Category Archives: prompts

A lot of wind

Muggy air continues. Gusty wind all day and in the last hour, rain.

Finished this. A little press will tidy the edges a bit. The fabric for the moons was dyed with indigo in South Carolina. The woven sections came after a class with Jude. I just couldn’t stop making woven rectangles for a while. The crab was stitched down a lot of years ago. It’s good to finish things, isn’t it?

But mostly, I’ve been editing. Received written comments from my editor on the last section of novel yesterday and spoke with her today.

I’ve known all along that the last bit drags. How to fix? Invent a crisis? Shorten the timeline?

I’m going with the recommendation (long-considered) of skipping a batch of years. It’s gonna help so much!

In the meantime, I need to start submitting chapters here and there with the hopes of getting part of the novel in print. It helps you get published.

The following two photos come from a tiny book called, The Art of Seeing. They were the prompts in the writing session this morning.

I’m upstairs. The book is downstairs. I’ll provide photographer’s names after dinner.

They were effective prompts.

Day 68

Rereading writing from my teaching notebook this afternoon. Themes emerge. Below are three excerpts.

But first, some wisdom from Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life.”

She advocates writing about what most interests us, possibly a thing no one else could write but us. She counsels, like Jude does actually, to give it all away.

Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?

I’m not suggesting the paragraphs below meet that level of urgency but here they are anyway.

2/20 Prompt: something about Going Big

In the fraught days between impeachment and acquittal, women in black hold large letters spelling REMOVE TRUMP, protesting in silence because otherwise they might be arrested. They walk in repetitive loops as if enacting a strange monastic ritual or like an orderly colony of ants, because to be still, they’re told, is an impermissible barricade of the Senate halls and could also result in arrest.

The darkest hour might be before the dawn, but it’s also true that things die. Even Republics.

Heroes come, rise up, and are crucified, goes one story. Now all my heroines shout and shout again: “NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE YOU. There is only us.”

On good days, this inspires. On bad days, a silent and sour question emerges: “Oh yeah? And what are WE going to do?”

2/20 Prompt: “Finally, you wonder, why does Gaia tolerate all this?”

How quickly we run into our obstinate, unyielding consumptive need! Maybe Gaia, being a goddess and all, doesn’t care if we make it as a species. Maybe Gaia doesn’t care if earth remains livable for human beings, either.

That’s kind of like what Ram Dass said that time he shared the stage with someone calling herself a visionary Christian, someone passionately committed to our survival, to our waking up to the nature of our self-destruction. Correct course! Before it’s too late! Ram Dass sat there, so alive, so himself, and asked the question right out: “Why should I be invested in our survival? In one result over another?”

4/20 Prompt: speak as a part of the body — I chose spine

We prepare for darkness, the dust to dust part. Such preparations are not morbid. In fact, they are joyous. How lovely to breathe. How lovely to breathe knowing one day you will not. We crumble and compress on our way to the grave. Such is the way of all structures, not just skeletons, but empires and republics.

Did it ever occur to you that much of your daily agonies arise from wanting, desperately wanting, our Republic to survive?

Purple rice joy

Last night was one of those nights when we might’ve eaten out were it not for the pandemic. I was tired and had no ideas on deck and by the time I got around to fixing dinner, it was too late to roast the chicken waiting in the cellar fridge.

Et voila! Cooked up a batch of toothsome purple rice and served it up with sautéed shallots, yellow peppers, and chicken sausage. Satisfying! Then, even better, I had two servings of rice left for lunch. Tired celery? Throw it in. Red onion? Yes, please.

After a thorough search, I found NINE more notebooks from the relevant time period (A Tale of Two Sisters, 2009 – 2019). I am so appreciative of the many ideas posted in the comments yesterday.

Things I might not have thought of. Beautiful role modeling. Support offered before asked for. I have such a gracious, smart, and warm circle of friends here!

The notebook pile I’m referring to is to the left of the desk.

Today’s class was really good as usual. Because I had just finished Alice Hoffman’s WWII novel, “The World That We Knew,” (which features a golem as a prominent character), I offered the golem as a prompt.

If you could have a creature made out of mud and temporarily animated to serve you, how would it protect you? How would it offer solace?

Mine ended up being a Hosta Spirit, offering resilience and adaptability. It directly addressed how to approach writing about my sister.

It’s a thread-the-needle situation: how to revisit awful, awful scenes without catapulting myself back into that mess? I don’t think it’s impossible, but I need to have some strategies.

The writing that’s already come about her kind of had a life of its own, arriving on the page as if waiting to be written. I really trust that.

Body as writing prompt

Writing Prompt: “Throw consciousness to some particular part of the body. Put the whole mind there… what are the reports?

This sounds like a Gestalt exercise, but it comes from an old book entitled, “Power of Will,” by Frank Channing Haddock. 1918.

(How weird to see that the book was published during the Spanish flu).

Here is a part of what I wrote, neck speaking:

Wasn’t it funny that you had a nail in your pocket during your bone scan? The x-ray technician queried, “Are you sure there’s nothing else in your pockets?” And there it was: a three inch nail, left over from a day of hanging mirrors on the wall where you come in. On the wall where you come in now light gathers on various rectangles of glass, a pleasing magic no less potent for being ordinary.

The diagnostics designed to show my crumbling demise partner with a tool for bringing in more light.

The scan sees through shirt and pants and flesh, all the way down to the bone. Look! There we are, the C-3’s and C-4’s, just below your skull. Perhaps a little gratitude is in order. How long we’ve upheld your head — through dance class, Take Back the Night Rallies, and snowstorms and screaming sex and giving birth and closing doors and making soup. . . Everything you can name and lots you can’t name as well.

Crumbling is one way to describe us. Compression: average to moderate. Waiting for severe. Still going, albeit with a crunch.

We could use your kind attention right now and in the right nows that follow. Please baby our nerves, stretch our muscles. Let the phone buzz and the screen stay dark. Take a bath with salts. Scrub your knees and elbows with the salt. Remember that you are an electrical being.

Sunlight is disinfecting, healing, which is why hanging mirrors is never merely ornamental. Find it. Sit in it.

Piggyback prayer. Burn a punk or two. It’s time to go deeper.

Remember how we used to say, “the breath knows how”?

Well, the breath knows how.

May all sentient beings by joyful, etc.

We prepare for darkness — the dust to dust part. Such preparations are not morbid. In fact, they are joyous. How lovely to breathe knowing that one day you will not. We crumble and compress on our way to the grave. Such is the way of all structures, not just skeletons, but also empires and republics.

Did it ever occur to you how much of your agonies arise from wanting, desperately wanting, the Republic to survive?

It might. It might not. Do your calls, your protests and postcards, but forget a return, a preservation, a rekindling or a revolution. Give all those ideas up. This we say to you.

Writing Prompts, Collection I

“That joy you’re experiencing is not only contagious, it’s necessary and urgent and irresistible.”

Wesley Morris talking about Black music / Sept 7 episode of The Daily, a #1619 episode

“The ghosts shudder, but they do not leave.”

“We hold hands and pretend at forgetting.”

“There is soft yellow sunlight and drifting pollen where he was, and me and [Pop] embracing in the grass. The animals are quieting in grunts and snorts and yips. Thank you, they say. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, they sing.

Jesmyn Ward, Sing Unburied Sing

“… All the patience lost with holding on and finding out the cost of being strong.”

Amy Wedge, “Not Enough” — soundtrack to “Keeping Faith” TV program

“Where is the ground we can stand on?”

A friend, about the current state of American affairs

“She slid like a seal out of any old sadness she carried.”

“Why does death catch us so by surprise?”

“The slightest clue can give us away.”

“Dizzy, I eventually found the car…”

Colum McCann, TransAtlantic

“She didn’t tell me anything until we were standing by the river.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones, creator of the #1619 project speaking on one of The Daily shows

“And that is the way she saw the land, with no difference between the different kinds of yesterday.”

Anne Enright — sorry not sure which novel

“There is no full circle, tidy conclusion, or simple solution to any of this.”

Suki Kim, Land of Darkness, in The Best American Essays, 2018, talking about N. Korea

After reading Maureen Jones’ poem titled “Nuptial” (blessed are the menial chores) and Robin Greene’s poem titled “This Old Dress I Call Jewish,” (Illuminations, Expressions of the Personal Spiritual Experience) the prompt was simply: write about a dress.

“… in the next age, the forests will prevail, not you humans.”

Goddess Alchemy

“… a shard of ice shivered through me. I was aware of a terrible voice.”

“His voice — his beautiful voice — rang high and light.”

Geraldine Brooks, The Secret Chord These two voice prompts worked well one right after the other.

“Nature has the talent to soften, forgive, and remake, to create something beautiful out of our mistakes, paradoxes, and counterpoints — even when it comes to you invisibly.”

Mark Helprin, Present Tense in Paris

“My soul. She was eating my soul.”

Mather Schneider, “Suicide Lane,” Rattle, Vol. 61, page 35

These next seven prompts were given at six minute intervals. I was worried about interrupting the writers’ flow, but it worked marvelously. These are headings from one of the fairy tales in The Complete Fairy Tales of George MacDonald. With each heading I supplied a few words from that section of the fairy tale, to use or not.

1. Where is she? (rose bush, sultry, ethereal, mischief)

2. She laughed too much (awkward, abandoned, consultation, peculiarities)

3. Try metaphysics (ecstasy, mineral, imponderable)

4. Try a drop of water (condescended, balcony, wind)

5. Look at the moon (canopies, knot, trembling)

6. Hiss (horizontal, unlocked)

7. This is very kind of you (fate, joy)

Enjoy!!