Tag Archives: prompt

no one else can understand why you’re crying

At yesterday’s Write Whole meeting, I offered this Sarah Kay poem as one of our prompts (the video is 18 minutes long, but we just used the poem she performed at the very beginning to spark our writing). Then, after the group left last night, I sat down and made a short recording of my response to this poem — this is what it sounds like in the writing group after we’ve written together: we read our words to one another straight out of our notebooks, and then allow others to witness our words, sharing what they heard us say, what stayed with them about our writing. Here is what I wrote:

(Consider using either video as your own prompts today — what stays with you? What sparks a response in your body? Where do your own words want to begin?)

What sort of intersection are you?


(all of the intersections in and around Boston are dangerous!)

Good morning, writers! Outside my window right now, construction workers are jackhammering pavement. The birds have all gone silent, with or some other, more difficult emotion, maybe. The city is all city sounds right now.

How is WriOursWhoMo treating you so far? How are you honoring the intersections within you: the intersections of trauma and song, the intersections of longing and loss, the intersections of aftermath and resilience?

Here is a prompt for this day, to get you thinking about the intersections you inhabit, you manifest, you are:

…One thing is certain: I am

not one of those stop signs you speed through! I am a dangerous
intersection; you should use caution when approaching me!

The jittery hummingbirds of extreme hopefulness shake
their wings right off. My wings have long since shaken off.

(Nate Pritts, from “Dangerous Intersection,” in Big Bright Sun, BlazeVOX, 2010)

What sort of intersection are you? What about your character? Give yourself 10 minutes at least, or 20, and let yourself be inspired by that poem fragment above… what rises in you to be written? Let those words onto the page. Thank you for your words today.




graffiti of a hand bearing such words as "courage, believe, grow, imagine, respcet..."This morning I’m headed out to the Amherst Writers and Artists Facilitator Training — the trainees have been gathered for several days already, learning the basics of the method and beginning to push into themselves to find out why they want to do this work. I’ll get to help out with the practice groups, when the fledgling facilitators lead an exercise for the first time using the method, with other trainees & instructors as the writers. I can’t wait.

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Thank you so very much to everyone who donated to my fundraising effort, raising money to attend the Tomales Bay Workshops this October. You all helped me to raise 3/4 of the tuition — that’s absolutely amazing, and I am deeply grateful.

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There was something else I wanted to tell you about this morning — on our walk there was a skunk with tail up, running under an SUV. Sophie and I took off in the other direction. Also, a grey heron down by the shore. Last night, the Mr and I watched Silkwood, and after it was over, I didn’t really want to go out into the dark and take Sophie for her bedtime walk: everything felt tainted and threatening.

There’s not time right now, to remember what it was. Time to shower, drive out to the country to commune with writing group energy. I get to share a bunch of my favorite exercises.

This could be a prompt for today: Write what you forgot. Take 10 minutes, notice whatever comes up when you read that sentence, and just before you get in the shower, or over a coffee or lunch break today, write.

Thanks for your persistence, the way you hold space for what has taken leave, taken a break, gone into retreat or hibernation, to reemerge. Thanks for your creative generosity. Thank you for your words.

friendluv & friendjealousy

stencil graffiti: your existence gives me hopeGood morning!

Listen, have you seen the movie Bridesmaids yet? Will you go see it, so that we can talk about it here?

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Quick reminder: Early bird registration for the Summer’11 writing workshops ends this Friday! The Write Whole: Survivors Write and Declaring Our Erotic begin on June 13 and June 16, respectively — I’m so looking forward to these workshops.  Please let me know if you have questions or would like to join us!

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I want to talk about friendjealousy, the kind that happens when your good friend has another friend/is amazing/has something you want, and you’re happyjealous, thrilled for them and aching with frustration all at the same time. I can actively remember feeling this, first, in elementary school, and it only grew. Maybe it’s fair to say that I felt it earlier, around my sister, but that gets into sisterlove & sisterjealousy, and that’s different.

I can’t tell you how much I identify with the main character in Bridesmaids, how much I’ve been thinking about friendjealousy recently, the ache to be the one and only bestfriend for your friend, that kind of deep and vulnerable love and desire. This is not the same thing as significant-other/lover jealousy: in some ways it can feel more knife-y, more difficult, more scary.

So, more on this soon. It’s a bigger topic than I have time for at this moment, but it’s throbbing around in me, wanting out onto the page. Maybe I can journal about it on the bus.

A prompt, though: friend-jealousy — have you and/or your characters experienced this? What are its contours — I mean, really, what’s its shape? What does it feel like inside your skin? What are you/your character jealous *of*? This might be something happening now, or something that happened back in high school — whatever arises as you read this prompt, begin there, and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go, for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes. Just let yourself write.

Thank you for your honesty about your feelings, even when it’s just deep inside the most secret places of you. Thank you for knowing what matters to you. Thank you for your words.

sometimes, her sexy is ready for you

woman's back, the bones of wings protouding from her shoulder blades, a red scarf wrapped around her neck and mouthGood morning and happy Friday! Just a quick prompt post today, ’cause then I’m off to the cafe for some notebook writing…

Here’s the prompt: Create two lists — ways that you/s/he/they are beautiful and/or sexy, and then, ways that you/s/he/they are not beautiful and/or sexy. Take a few minutes to create each list, separately.

Then combine both lists into the first one: both lists are ways that you/s/he/they are beautiful and/or sexy —  in all their complications. Start you writing using an item from each list, thinking about what beautiful or sexy means… and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Here’s my response to this exercise from last night’s Declaring Our Erotic workshop:

This is what her sexy means — she will remember exactly what you did in the kitchen about the dishes and the cleaning up and there’s no way she’s going to spread her lips or legs or anything until you talk it through — it’s the most ingrained lesbian thing about her, regardless of the gender of the person she’s fucking: processing as foreplay. Although, to be honest, she probably learned that from her stepfather — and that’s another thing she’s going to invite you to consider sexy: the possibility of a reference to incest at any given moment, because it’s of the air she breathes, and she sometimes can’t remember that it’s not the air everyone breathes, consciously, all the time.

Her sexy is broad-thighed and sharp-tongued, it’s round and furred and unslinky, it protrudes and gets hard and slick at all the same time. Her sexy is loud, it’s chatty, though it doesn’t always tell you what it wants — but it’ll write it down for you, though. Just give her a pen or an eyebrow pencil and she’ll happily straddle your ass, bend down over you til her tits just brush at your flesh, and then scrawl out the longing that’s so licking at her fantasy. Only thing is, you’ll have to find a way to read it yourself.

Her sexy is frustrating and complicated, likes to be snared in a puzzle, likes to think something through: that extra effort, it helps to still the parts of her mind that otherwise go lifting back to the first time she did whatever she’s doing with you, since the first time she did just about anything she could do with you she did with him (or rather, he did to her) many years ago. It’s just that way.

Her sexy is confounded and confounding, lost and found in used denim and hand-me-down tank tops, it’s unjeweled and a little glittery and it likes to eat, is covered with ink stains, is often happier curled up with a good dense book than stepping through the land-mine field that is her sex — but then sometimes, sometimes, her sexy is ready for you, unabashed and plain, her sexy is wearing regular old underpants and nothing fancy anywhere and you’ll wonder where that illumination is coming from, you’ll wonder why your heart is pounding, you’ll find yourself suddenly trying to figure out if she’ll let you slide the palms of your hands anywhere against her skin.

Her sexy is too self-conscious and then also entirely uncoordinated, is the wrong shoes to go with that bag, is last season’s last season and doesn’t really even know what that means, is too brash and hairy and tangled with brawn and you’re trying to determine where the grace came from. Her sexy is taking with its mouth full, her sexy is untamed and unnameable, her sexy isn’t the part that wears the ring but is the part that runs rungs around any attempt to classify or condone, is impolite and doesn’t even know the meaning of ladylike, is sweaty and bleeds on the sheets, is too busy for you until she stops and puts her back against the wall, or to rock you back there with one fine kiss — and then her sexy has eyes you thought you knew but are razoring through your frustrations, loosening that ricocheting and complicated need that you, too, have had tangled and lost, thick, inside.

Thank you for your words today, for the ways you step into and embrace your complications. I’m so grateful for you.

poets can only show us the mystery of light

Yesterday was the last meeting of the Art for Recovery Healing through Writing workshop for this spring session.  One of the prompts I offered was a list of quotes from Alice Walker’s, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens”:

  • Only justice can stop a curse
  • Creation often needs two hearts
  • Our best poets write poetry full of holes
  • I am so tired of waiting […] for the world to become good

This was my response:

“Our best poets write poetry full of holes,” for our best poets put themselves into their poems, through their vision and lineage, the breath of their metaphor and memory, through the detail they recount and forget — they put themselves in their poems, and they know, the best poets, that we are all full of holes, that that’s where our light sines through and out, that we are imperfect and we need the connection of others to resolve and decorate us, to flush out and fill in what we can’t do ourselves.

Our best poets can only show us the mystery of light, they pull out of morning and find the starlight in dawn, they give us the echo of sparrows on an otherwise silented concrete neighborhood at 5:50am, the rizz of a passing cyclist and one downtrodden neigh borhood dog with unkempt blackbrowngrey fur and the brightest brutish face, they give us cement front lawns filled with buckets of flowers, concrete driveways with multicolored snapdragons for weeds, they show us what possibility feels like when we show up at our once-upon-a-time favorite cafe at 6am and the lights are still down, the doors still lockied, and the city blows its frigid soaking summer breath all over shivering underlayered you —

And so, because you understand about the holes, you let the cold in, you know that all the experience you can suffer or contain can only come out in your art, is all grist for the mill that is you, and you inhale deep the thick fog, you shake with lack of sleep and the drill of being alive, you watch the joggers in their tight brazen architecture, their skin that says I move too fast for the cold to catch me. You watch the streetcleaning machine make its humping wet way doiwn Divisidaro, you let the gossamer sheen of jasmine into your lungs, knowing this is all there is, and being wildly joyful.

Trauma longs for mystery but can only be its angry white self

This is from today’s Healing through Writing workshop, at the Art for Recovery center (a program of Mt. Zion’s Cancer Resource Center). The prompt was a metaphor making exercise: we created a list seven prompts, each of which contained the name of an illness, a common verb, and a noun, creating a sentence like: “trauma cries like a cow” or “breast cancer bleeds like a pen.” Here’s my write:

Trauma jumps like a star, falling over and across the page, across the sky, across through the brother and sister stars—trauma pushes open the places that weren’t supposed to be open, sheds light where before there was only an arc of black sky.

Trauma rends things, tears me, but what’s true is that after – after – I’m more open.

Here’s where I’m always left, in this reconciliation: how can it be that what was so awful could have left me a person I like now, softened, surprisable?  Something I wish never would have happened, would over and over go back in time and change if I could, and still here and now I am grateful for this one life, just as it is and was.

Trauma walks in like a gun and douses like rainbows, sets down its bags and stays awhile, lives like motion and time, names new histories than the ones you thought you were going to have had.  Trauma moves the goal posts and sings off key and drunkenly at the karaoke machine, trauma eats with its fingers and makes a mess on your clean kitchen floor. Trauma unlocks all the echoes and waits for no trains to come, it takes off at a run for the next moving car and then leaps.

Trauma longs for mystery but can only be its angry white self, trauma separates the white from the yolk and then smears everything together on the backs of your eyes, occluding all clear recollection, stopping the distance, the horizon, from coming up on you fast, stopping tomorrow from being visible at all.  Trauma lessens the possibility of memory by feeding you drinks and shouting in your ear then it’s gone and your sweltering in a cool silent room and the curtains billow in the evening shade breeze and you wonder how you got here and what this sticky stuff is on your hands and you don’t understand yet that your angry beating heart will be the one truest friend that you have for years.

All I’ll ever do

Write write write writeThis is from the Art for Recovery/Healing through Writing workshop last Thursday — the prompt was a poem from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, (“Words For It”), and then we started with the phrases, “I wish I could take language and…” or “This is what I want my stories to do…”

This is what I want my stories to do: I want the stories to do the work for me, I want them to go back in time and change what happened, I want us to be able to breathe again.

What I want is for my stories to open me to you — I want you to see what I hide. I want you to look under the metaphors and sentences for the scraps and facts of me. I want you to see what’s left of my childhood behind that poem. I want you to welcome my badness with open arms, the way you welcome the sing-song of my lines.

I want my stories to explain things you didn’t understand about me, to straighten out your confusion and misperceptions, to unlock the doors I hide behind, keeping myself from you. The stories are a false front and yet they are everything — I’m nothing that’s not exposed there, all my facts are there, my neuroses and nurseries. I want you to quit examining me and look in my writing instead for answers, for clarification.

I’m clouded today, and drifting; as much as I want to write for other people, deep and true who I write for is me. That one audience, to explain self to self. How blissful when someone else looks in to this locked cage and seeks out a separate score of answers. We can’t find any history here, no index to this body of words, and I know I’m more than the printing on the page but this scout of expression is all I truly have time for these days.

(This isn’t making sense — I’m just trusting the process, scooping up and laying out what words my consciousness offers me, always and especially when they don’t make sense. Too much attention paid to sense-making, not enough settling the score with nonsense.)

What you don’t want to hear is how I’m not ok, how I want someone else to write this me-story, even though I know it’s only in the process of doing it that I can ever hope to discover who I actually was, and am. “I wish I could take language and” have it do its job, just one time clean and honest, convey to you what I’m really thinking. But we have to keep dancing, you and me, words and Jen. It’s all I’ll ever do.

Holding up around the bones and breath of me

This is a write from Monday night’s Write Whole workshop — the prompt was a Band-Aid!

Band-Aids are super sterile now — they just smell like air.  They used to smell like something, I think, they used to smell like plastic and medicine, they used to smell like a wound and its healing, they used to smell like recovery or its possibility. And there was always a box of them in the hallway closet outside the bathroom, where the overflow toiletries and first aid stuff lived, and the box had a hundred different sizes of Band-Aids, the big elbow-sized ones and the ones with cut-outs for knuckle or thumb (those hour-glass shaped ones ere always the last ones left in a box), then the tiny, pinky-toe ones and the circle ones that really only ever got used when you go to the doctor and have to get a shot.

As a kid I was constantly covered with scratches and scars and scams, having stubbed this or fallen off my bike and scraped that or dug in rocky soil with my fingers and jabbed something else — but I don’t remember being especially band-aid-covered. Maybe when an opening in my skin wouldn’t stop bleeding after the application of paper towel or toilet paper and pressure — ok, there’d be a good time for a band-aid.  But otherwise, I preferred to let air and skin and coagulants (although I didn’t know that word then) do their thing.  Bandages got ragged and dirty on me real quick — I didn’t like having to keep something clean.

When my sister cut her foot during a trip to the Henry Doorly Zoo, when she slipped while we were walking on the raised concrete at the edge of the path and the sharp bottom of the metal cyclone fencing snagged into her ankle and she got rushed to the hospital (thereby, I think I’ve mentioned before, ruining our zoo trip, which was all I could focus on then), she had to get stitches and then wear a bag on her foot for forever, whenever she showered, until they healed — that just looked like torture to me.  I wouldn’t have done very well with the stitches.  They would have got pulled out of me torn and dirty, I think.

I trusted my skin to do its job, and mostly it has, holding up around the breath and bones of me, seizing its chances to throb and moan and rest now and then, when I’m too rough, healing up around itself again and again and again.

chard like a windbreak

The prompt was an avocado: I split it in half, handed everyone a spoon, and passed the halves around the room. We could each take a taste, savor the scent and texture, and then we wrote from whatever came up for us in response:

sprouted avocado seedMy mom grew avocado seeds in the windowsill, always had a clear glass or jelly jar mostly filled with water that had, perched on top of it, a bulby brown seed with three toothpicks stuck into it to hold only the bottom half into the water.  We’d watch, my sister and I, til the seed split, and you could see the cream-white insides beneath the shallow brown topcoat.  Then the root would push out, like a tail, diving down into the water, separating from itself, over the days, into many roots tangling inside the glass.  The top would grow, too, the true oblong-almond leaves taking over a corner of the kitchen window that looked out onto our back yard and her garden.

My mother could make anything grow.  She sprouted alfalfa seeds, threw mint seeds out the back door and a Jack’s beanstalk-y thatch of strong herb would take hold. She raised gardens that seem, to my little kid memory, like they were acres long and wide — like they honestly went on for miles.  I could get lost in them, remember being as high as the bean plants, the tomatoes towering over me.

I have stopped sticking toothpicks into my avocado seeds — I can never remember which side is supposed to go in the water, which side stays out.  I forget to refill the glass, and the seed shrivels dry, or I keep it too full and the seed gets slimy with the wrong kind of growth, or else I set it too precariously somewhere and tip the whole set-up into the sink, or onto my single pair of unstained dress pants.  When I prep for gardening, I get leggy seedlings where my mother gets strong stocky new plants, and there she is tending her lieblings in the weak Nebraska early spring sun while I’m out here in California where you’re supposed to be able to spit and grow a garden up of whatever if twas you ate for lunch.

The truth is I’m tired of trying to grow my mother’s garden, and I’m desperate to — I want all the wild miraculous over-growth, the yarrow full and stalked like queen anne’s lace, the thick red rhubarb, the tomato plants that go on for days, the chard waving like a wind-break — and more.  I want to show her what I can do, have some tender hopeful ground that we can meet on, ground that I’ve loved something good into, that I’ve worked alongside the bees and spiders and jays, and have her squint her brown mamagirl’s eyes at me the way she does when she’s smiling so big and say, “Well, this is just wonderful, Jen” (and hear how we both want her to say “Jenny” still). And I want it not to hurt, like someone’s yanking at all the breaks in my heart, whenever she smiles.