Category Archives: prompts

From Tuesday, June 21, 2022

I don’t normally title blog posts with dates, but it feels important to note the time. Five and a half weeks since the shooting in Buffalo. Four weeks since the shooting in Uvalde. The day before the fourth Jan 6 Hearing. The day of the Supreme Court handing down long-awaited decisions. The day after Beyonce dropped a song from her new album.

The paragraphs below were written in a go to a prompt and are not edited.

The prompt: “She stopped listening to weather reports.”

She stopped listening to weather reports. It was a matter of self-preservation she said. “I want to remember how to sniff for rain,” she said. “Enough with the apps!” Stepping onto the blue stone in the cool of morning with bare feet had also receded into some primitive time of “before.”

The local screech owls died when they tore down the Newton Andover woods to make way for townhomes. She found one of their bodies. The neighbor who had called out to them in the dark of spring evenings when the bats came out, was gone now too.

Speaking of sniffing, just yesterday on a dog walk with her husband, she’d said, “That smells like fox. They spray too you know.” Of course he knew.

She’d collected skunk bones from under the deck one summer, their vertebrae like candies in her palm, but neither of them had ever seen a fox.

The very next morning, her phone chimed at 6:40 a.m. — too early for Patty’s daily wordle result. It was her husband. He’d resumed hoofing it to the T two or three times a week. “You’ll never believe this,” it read. “I saw a fox on Cypress Street this morning.”

It was as if the universe was playing with them. Maybe, she thought, she ought to start picturing the FBI raiding Mar-A-Lago. After all, it was the Solstice, which is one of the corners of the year when the Old Ones believe that a crack between the worlds opened up. Possibilities unlikely on an ordinary day might fly on the longest day.

Today she sat and watched her phone, waiting for the inevitable. At ten a.m., the Supreme Court started publishing opinions, the whole country holding its breath — the bad of it all about to get so much worse.

It wasn’t like she set out to learn political minutiae, like how reconciliation bills were exempt from the filibuster or how tight margins in some primaries triggered an automatic recount, but she did. This morning she learned that the highest court released opinions by reverse seniority. Kavanaugh’s came first and when Breyer’s dropped, it meant Dobbs would hold another day, since Alito is junior to Breyer.

A Roe expert on twitter wrote “Sobbs” by mistake and then said, “Well, that fits too.”

Beyonce’s first single in years dropped last night proving there is still good in the world. Talent and beauty, gifts to us all. If only her singing, “You won’t break my soul,” applied universally, unilaterally. Could her message be like the slight scent of musk which had been received with disbelief only to be met the very next day with the actual embodiment of what was believed impossible. Jump suits for everyone!

Her therapist will only read the news (not watch) and some days only the headlines. She says it’s too much otherwise. Silvia says the same.

At the doctor’s office yesterday, the form asked if she ever felt anxious, restless, depressed, or hopeless. Suicide screening is nothing new. She checked “often” for a lot of them. When the doctor held up the form later with a raised eyebrow, she just waved it off saying simply, “I watch the news.”

The fox crossing the road, the very first sited in over thirty years, seemed a kind of miracle — a call and response between imagination and reality. These days, she couldn’t tell if her hopelessness was being tamped down by some efficient and reliable defenses, or if it was denial battering her, forcing her to adopt notions, hopeful notions, that simply weren’t supported by reality. We all know denying reality creates tension. Tension.

“How much hopelessness is appropriate?” was a question she never expected to ask herself with such regularity.

A fox crossing the road. A sweep for the good at the midterms. A musky scent confirmed. Indictments handed out all the way to the top. A summer dance tune: “You won’t break my soul.”

*  *  *

Yesterday’s hearing, as it turned out, gave cause for hope — the brave testimony and acts of ordinary poll workers — Ms. Moss and her mother, Lady Ruby Freeman. But it was also cause for fear because it demonstrated that the right has “operationalized violence,” as Nicolle Wallace said, and these ordinary poll workers, also Black women, were targeted in an extreme and gross manner that speaks to Jim Crow and the lengths trump and his cohort have been willing to go to hold onto power.

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.