This past Saturday I took a class through Writers’ League of Texas (More Than A Feeling: Writing With Emotion), taught by Greg Garrett. Because I write literary fiction, it tends toward the emotional side. I believe it’s something I naturally do well, but there’s always room to learn new things. Mostly, I find Dr. Garrett inspirational. Often times I leave the classes and feel discouraged- so many ‘rules’ and parameters, especially when it comes to winning an agent. The road is indeed narrow, and at times I feel outside of it. But I had taken a class with Greg before, and enjoyed it so much, and left so inspired, that when another came back around, I jumped at the opportunity. And, it didn’t disappoint.
Greg talked a lot about his own mentor, Robert Olen Butler. And then at the end of the lecture we spent an hour on a guided writing prompt. I wanted to share that. First, I’ll provide the prompts and follow them with the writing that flowed from them so that there’s no disruption in reading the story. But no critique is necessary- this was a spontaneous, free flow writing prompt, and I’m sharing it in it’s unedited form. If I had it to do over again, I would probably focus more on detail and anchoring emotion. But I enjoyed the experience and the outcome enough to share it here:
Prompts are given one at a time. Write until the next prompt is given. When the next prompt is given, write a brief bridge to it and continue with the prompt. Think of a specific place you feel safe.
- Describe in detail this safe place and what is around you.
- You hear a noise. Stop, and resolve it and come back to describe one specific item in detail.
- The item/object prompts a memory, a flashback.
- Coming back from the flashback, how has your view of the object changed?
#1 The lighting is dim most of the time, but controlled by the simple pull of a cord, if I choose. I am surrounded by things, my possessions, carefully chosen and as equally carefully placed. They all have significance- the blue morpho specimens hanging on the wall, three of them to be exact, the collaged poster I made with my 2014 resolutions- (I probably should at least change the date on it), my SoulCollage® facilitator training certificate, oh ya, and the card my mom sent me right before she died- the one with the character pulling lemons out of her shirt where her breasts should be, reminding me to make lemonade when life hands me lemons.
The dusty tops of the dark laminate furniture support trinkets of equal sentimentality- the Tibetan chakra bowls, resting on their pillows, waiting to make their sounds, the clay house trinket box my autistic son made in elementary school, with the roof that doesn’t quite fit, and is always slightly ajar, the beautiful slab of an agate geode, carefully displayed on a stand, just enough the light shines through when I do pull that cord to allow it in, and I can’t forget that hand-carved, sand colored stone swirly thing my husband insisted on contributing.
#2 I suddenly hear a noise, unsure of what it is. It came from behind me, so I turn around, and hear it again. It’s my granddaughter, knocking softly at the door. I open the door and greet her, inviting her in. As always, a smile across her face, her shoulders high, she marches in, asking me what I am doing.
“Feeling my space”, I tell her.
With the unconditional acceptance of a three year old, she replies, “Oh.”
She asks, “Can I see your fish, MeMa?”
I follow behind as she gets up on the tips of her toes, hanging onto the edge of the cabinet with her hands, and pushes her face as close to the fishtank as she can get.
“Do you want to feed him”, I ask?
“Uh-huh”, she says, feet now flat as she opens the door to the cabinet to get out the fish food.
“Hang on”, I tell her, words pushing out faster than usual.
She likes to do things on her own, which on more than one occasion has resulted in half the container of tiny fish food pellets ending up all in the carpet. But she doesn’t wait. She yanks the container out with the energy only a three year old could have, and without any seeming awareness of the spilled contents, she gets back on her toes, waiting for me to lift her up to the tank opening.
“How about this, Maddy”, I tell her, “why don’t we feed the fish later. Let’s sit down for a minute and just look, okay”?
“Okay, Mema”, she says.
I sit down in the chair next to the tank, and bring her onto my lap. She points to the monkey holding out a bowl that is resting next to us on the bookcase. “Monkey”, she says.
“Yes, monkey. And you know what’s in there, don’t you?” I smirk as she reaches long to pluck out the inch-long, smokey quartz pendulum resting in the monkey bowl.
It’s got a sharp point, so I’m always conscious of that when she wants to hold it. And she breaks the chain on it just about every time she wants to hold it, which has been about five times now. The silvery chain is rather cheaply made, held together by weak and loose links. She holds the pendulum by the chain, closer to the heavy wide top, and begins to twirl it around. She’s never seen me use it, but she intuitively knows how.
#3 As she sits on my lap, the pendulum circling around, I remember how he had the pendulum in his hand, his grip fiercely tonic. He’s hyperventilating and I don’t know what’s wrong. I call out his name, over and over, but get no response. His entire body is violently convulsing, and he’s gurgling, foamy saliva gushing up out of his mouth. The room is chaotic, full of panicked people and not even a bare spot on the floor, as he has this habit of not cleaning his room. I quickly push away stuff, shoving hard with my hands and feet into a pile, just to make enough room to roll him over on his side. I can’t see or hear anything else but him, as my mind is laser-focused on what is happening, and is racing with thoughts faster than I can catch up with them. I roll him over to his side, his entire body still in convulsive motion. I yell out, “go call 9-1-1”, but the words gush out from a place I am not connected to, an unconscious place. I do not have my phone with me- I left it in the panic. I consider this for a moment- I don’t know how I knew, because I never even checked for my phone, and I don’t remember even thinking about whether I had it with me.
#4 Indeed, the mind is a powerful thing. Maddy twirls the pendulum around one last time before the chain breaks. “Uh-oh, MeMa”, she says, as she turns and looks at me with her big soulful eyes. “It’s okay”, I tell her. When she used to want to play with the pendulum I would dread it, knowing it would require me to get out my jewelry repair tools, taking the time to repair it. I gently take the pendulum from her hand, and she reluctantly drops the broken pieces of the chain into my cupped hand. I lay the pendulum, and all the broken pieces of the chain back in the monkey’s offering bowl. It can stay broken for a while. I’m in no hurry to fix it. I pull Maddy deeper into my lap and ask her if she wants to sing a song with me. She quickly answers, “Yes!”
“Ok, which song do you want to sing then?”
“Ummmmm”, she pauses, tilting her head slightly, she blurts out, “Wheels on the Bus.”
“Wheels on the Bus it is then”, I say. “Okay, I’m going to clap and when I get to three, we’ll start singing, okay?”
She nods, putting her hands together.