Memoir Writing Prompt…a little test for you :)

Grade A

Every now and again in Old Friend from Far Away, Natalie Goldberg throws in a little test.  These are multiple writing prompts that you write on for two or three minutes each.  It is a fun experiment to flex your writing muscles.  Let’s do one today! 

Here’s what she says about the test:

Here is a test.  The good thing about it is all answers are correct.  Right off the top you receive an ‘A”.

You have two or three minutes to answer each question.  Make sure you are specific.  Nothing vague.  You might want to begin each answer with ‘I remember.’

Ready? I’m going to share all the prompts with you, but only some of my writing responses cause…well…cause it’s my blog and I can! Don’t skip any though…you can do it! Here we go!

  • The first one:  give me a memory of your mother, aunt, or grandmother.  If it’s an aunt say her name, for example, “I remember my aunt Gladys…” Be detailed. Here’s mine for example:

My aunt Margaret was a brash drunk of a woman.  Her wealth made her lack trust for anyone around her, especially young children and she yelled about as if we were all servants.  She loved roses.  Her roses were the most beautiful bushes I’ve ever seen and like her, screamed the warning, “Behold my beauty! Beware my thorns!”

  • Give me a memory of the color red.  Do not write the word “red” but use words that engender the color red when you hear them.  For example, ruby, tomato, fire, blood.

His Chuck Taylor’s waited at the end of his feet begging for notice-signature shoes that shared his name and shouted Arkansas school spirit.  He wore them always with matching Umbro soccer shorts, even when it was cold. They matched his nose when the sun would bake it or the cold wind would chap it.

  • Give me a memory of a sound.  Again, try not to use the word “sound” in your writing. Here’s an example:

The hum of the generators was a lullaby at 2 am, especially when the fate of the world rested on my alertness. The low rumble of it vibrated the seat I was in and made everything else feel quiet and peaceful. While watching for the end of the world, I leaned my head against the padded wall and thought, “I will just rest it here for a while.”

  • Give me a picture of a teacher you had in elementary school. Two minutes..
  • Tell me about a meal you loved. Where were you when you ate it? What was the weather like out the window? How old were you? Who were you with? Two minutes…go!
  • Last one, tell me about a time you remember rain. Rain might not be the main focus of the memory, but write about a time when it was there with you.

He offered me his umbrella as we climbed the hill to our next class.  I was reveling in the feel of summer as it dropped on my skin I told him.  He looked at me as if I was a walking poem- desire lighting his eyes and closed the umbrella.  He turned his face to the sky, but he couldn’t be free so he opened the umbrella and continued to walk beside me.  It was the beginning of the end of our relationship.

So what’s the point here?  What are we trying to learn?  Nicole is teaching us to use our senses when we write.  We didn’t write about smell, so right now, list ten smells you remember. Be specific. For example:

  1. Wet dog
  2. sage and onions
  3. Charlie’s sweat
  4. buttercream frosting
  5. spring after rain
  6. Aunt Lora’s house
  7. old books
  8. White Shoulders perfume
  9. baby poop
  10. perm solution

 

This is what Nicole says about using your senses when you write…I love it:

Naturally, you are not going to cover every sense every time you write a scene. But doing this “I Remember” test is like acupuncture pricks alerting your mind when you write.  You go along describing something and then-ah yes, Snow was falling wet as my heart when I asked her to marry me. The word becomes bigger. Your love includes weather now- and feeling.

Memoir Writing Prompt…and thoughts on memory..

Memory is a funny thing.  I sometimes think my experience with it is exceptional because I know first hand what it is to be without one (I lost my mine once when I had a traumatic brain injury.) Sometimes I don’t trust the memories I have because I simply don’t know which ones are mine and which I have created based on stories I have heard.  In the end, it doesn’t matter….we all have exceptionally creative brains that fill gaps and rewrite stories all the time….can anyone really trust their memory?  No, I don’t think so…which is why I write at times….because at least then there is a record of what I believed when I believed it.  Memoir is an exercise in memory recall.

Did you write on our last prompt?  My friend who was so excited I was starting this series was disappointed that it was something so mundane…But Natalie Goldberg suggests that there are four prompts we should flex writing muscles with all the time: “I’m thinking of../I’m looking at../I remember../I don’t remember.”  So we continue with lifting the ten pound weights before we transition to the 25 lb ones.

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:

  1. No editing.  Write what you write.
  2. 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?
  3. 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 remember.”

n-WOMAN-CHALKBOARD-large570

I remember the year we left the Christmas tree up until March.  It was after my sister, Lora’s, birthday before we took it down.  I think Lora thought it was something special we did in honor of her in that way only young children can imagine that the most mundane of things is a gift to them.

I remember my mother was filled with shame at the thought of it.  I wonder if she felt it was an outward reflection of an inner failure on her part that the tree was still up and glistening with icicles and homemade ornaments. We never turned the lights on after Christmas.   Those lights were great blinking beacons to her failure and a lighthouse alerting all who would come near that this home did not have it all together. 

I remember the day that she admitted truth….that we didn’t have it all together and that, in fact, that made us a stronger family not a weaker one.

I remember my grandmother was dying that year and my baby sister, Alexis, was young, celebrating her second year on earth- or perhaps she wasn’t born yet- perhaps I don’t remember that part at all.  I simply remember that there were good reasons for our delayed response to removing the tree at a socially acceptable time.  I remember that life had intruded with busy schedules and more important priorities and had stolen from us any of the moments we might have taken to stow away our Christmas memories.

 

 

 

And it begins….A Writing Prompt from “Old Friend from Far Away”

 

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:

  1. No editing.  Write what you write.
  2. 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?
  3. 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.”

child-raising-hand

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?”

Rule #3  #1:  Be yourself.  The people who  love you have your back.