This last writing exercise (see first and explanation here) was probably my least favourite, because it felt the most artificial and restrictive to me and results in a kind of inscrutable poetry. But the intent is to generate interesting phrases and images that wouldn’t naturally come to you, and I can see working with it into something more like me.
Anyway, Elee got this exercise from an American poet named Jericho Brown. She gave us a poem and had us write down the opposite of each word, word by word. From that, we took a small part where we felt there was some interesting phrasing or imagery and smoothed it out so it sounded less like something a robot would generate.
First here’s the original snippet of the poem Guest by Nuar Alsadir that spawned my selection:
… Resistance, then fire, then to your room
without toys. Later, it’ll be the boys
to whom your friend will cater,
seem to love best. Such is the fate
of the steadfast; you’ll never be a guest.
Submission, before water, comes from within, with work. First we’ll pretend some girls exist whom my enemies won’t starve with indifference. None see chaos without wavering; we’ll always feel like coming home.
Elee explained this as a dadaist group writing exercise where we begin writing from a provided phrase and every 15 seconds the next person in the circle calls out the last concrete word she’d written (we disqualified things like “the”, “be” etc.), and we’d all use that word next and continue from there. No stopping the flow of words, even if it meant writing nonsense or duplicate words and phrases, and no worrying about making the story make sense. She said, and I can see, that it would make a great writing exercise for a group of children.
Here’s the first part of mine, with provided words bolded (I’m probably missing some as I’m doing that by memory). I felt while doing it that I tried to force a through-line by writing into the words instead of adding them abruptly when they were called out — I found it hard to let go of the train of thought once I hopped on board — but it’s still quite stream of consciousness:
I made my way downstairs, happy to be going down not up, the staircase challenge lies to me, feeling like I can’t catch my breath when really it’s not that hard, I just have to go to find me and what I think about the man who had the heart attack and died. Why am I thinking about this when it’s nothing to do with me? I walk outside and feel the breeze. My hair is catching on my glossed mouth and I look for trees with cherry blossoms to cheer me up. They make me think how small and insignificant my problems are and the fledgling thoughts try to find articulation in my brain but thoughts of death and life don’t seem small. My cats give me solace because they don’t try to offer me advice, and their only comfort is just being and needing cat food and water and changing the litter box and attention.
Another writing exercise Elee shared with us (see first post – these are meant to spur creativity) was to provide a list of 14 random book titles and have us write as many of them as we liked into a piece of writing. She just had a poem created through this method published in an anthology.
So if you want to duplicate it, snoop at a friend’s bookshelf and write down several titles. Or you could use your own bookshelf.
Here’s what I came up with (provided titles are bolded, though you could probably have spotted them anyway because my writing isn’t by nature as poetic as this exercise forces it to be):
I plot my flight from the enchanter, that killer poker-faced man, but I find us falling together into the great turning void where I generate the necessary illusions to keep us connected. What the night tells the day is that we both fill our voids with these unsafe practices to quiet the little stranger in our heads, the one who guards the floating book of secrets no one else will understand.
Every now and then the thought crosses my mind that since I’ve moved away from wanting to regularly write personal essays suited for this blog — for many reasons, including laziness, the lack of anonymity, and did I mention laziness? — I should consider putting other kinds of writing here. It generally occurs to me when I’ve written a piece that I can’t publish here because it’s for another publication/client/whatever, or because it’s too personal, or because … did I mention laziness? But having this as a venue could spur me to feel more comfortable sharing fictional snippets I don’t intend to do anything with, and that comfort might in turn spur me to do something more with some other things.
So … this weekend I took a workshop from Geist magazine called The Creative Blender with Elee Kraljii Gardiner, who offered some writing exercises I’ll share here, both the exercises in case you want to try them and at least bits of my results in case you want to laugh at me.
The first one was to visualize and write out our inner critic. In the sample Elee gave, the author gave hers the persona of a femme fatale, a cool chick she could never impress. Elee said ours might be an amorphous blob, or a chorus of voices, or any number of manifestations.
Mine is a very specific line spoken by a very specific real person: a creative non-fiction prof I had in university. The fact that her words became the personification of my inner critic has little to do with her or what she said and more to do with her having put a name, face, and slogan to my own fears and beliefs. And, as Elee pointed out, that gives me a very specific focus for any fighting back I might want to do.
Oh, my inner critic wants me to mention that these exercises were written in 5-10 minutes in class and I don’t write well on command like that, so they’re far from polished works of art. But with no further apology, here’s the most coherent bit of what I wrote for this one:
She’s Icelandic Inuit, a published poet and novelist and painter: interesting. Short with greyish course curly hair, never makeup, just bare ruddy skin. Honest. Telling me “anyone could have written this.” It’s true, I didn’t find my voice until later, experimenting with online writing, but I still hear: “anyone could have written this.” Scrawled in red on a deeply personal essay. Even my deepest, most personal thoughts are boring. My writing’s boring. I’m boring. She and I had this brief touchpoint, this one class 20 years ago, and still her words are part of my brain, forever.