Here And Now I Am…

Saw this short article on the NY Times site and wanted to share. “Writing in the Here and Now” by Perry Garfinkel. An excerpt below:

There may be no literary genre that, at its best, evokes sense of place more than travel writing. The whole point is to make the reader feel there, not here, to transport proverbial armchair travelers from their dull, quiet living rooms to a cacophony of scarlet macaws clearing their throats deep in a tropical rain forest in Costa Rica.

This is why I open every travel writing workshop I’ve led over three decades with a pop quiz:

At the top of a page, write the words ‘Here and now I am’ followed by an ellipsis. In the next five minutes write as many sentences as you can, each sentence beginning with ‘Here and now I am.’ The rules: no questions, no stopping, no thinking, no worries about logic or syntax and no cheating off your neighbor.

If you go blank, draw from your senses — what you see, smell, taste, hear, feel.

Frenzied writing ensues. After five minutes, I instruct the participants to stop, then to reread their scribbles to themselves, painful as it may be, looking for patterns. A few brave ones read them aloud.

Read the whole piece here.

Two Prompts, One Kinda-Sorta-Maybe Start

I’m reading The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, a YA book a middle school teacher recommended to me. I’m not far, but am reminded a little of The Giver by Lois Lowry. Both books are set in the distant (or not-so?) future with small communities carved into a place, held by rules and kept from venturing beyond their borders. Citizens follow the rules and may even find comfort in the constraints, trading color and imagination for predictability and security.

Pair this with my brief infatuation with communes.

Now add two prompts:

Lighting the first lamps
Inside the circle

and I have a little space to explore ideas I’ve left alone for a long time. I first read about the Oneida Community in college and other communes since, some crossing into cult territory. I don’t want to suss that out here. But for a while there was something about communal living that appealed to me and though I never drove cross-country to join a group, I think I’d like to write around a short fiction start.

I’ll post from my WP soon.

Pulled From Introspection

My last two weeks have been a push: wrapping another school year and the heavy sadness of my friends’ loss left me stretched. I didn’t sleep much. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I sat at the dining table with my notebook, scrawling out a prayer or a list. I write my worries in a column. The giant monster fears and the mundane chores. I say, God, here are my cares. I imagine pushing my heap of anxiety off a cliff.

Even though I was grieving and my pages landed a lot of that, I also kept writing on prompts. At first, that seemed repulsive. My impulse at the page was to continue turning over the tragedy of my friends’ baby dying. I did that, writing my own empathy and prayers. The first two prompts after were

He refuses all fear (after Pierre Reverdy)
You don’t know where you are

I wrote on each. The first ended quickly, one paragraph, because that was it. I couldn’t nudge another line. The whole idea of writing on prompts seemed very stupid. Journaling serves me well enough. But the day after when I wrote on You don’t know where you are, I found another side of introspection, on my third or fourth try at the prompt:

I don’t know where I am. I thought I walked by this place once before. I think I got stuck here once before.

God help me.

You don’t know where you are. Check Google maps. Check for a landmark.


Here is why. Usually I know exactly where I am and it makes me crazy to see exactly where I am because I can often also see where I should be.

That is why this prompt feels so tough. I am used to writing about where I am. I look around. I figure it out.

I went on to write a stuttering fiction start a page later. But that frustration – I don’t think you can hear it, but I can still feel it – clarified what my introspection looks like. It made me sad to say it on paper, that I see where I should be.

I am where I am. I am not stuck or lost but when I line my sight on what I think I should be, I lose the present. I lose the gift of this time, of this dusty place, of my husband and children, of who I am when I simply walk as I am. I think introspection is valuable and I’m bent toward examining my faith and self. But I need a rest from that too. Writing from prompts tugs my glance away from me and all the big questions to something new I wouldn’t find otherwise.

A few more recent prompts from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves:

While the world sleeps
The place where wild pines grow
Lighting the first lamps

When There Are No Words

A week ago, our friends’ infant son died. We live in an expat community where the loss is felt by the closest friends of the couple and the wider circle of neighbors and colleagues. We saw her pregnancy and joy. We stopped him for a peek at the newborn in his carrier.

In the immediate after, we said,

There are no words

and looked at the ground or leaned in for a hug. Our shoulders shook with their grief. And a week later, we still cry for their emptiness.

When there are no words, I want to find the words. The year after Grant was born, my mind had so many dark places and my heart, pockets of desperation. It was my most prolific journaling year. When the babies went down for their afternoon nap, if I wasn’t laying on the living room floor crying, or eating warm bread with Monica, I was at the table with my notebook open. I wrote the same, over and over.

I’d been thinking about that year, before this. I’ve been thinking about why I still want to find a way to say things that are hard to say. Why is it important to find words? What is it that the searching process yields? I am bent toward introspection and do not often swerve from a shining light making me see. Even so, words may come slowly, inadequately. I keep looking, for the right words.

When we said,

There are no words

I thought,

There must be, somewhere. There must be words waiting, even for this.

But I think those words do not belong to me.

In The Back Of The Closet

Prompt taken from A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves.

Her mother wanted a particular sweater. Ruth knew the one, an old cable-knit pullover her father had worn until his own death eight years ago. Now her mother wanted it, to lay under or hold.

It was the first coherent sentence her mother had spoken in days. Her eyes were focused when she said to Ruth, “I want your father’s sweater.” Ruth remembered coming home from a high school dance decades before, crying into that sweater because her boyfriend had broken things off. Her father was sturdy but patted Ruth’s back gently while her mother went to the kitchen to make tea.

“Okay, Mom. I’ll go.” Ruth told the nurses she’d be back in an hour. She was pretty sure she knew where the sweater was, at the back of her parents’ closet, in a box of her father’s things.

She sat parked in the driveway longer than she meant to, listening to the clicks and pings of the cooling engine. She called her husband to tell him where she was, in case he stopped by the hospice on his lunch break and wondered. She sat with her phone in her lap, looking at the closed garage door. Then she flipped down the visor and looked in the mirror. Ruth was always seeing her mother now, in her own glances.

Her parent’s bedroom was spare, smaller than the room they’d given her. She opened the closet and parted the hangers of her mother’s blouses and dresses. On the floor at the back was a cardboard box she set on the bed and opened. The sweater was folded on top. Ruth held it to her face, closed her eyes. All week she’d swallowed lumps, opened her eyes wide, tilted her head back and blinked  furiously because there wasn’t time to cry. Her husband and the nurses told her it was okay but she only shook her head, turned away, or excused herself to the bathroom.

Now she was alone and wanted to cry but couldn’t. She set the sweater aside and looked in the box, picked up a rubber-banded stack of letters with her parents’ handwriting on the envelopes. There were a few photographs she hadn’t seen before, one of her impossibly young parents squinting into the sun, and another of a baby she guessed was herself but on the back, in her mother’s handwriting, Paul.

Ruth took the sweater back to the hospice and laid it over her mother so the soft collar touched her mother’s cheek. She kissed her mother’s forehead and then sat. She’d left the box open on her parents’ bed. Next week or the week after, Ruth would read the letters, look more closely at Paul. But this moment was complete enough. She leaned forward and watched her mother breathe and sleep.

June: Let There Be Fun!

I just finished a load of revision work and want those pieces to sit another month before a final edit. I have a couple of fiction starts but nothing that’s setting my hair on fire. So what I need is some WP fun! I am writing daily from prompts and posting often.

If you write on any of the prompts or want to share your own June writing, please put a link in the comments.