This is one of my favorite writing prompts from my writing group of bereaved mothers (more about them in another post).
Put in front of you, or recall a photograph. It can be of yourself, or of a loved one, or of a stranger. Start your writing with these words “In this one you are….” then write to the person in the photo, about what is happening in the photo.
Here’s one I found of myself recently.
My writing starts like this:
In this one you are in the backyard on Edgewood Avenue. Daddy brought home a typewriter from the office and set it up on a table for you, then scooted that huge chair right up so you could reach the keys. You have not yet decided that you want to be his secretary when you grow up. That comes later, when you are five, and a few years before you want to be Dorothy Hamill when you grow up. Never mind that no one is ice skating in Florida. Instead they are all in their sweaty backyards with the sprinklers snaked across the grass.
At this table, you are a writer. Already there are stories swirling in your head. You see no reason why you can’t write your own. You are only two, and you can’t spell yet, but you know what letters are. You know they make up words, and the words make up stories that people who love you read to you…..
It’s our wedding anniversary today. Twenty-seven years ago, on a spring day in Florida, we made our friends and family sit through a long earnest ceremony, then had a lovely party afterwards. The intervening years have been joyous and hard and worth it. I’ve got to say, if I have to be sheltering-in-place with anyone, my beloved is still my first choice. (And the college student upstairs is a bonus.) My writing prompt today is an old favorite by e.e.cummings.
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
It’s going to be a beautiful day here in Asheville. On a usual Thursday (my day off from work) I would be running endless errands, choosing a restaurant for coffee or lunch, or planning a hike. It’s not usual, of course. Our county’s wise two week “stay home, stay safe” order goes into effect at 8 pm. It’s more generous than a shelter-in-place order. It’s vastly more lenient than my sister’s state of lockdown in Jordan, where they can’t even go out to walk the dog or get groceries. I found this allowance in the order, as a reason to venture out the door:
iii. For outdoor activity. To engage in outdoor activity, provided the individuals comply with social distancing requirements of six feet (for example, walking, biking, hiking, or running).
I don’t know if Wendell Berry’s description below complies with “activity.” Does lying down and resting in the grace of the world equal activity? For the state of my soul, I’m going to say yes.
Read The Peace of Wild Things – aloud if you wish. Outside, if you can. Then see what comes out of your pen in response. You can share your writing in the comments if you wish.
“THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS” BY WENDELL BERRY
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
fromThe Peace of Wild Things: And Other Poems
Yesterday I made a list of items in my refrigerator. We have an abundance of hummus right now. And we have 7 clementines. I adore clementines. I’m not big on oranges or grapefruits, but I could write poetry about clementines. So I did. Here’s my haiku about the clementines in my fridge:
my orange bursts of sunshine
all seven are mine
Try writing a haiku about something. Maybe something in your fridge.
The basic structure is 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables. Here’s more about haiku if you want to dig deeper: How to Write Haiku
My brain right now feels like the inside of my Vitamix when I’m trying to process cashews into something vegan. It’s churning, and the result is not as smooth as I’d like. There’s a persistent annoying hum of concern. I don’t quite know if I’m doing this whole pandemic thing right, and I’m slightly worried I’m going to break my expensive blender, or my brain, for that matter. So I’m making lists today.
Whenever my writing feels rusty from lack of practice, lack of sleep, or lack of inspiration, I start with a list. Lists come easily. No need for grammar, spelling, narrative arc, or descriptive language. A list you can come back to, and add to as the mood strikes. You can get all fancy with your bullet journal if you want. Or you can just scribble on the back of an envelope. Here’s a list of lists to use to get your writing started.
Choose one and make a list of…
Events you are sorry got canceled
Events you are glad got canceled
People you are worried about
Places you plan to go when this is over
Things you can do for self-care today
Words to describe how you feel today
Meals you can cook from your pantry
What you wish you had in your pantry
Movies to watch
New skills to learn while at home
New skills NOT to learn while at home
What you can see outside that is giving you life
Questions you’d like to ask God
What you are grateful for today
Lists you can make another day
Make your own list….
Then, if you like, pick one item from one list and write more about it.
When I start workshops, I usually tell those gathered that writing is good for our health. Giving voice to the swirling thoughts in our heads can lower our blood pressure. It boosts t-cell production and strengthens our immunity. Those wellness benefits often seem like bonus points. But not now. Physical health is not a given during a pandemic. As the days isolating at home (or working overtime for some heroes) start to stretch out, the need to take care of our individual and collective mental health becomes even greater.
I’m not doing well with my writing habits right now. News, social media, and converting work to online everything – all seem more pressing. I can feel my anxiety rising. Maybe you can too. That’s why I’m dusting off this website and wanna-be writing business I began with some baby steps two years ago. I’m going to start sending out writing prompts so we can write alone or in company with one another. It’s mostly for myself. But I’d love to have you join me.
Here’s a prompt to start from Mary Oliver:
from “In Blackwater Woods”
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
“Picking up a pen can be a powerful intervention against loneliness. I am a strong believer in writing as a way for people who are feeling lonely and isolated to define, shape, and exchange their personal stories. Expressive writing, especially when shared, helps foster social connections. It can reduce the burden of loneliness among the many groups who are most at risk, including older adults, caregivers, those with major illnesses, those with disabilities, veterans, young adults, minority communities of all sorts, and immigrants and refugees.”