This is not the first prompt from Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, but it is the first prompt that unveiled the magic of simply beginning to write. As I was writing this piece I realized that where I started with nothing…I ended with a story I had forgotten. It was a wonder to me. So let’s begin there…I want to share a bit of what Natalie shares with those beginning this practice:
“Don’t cross out. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar. Be specific. Not car, but Cadillac. Not tree, but sycamore. But don’t worry, if you write “bird” instead of woodpecker, you can figure out what kind it was two weeks later when you reread it. The important thing is to keep your hand moving. If you get stuck go back and write the prompt again…
Say what you want to say, not what you think you should say. Trust what you put down, even if the editor or critic inside you says it’s wrong or you made a mistake…feel free to write the worst junk in America.”
So here are the rules:
- No editing. Write what you write.
- You may choose to share your post- just post the link in the comments. Or you don’t have to. I sat on some of these writings for a year before I was brave enough to post them. Let them be true…without thought of audience AND then choose what you will share with the world at large. If you choose not to share, will you share some thoughts about your experience writing this prompt?
- Write for ten minutes….at the end of your ten minutes, wrap up with a final thought and end your piece.
That’s it! Easy-peasy, right? So let’s go!
Write for ten minutes on the prompt- “I’m thinking of.”
I’m thinking of nothing really. I’m thinking of a million tiny threads of thoughts that are jumbled in a ball of wire. The wire was not rolled “over-under” and is knotted and frayed. It doesn’t connect thoughts to source as it should and this writing jumps from place to place like a Mexican jumping bean. I’m thinking of all the things I want..no have…no need…no feel like getting done today and how I sit here writing. What I really want to do is flex this muscle all day, but I know the quiet won’t last long and soon there will be cries of “Mom! I’m hungry!” and “I don’t have any clean underwear.” And since I never left my jammies yesterday, I’m not sure I should indulge in the same sluggish, non-activity again.
I’m thinking these free-writing activities in this TMNT notebook remind me of the fifth grade, where we first started free-writing. I hated fifth grade, but I loved writing and it is interesting to me that both coincide. My fifth grade teacher was an awful woman (or at least I thought she was) who wanted to “squelch” my “drive to succeed.”
No really, she said that to my parents once. She told them that I raised my hand too much in class and always knew the right answer and it was disruptive because no one else would ever answer questions. She banned me from wearing black patent shoes because they clicked when I walked and sent me to the principal for touching a girl’s necklace when we were in the lunch line. She hated me and I never understood why.
Now, as an adult, I think perhaps I was one of those overly precocious, know-it-all children who was clueless to the fifth grade misfit rebellion she was leading. At my ten year class reunion, there were three classmates who told me that year was formative. One said, “Watching you quietly thwart her every move helped me know that I could be who I wanted no matter who didn’t want me to.”
I had no idea.
I just wanted to wear my black patent shoes again and go out to recess and not be afraid to raise my hand with the right answer because my teacher wouldn’t like me. I tried to be sweet. I brought apples, but she was allergic. I cleaned chalkboards, but got the chalk dust on the floor. I helped put up her bulletin board, but I didn’t hang the pictures in the right order and she “would have to do it again anyway..” and “just wished I would pay better attention to instructions.”
She kept me in from recess and made me sit under her desk in front of the room for the rest of the day. My fifth grade crush (who happened to be her teacher’s pet) snuck me a piece of chocolate and asked “Why is she mad at you this time?” I shrugged my shoulders and continued reading Brave New World.
Everything changed at parent-teacher conferences when my parents realized that my tears and stories about her continued mistreatment of me were less the tears of a dramatic ten year old and more the truth of a young child who didn’t understand how to follow the rules of the game she was supposed to play. When they met, she began to tell them of all my many issues.
“She always answers the questions in class. Other students don’t get a chance.”
“Does she blurt them out?” My dad asked.
“No, she raises her hand.”
“Then don’t call on her.”
“Well, she is the only one who raises her hand.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to call on her.”
I sat with my ear pressed against a tiny crack in the door hoping to get a clue of how to be.
Rule #1: Don’t answer questions.
“She finishes her work too quickly and spends way too much time reading fiction books,” she continued with her list.
“Is she disturbing the class?” My mom asked.
“No. She is quiet, but the other kids feel bad because she finishes so quickly.”
She was getting frustrated now, and a defensive whine was creeping into her voice.
“Is she doing sloppy or inaccurate work?” There was a steely edge in my mother’s voice. One I hadn’t heard before.
“No. It is right and acceptable.”
Rule #2: Pretend you are slow. BE AVERAGE.
“She just has this drive to succeed and be right all the time. She seems to be driven to be the best at what she does. At everything.” The whine had completely taken over my teacher’s normally abrupt and commanding tone.
“Well, that’s Cari. She’s a very driven young lady,” my dad said proudly.
“We need to squelch her drive to succeed so she can better fit into my classroom.”
I heard the scrape of the chair across the floor as my mother stood up. Daddy shifted and leaned forward in his chair. Waves of energy poured from them both so strong I nearly recoiled from the force of it. My mother put her hands on my teacher’s desk and leaned in close to her. My mother’s voice was the quiet ice of tightly controlled anger. I had to strain to hear her words.
“You may choose to point that drive in any direction you want, but you WILL NOT squelch anything!”
I smiled. I didn’t know exactly what squelching was, but it didn’t sound fun. Daddy’s chair scraped against the floor as he stood next to my mother.
“It sounds to me, ma’am, like the problem is not with our daughter. If you have some suggestions that don’t require ‘squelching’ then we are happy to ask Cari to implement them. In the meantime, I expect her days to be spent at her own desk and not sitting under yours being shamed for no reason. Is that something we can agree on or shall we stop by the principal’s office on our way out of school?”
#3 #1: Be yourself. The people who love you have your back.