Writing Exercise Storymatic 1

A friend gave me a Storymatic@, which I use occasionally when I need writing prompts. One day I pulled cards with these phrases and wrote a story:
rest area
pet is behaving strangely
employee in a fast food restaurant

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Rory hated working at McDonald’s. well, truth be told he hated working around food. Period. The smells alone made him wish he were made of plastic with no need of sustenance.

Was that possible, he wondered? What if GI Joe or Ken or American Girl Doll came to life, not as a human but as a live plastic person. He liked the idea.

When he was growing up his sisters used to get into trouble with Mama because they fed their baby dolls milk. Within a few days of course the dolls began to stink as the milk soured. But they played with them until Mama made them toss the dolls away. They begged and whined for more dolls and promised to never do it again. Even fed them water for weeks before the lure of milk beckoned again. Mama stopped buying them dolls with holes in their mouths.

Or was he misremembering this? Maybe they just got tired of dolls once they realized they couldn’t be fed real food. That was more likely.

He wondered what it would be like to be plastic and not need any sustenance. He wondered what it would be like then lost interest when the cat, a large yellow female walked into the front door of the restaurant. It walked as though it belonged there. In fact, it looked around in such a way that Rory would not have been surprised if it had taken a seat next to the couple who were coo-cooing at a baby sitting in the restaurant-provided high chair.

The cat stared at the couple with a look that was intense, even for a cat. Rorry had seen lots of odd things. You do when you work in a restaurant located in a rest area. People are not always at their best: hungry, tired, lost, pissed off with everyone. Occasionally, there are folks who are excited at the freedom of a drive with a stopover at a rest area with clean bathrooms, and restaurants.

The only stray animals Rory ever saw were rodents, birds, and the occasional raccoon. Now that he thought about it, he’d never seen a cat at the rest area.

“Maybe it’s looking for a job,” a bemused voice said behind Rory. He jumped. Valerie, the manager had quietly joined him in looking at the cat visitor.

The cat, still standing on all fours in a commanding way, looked at Rory and Valerie and meowed loudly.

Well we have got plenty for her to do with all these rats running around, Rory said, just a bit too loudly. The couple had stopped cooing and Rory’s pronouncement had filled the silence. Valerie poked him hard with her elbow.

Ow! He yelped.

The couple looked at them and began hurriedly packing up their things. The mother clasped the baby desperately to her chest, looking around as though a horde of rodents was closing in on her.

The cat watched all this for a bit with disdain only a feline can muster. Then with a twitch of her tail, she headed straight for the kitchen.

You’re hired! Valerie shouted at the cat, as she disappeared around the corner. The two friends burst out laughing

Sustaining an idea over a long piece-an Example

Ta-Nehesi Coates’s piece in the Atlantic is an example of writing that starts with a provocative premise and does much to support it. He does a fine job sustaining an argument over a very long piece. This is an excerpt from his new book, We Were Eight Years in Power. His book Between the World and Me is also one of those exemplars if you are interested in writing about provocative issues, such as race: The First White President

Keep writing!

Ruth

Television. Really?

Every now and again I wonder: Why do people watch television? I include myself in this. In fact, let’s rephrase the question: Why do I watch television?

I love watching television shoes and movies. I don’t own cable; I watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, and whatever I can cadge off the Internet. My question ponders the act of watching other people pretend to live other people’s lives.

Personally, I like getting lost in other worlds. I usually watch shows that have little similarity to my own life; so, it is an escape. Fortunately, I am aware of this.

I have just finished watching Bosch Season 3 on Amazon Prime. I’ve read most of the Bosch novels by Michael Connelly. Titus Welliver is the perfect actor to play this sardonic character and Jamie Hector looks and acts exactly as I pictured J Edgar. Perfect casting makes the characters real for me as I watch people pretend to be other people, who are themselves figments of an author’s imagination.

Thousands of years ago, would humans have even thought about such a phenomenon as television and streaming video? Well, they went to see plays or listened to stories about historic figures– watching (or listening to) people pretend to be people that may or may not have existed. This fascination with imagining and enjoying other people’s lives is nothing new. Perhaps television is an inevitable evolution of our artistic enjoyment, embedded in the human genes. Those who don’t watch TV or videos might scoff because they read books. However, even reading books represents the same phenomenon: experiencing other people’s lives, some of whom may exist or have existed at one time; much of the time, fictionalized lives.

As I watch Titus Welliver, I realize that he is the actor doing a fine job playing Bosch, the character himself, Bosch as depicted by or deviating from the character as conceptualized by Michael Connelly. I consider the artistry that makes me believe that Welliver is Bosch. Camera angles, soundtrack, lighting, all work together to create a mood and narrative as depicted by the director (among so many others).

When watching televised performances, I frequently consider technical aspects. So much is involved in creating even the shortest film. The other day a colleague showed us a 15-minute film of herself folding paper cranes while reading a poem she’d written that used cranes as metaphor. A few months before, she had read this poem to us while teaching us how to fold cranes.

These events are totally different. We shared this with her after she showed us the film. For me the film was a performance. Some people would view it as an art installation. I asked her about camera angles. I assumed that someone else had filmed her. However, she had filmed and edited everything by shooting and reshooting from different vantage points, editing and re-reading, editing and re-reading, until she acquired the effect she wanted.

I was fascinated by the process and her talent. Reading this, you probably are thinking that watching someone folding cranes isn’t the most interesting thing. However, it was very meditative watching one segment of a person’s life, while listening to her read a poem about the history of indigenous people. I have taken all the juice out of the experience with these flat words. Yet, at bottom, that is exactly what went on.

And if I were to flatten out the scenes from Bosch, the words would be something on the order of watching a police detective go about doing his job. Many of the scenes are just he and his partner driving around talking. Every now and again, there is a chase, gunplay, or other physical action emotionally intensified through music. Scene after scene. It is a performance that many, such as myself, find enjoyable enough to spend hours watching.

Our ancestors might not have been able to imagine television, but I think they would have understood the fascination.

***

Ruth Farmer
Farmer Writing and Editing
Offering coaching, editing, and writing services
Specializing in personal essays and scholarly personal narratives
rfarmer@gmavt.net
802-377-3001

Rainy Days and Mondays

It is a rainy day, Monday, and – yes – I feel a bit down. In the past few days, I have run into several folks who felt down due to the weather, which has been cloudy and damp, interspersed with just enough sunlight to make you appreciate it and miss it when it’s gone. Spring has arrived; of that I have no doubt.

11 problems a writer has while reading (in no particular order)

  1. You can’t help thinking, “I wrote that story 10 years ago. Why didn’t I try to publish it?”
  2. You wouldn’t have made the killer the best friend. It’s been done to death; pun intended.
  3. You can anticipate the next three words in nearly every line of dialogue.
  4. You wonder if the author intended to use that cliché. And that one. And that one.
  5. Because the protagonist’s name is Lindsay with an “a,” you find it difficult to take her seriously.
  6. You are bored by chapter 3, but continue to read: You are analyzing the mechanisms the author uses to maintain the reader’s attention.
  7. You anticipate that the book will end at page 245. It goes on for a hundred more pages.
  8. You are still bored at chapter 65 when the book, mercifully, ends.
  9. You are upset that you read every predictable word and you realize those hours are lost forever.
  10. You give props to the writer and publisher who had the gall – I mean courage – to bring the book to the reading public.
  11. You think, “I wrote that story 10 years ago. I could have gotten it published!

Ready for a writing coach to help you finally write that story? Contact me, Ruth Farmer: rfarmer@gmavt.net; 802-377-3001

Five things to do when you don’t want to write

We’ve all had those moments when we don’t want to sit down and write. I don’t mean those times when we can’t, when the words don’t flow or seem gone to the big beyond. I mean when we just don’t want to sit there and write, not one more word.

Well, I give you permission to rise and walk away from the journal, or computer and do something else. Here are some things I do instead of writing, in no particular order.

Exercise: This need not be strenuous. Any movement shakes up the brain, warms the limbs, gets other parts of the body excited – or at least feeling like you love them. Walking, yoga, dancing. Something simple that does not require equipment is the best, although a pair of dumbbells might add a bit of spice. Move long enough to allow your thoughts to slip away from writing to whatever comes into your body.

Eat: something that nourishes. Or not.

Read: the most important thing is to not choose anything remotely related to what you are writing. That could send you into a spiral of unworthiness, guilt, and shame at the author’s ability to do what you at the moment are not doing.

Domestic chores: This is my second favorite, exercising being the first. Mind you, I am not a domestic goddess. Cleaning, dusting, or straightening things out usually make me feel anxious. But these activities yield tangible results – a sparkling sink, an organized sock drawer, and books off the floor and onto shelves – unlike the squiggles on a computer screen that lead to the big nowhere.

Netflix: see warning under “Read.”

Just as I was revising this piece, the alarm on my phone went off. It is a lovely tune that got me dancing from one room to the next*. My brain is clearer already. And having hit snooze, I anticipate another opportunity to stop writing.

Happy writing or not writing!

*In case you are interested, click on this link to the ringtone, “One Step Forward”

Word for Today: Tropism

Yesterday, I went to the Women’s March in Montpelier. What a glorious event! Thousands upon thousands of people merged into this – relatively – small town to come together in peaceful response to the negativity that emerged during the recent presidential campaign.

Our power was exemplified in our bodies, our voices, our handmade signs, and our presence.

The word for today on my screensaver is tropism: the turning of all or part of an organism in a particular direction in response to an external stimulus. Usually, I think of plants when I hear this word. Today, I think of all the people at the marches all over the world – yes, world! – who turned toward peaceful, life-affirming actions in response to the violent rhetoric that dominated the media in the wake of the campaign and subsequent election of Trump.

I have deliberately not watched any coverage of the marches (though I will). For now, I bask in the experience of coming together in peace.

The phrase that stays with me is one that I wrote on my sign:
Rise up with Love!

Attending the Women’s March inspired me to offer another writing and conversation series (I offered one in my community in December). Did you attend a Women’s March? What are you inspired to do?

Rise up with Love!

Ruth

Moments of Gratitude

I love the light and the dark.

This time of year lends itself to contemplation. There are fewer daylight hours. It is cold. Life slows down, giving you time to appreciate the simple things.

Yesterday, I stopped writing midsentence and dashed outside because the sun was shining so brilliantly.
A few nights ago, I was drawn to go onto the deck, to stare at the moon, the stars, the stark, leafless trees and the shadows they made on the land.

I am grateful for sunshine and moonlit nights and the long periods of velvet darkness that lead to self-reflection.

New Perspective

As I was driving from town to my home, I saw the houses, streets, landscape in a different light. I didn’t recognize the house where I buy gladioli throughout the summer. Without the table and colorful cut flowers perched in front, the place looked abandoned.

Looking up as I continued my drive, I noticed the multicolored mountains capped by a strip of clear blue and nestled by a blanket of gray cotton.

There is a green house behind the local school that I’d never seen before. It is accessed by a private lane, like so many houses in this area, including mine.

The luscious leaves that come in spring and delight in summer, and the brilliant golds and yellows of fall are so beautiful they blot out everything else. Sometimes I want to freeze the moment, forestall the cold white that is inevitable.

Today, rather than seeing fall as a prelude to winter, I notice what is revealed after the leaves have floated away. The land is new.

Look up. Look around. Notice what you’ve not noticed before.

You Never Know

When I attended the Launch Your Business Boot Camp in Atlanta (see my May 16 blog post), I had many wonderful encounters. The most amazing one came when a young woman let me know how I impacted her life.

Several years ago, I was an admissions officer for a private secondary school. One of my responsibilities was to talk with students of color about their educational options. This woman remembered me from a visit to her NYC middle school. She told me that visiting secondary schools changed her life, as did attending the school that she chose (not the one I recruited for). I was amazed that she remembered me, including my name, after so many years. That brief encounter broadened her perspectives and led to personal and professional paths she may not have chosen if it hadn’t happened.

You never know how actions that you take for granted impact others. I have been an educator for many years. I sometimes run into students who tell me that lessons I taught, readings I assigned, or conversations we had clarified their understanding of themselves or their purpose in life. I am grateful for such revelations and humbled because I know that I did not seek to make an impact. If there was any seeking at all, it was to connect, to communicate.

Like most people, I wonder what it would mean to make a big splash or grand gesture that transforms people’s lives. Meeting the young woman in Atlanta reminded me that in our everyday encounters we touch others in meaningful and unexpected ways. No splashing. No grandiosity. Just everyday amazing.