Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Writing Life

“Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now.” —Annie Dillard

I don't know about you, but I am notorious for thinking something great will have to wait until later, sometime a few months or years from now when I'll have more time or a better space or a tighter grip on what the hell I'm doing as a writer and where I can find that perfect niche. I have this abstract vision of a future me who has it all together.

If everything happens as planned, I should have time and space soon, and before reading this quote, I had caught myself thinking, a few times, Eh, I'll do that when I get to the residency. What I want to do, precisely, is write a piece of flash loosely based on a prompt that a friend of mine shared recently from a memoir-writing workshop she attended. This is an adapted version of what she told me:

A screensaver that is similar to how I remember
seeing my backyard as a kid. Google
"ghetto backyard with bathtub" for an accurate image.
Close your eyes and try to imagine your favorite place to go as a child, whether that be your home, the neighborhood pool, or a friend's house. After you have an image in mind, begin to draw that place. Your artistic prowess is not as important as the effort. Draw with as much insight as you can. Try to remember the details, then use that setting as your catalyst for a story. It can be fiction or nonfiction, but tell a story in the location as you remember it. 

The original prompt was something specific about a childhood home, but I like favorite place better because when I was younger, my favorite places were my safe places--the places that I felt free to get the most crazy and let my imagination go wild. I had a few favorite places, but I'm going to start with the dense and weedy jungle that comprised the backyard of my childhood home. I used to play out there, allowing my imagination to go wild. I would play spy and cop and space travel games with my sister, using my imagination above all else, dreaming up fairies and elves and little purple aliens with attitudes. So that an ordinary, perhaps sad-looking but eclectic backyard (we had a bathtub half buried and filled with sand--a sand tub, for example) would transform into something magical. I assigned superpowers to the homeless men who were sometimes sitting out there on cinder blocks smoking cigarettes and drinking from brown bottles. I would find bugs and imagine them mutating or transmitting messages from a wizard. Imagination can make anything beautiful (or horrifying, but that's another post).

If you write, do the prompt with me and let me know how it works out. I'm shooting for less than 1,000 words or less. I have a sand tub and homeless men who may or may not have been magical going for me. What do you have?

Have a wonderful weekend! - Jen

*I have been struggling with the idea of defining my writing life and trying to tease it out here on this blog. My focus here has been blurry over the years, swaying and unpredictable, something like an old TV that cannot catch the channel you want to watch and is therefore filled with gray, fuzzy lines that may capture attention, but not for long. I write about myself, so that's a constant, and being a writer. I seem to have plenty to say about my subject, but I've decided to make what was once center-stage a mere part of my blog going forward. I'll still post news, but I hope to make the blog more interactive and focused on writing, and I hope you enjoy it. Let me know if you have any feedback. 

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