency for oxygen.

As it all bleeds over into black, I think a forever-silenced prayer…that my substitute teacher will not let any of those students side with anyone who would have spawned Grendel.


Um, yup, just as demented as any of my dreams would be. ¬†The spin I’ve taken on this exercise was stupidly fun. ¬†After focusing for as long as I have been on one main, continuous story line for my project, it was rejuvenating to take a random tangent that is not too serious or personal. ¬†I think I’ve dragged this post on long enough, so will bid you good night and crazy, distorted dreams ūüôā

Character Sketch (Part I)

The Prompt:

Page 11 of Room to Write gives us some practice in developing character description. ¬†Certainly, in creating our characters, they are not necessarily people ¬†that we know in real life. ¬†We might incorporate aspects of real people into our envisioning of them, but the remainder may lie sheerly in our imagination. ¬†To ensure that we are offering the proper level of description to these characters, then, today we are to have a go at describing someone we already know–either closely or arm’s-length–with whom we have regular contact.

This will be an exercise in discovering what it is we actually notice about people first. ¬†I’m sure you’ve taken a personality quiz at some point that profiles you based on what you notice first when you look at someone (e.g., eyes, teeth, hair, etc.), and this will be similar, just taking it to another descriptive level. ¬†In identifying what it is that we automatically look to in a person, we will identify what it is that we automatically describe in a character.

Chances are, we’re limiting our characters in some way. ¬†So, after I write this, I’m going to reflect on not only what I did write about but also what I didn’t.


His eyes are blue, though I still sometimes question if they’re at all green…must depend on the lighting or what he’s wearing. ¬†It isn’t a crystal, cold, icy blue, but a muted, soft one that I’d feel comfortable dipping a toe in, then submerging into fully. ¬†They’re kind eyes that don’t penetrate with menace or even cloud over in sorrow, but they surely twinkle when he’s happy. ¬†They’re eyes that I can see looking exactly the same, with the same good humor, when looking out of a far more aged face. ¬†His face now, though, is young, though showing the lines of maturity, of laughing, of squinting in the rays of the sun or the gleaming fresh powder of a snowy mountain. ¬†His skin is sensitive to dryness in the air and wind-burn when rushing down the slopes or bouncing along the pavement. ¬†It will redden then flake, so he moisturizes it often. ¬†Left to its own devices in the absence of the natural elements, it is fair skin to go with his fair hair and fluffy fair eyebrows. ¬†His blond is more sandy, darker in the winter months when shielded from the sun’s bleaching effects, and becoming increasingly peppered with grey on the sides, which is giving him that handsome, distinguished presence that befalls all lucky men who retain their hair and physique, the fellows like Cary Grant and Sean Connery who only get better with age like a fine wine. ¬†He’s a man who can wear a beard and not look unkempt; the whiskers grow in dark and give a tanned shadow to his fair skin and protect it from the irritation of the daily shave, though it is only on holiday when he’ll let it grow this way. ¬†Otherwise, he’s the clean-shaven type, keeping his hair trimmed close to his neck in the back and parted neatly at the top, though in casual circumstances will lightly gel it into a more naturally tousled look. ¬†Even when casual, however, he’ll wear a buttoned shirt and leather loafers, with denims or khakis in between. ¬†He’ll smarten up a day of air travel with a wool blazer, and every day at the office sets that bar high with his well-tailored suits and the rainbow’s spectrum of Charles Tyrwhitt shirts accented with cufflinks and ties of unexpected patterns and hues. ¬†His answer to the proverbial male-profiling question is undisputedly “boxers,” and his socks have found new voice through multi-colored stripes. ¬†He’s a man who does not need his wife to dress him in the morning.


Okay, so that’s my first pass on describing a real, living, breathing human being in my life. ¬†What are the things I noticed first in my mind’s eye?


– Eyes (from their color to how they reflect the temperament behind them)

– Skin (its physical description, including external influences that portray one of the man’s favorite hobbies–skiing, running, and, apparently, moisturizing)

– Hair (primarily physical description, which to extent reflects personality)


– Clothing (again, physical description that may reveal underlying personality)

So what didn’t I describe, then, that I could have?

– what his smile looks like

– body physique

– the way his body moves

– what his voice sounds like

– how he smells

– what he feels like

– nervous habits

– ANY habits–the way he behaves in different circumstances

– sense of humor and other personality traits

See anything that I’m missing? ¬†Please list in your comments if so. ¬†More importantly, give this a try yourself!

The Impact of Words

The Prompt:

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

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

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

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

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

Lack of Memory

The Prompt:

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

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


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


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

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


The Prompt:

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


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


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

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