Folky stuff

February 28, 2010

Write a modern folk tale!  Combine the practical and the esoteric into one narrative package.

Here’s where I look for furthur inspiration:

Love this:



February 25, 2010

This one comes from my very good friend Christopher Cole in Los Angeles.  You can check out his tumblr here.

Write a dialogue based on your favorite curse word.  Try and use it in as many ways as possible, as many parts of speech. Enjoy.


February 22, 2010

Write a tense scene in which someone gets their ears pierced.

I actually got this idea from Vice.

Now, Then, Ever, Never

February 21, 2010

Write about a child in a situation that they would have handled differently if they knew what they knew as their grown up self.  Write about a memory in which, looking back, you wish that you knew what you know now.

I haven’t posted my own writing results in awhile. Here’s today’s:

I was practicing my flute by an open window in my family’s living room when I saw the boy.  At school, we were learning a Disney medley for the Spring concert.  The piece moved from the Lion King theme to “A Whole New World” from Aladdin.  Our teacher really knew how to appeal to a concert band of ten year olds.  I sat practicing on our green couch in our tiny old house in the city while my mother read in the other room.   I took a deep breath to play a high note and moved my body to the right.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a face pressed up against the window. Only a sudden glance was enough to make me jump.  My flute made a soft clicking sound when I dropped it on the couch and ran to my mother. “Someone’s there!” I whispered to her. She went to the window and I peaked at them from behind a shelf.  The face  belonged to a little boy. I hadn’t even taken a moment to look at him before I ran.  His dark skin looked darker against the light blue shirt that he nervously tugged at.  The whites of his eyes were huge as he looked up at my mother and said, “I only wanted to listen. Why did she run away?”

“You just surprised her.” My mother said. “Next time knock on the door, and she’ll play for you.  Would you like to come in?”

I remember thinking, No, Mom, don’t invite this weird kid in! But he was too shy.   “Thanks,” he said, and ran off down the alley.

When I got a little older, I couldn’t get this kid off of my mind.  I wondered if he was a Disney fan, I wondered what kind of music he liked.  I wondered if he was okay, a vague definition of “okay”,  since we both grew up in the same, somewhat rough LA neighborhood and I knew what happened to a lot of kids who weren’t like my sister and I.  We got to go to a school in a better neighborhood because our mother worked for the district.  We didn’t spend much time playing in our own neighborhood, especially lately.  Only a few weeks earlier a man down the street exposed himself to my sister and I.  We didn’t tell our mother. We stayed inside and played board games.

Older, in another city far away, I thought about finding the boy in the blue shirt. I thought about putting something in the paper.  But this was years ago, what were the odds of him reading my ad or even remembering what happened?  I felt guilty, and I wanted to apologize.  I wanted to tell him that we should have played together.  He really should have come inside, and we would have been friends.  I also had this idea in my head that our interaction had somehow affected him like it affected me. Maybe he grew up to be a musician! Or a critic!  Whatever he was, I knew he was great and he always had been.  Sensitive enough to stop playing with his neighborhood friends to listen to a girl clumsily play her flute. Bold enough to look in a window.

Layers and Conflicts

February 17, 2010

A few days ago I decided to re-read one of my favorite short story collections, Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute. I was sitting on the train, when I got distracted for a moment and started people watching. When I looked back at my book, I jumped a little. On the cover of this book is a girl reading a book on a train, and I was a girl reading a book on a train! I looked around wondering if anyone would notice all of the funny layers going on with me. Probably not, but I was excited about it for the rest of the ride.  Yep.

On to our assignment:

I poked around the internet, and found that Paley’s favorite assignment she used to give her writing students was to tell a story from the point of view of someone you’re in conflict with. It can be the story of your conflict or it can be some other story, but it has to be from their point of view. One of her students, Barbara Selfridge, writes that Paley “always wanted you to know that there’s a story over there on the other side.” For this excersize, pay close attention to the multiplicity of voices.

I don’t think they post anymore, but Miranda July and Harrell Fletcher’s has been a really great resource for creative exercises (writing and otherwise) since 2002. Here’s some of July’s latest, Reading List, from Vice.

And here’s an assignment from learning to love you more that is just so sweet.

And here’s our writing assignment for today.

Write the phone conversation you wish you could have.

Lucille Clifton, 1936-2010

February 14, 2010

Let’s honor her today by writing poems!

Type out a Shakespeare sonnet or other poem you would like to learn about/imitate double-spaced on a page. Rewrite it in between the lines.

Another Amy short story writer whom I love is Amy Hempel.  I first read her story, “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried,”  when my mom was in the intensive care unit at UCLA due to complications from her leukemia. At first, I hated it and for awhile I put down the short story collection of hers that I had been enjoying. The story opens with the line, ” ‘Tell me things I won’t mind forgetting,’ she said. ‘Make it useless stuff or skip it.’ ” We find out that the narrator is at her best friend’s bedside,  visiting her in the cancer unit of a hospital for the first time in two months. Slowly, we learn of her fear and her guilt for just wanting to run away and not come back. At the time, I hated the narrator and I couldn’t understand why it would be so difficult to be completely present for a dying loved one.  It wasn’t until after months of living with a cancer victim that I, almost shamefully, returned to that story. I related so strongly to the narrators defeat, to her uncertainty and to her desire to just fly away. Back in 2008, this story was a huge inspiration and almost an enabler for my story “Pull Away”. I’m not sure if I would have been brave enough to write about this moment with my mother, a moment in which I didn’t want to take care of anyone anymore, in which I just wanted to be a child again, without having read Amy Hempel. (Also, Hempel’s story takes place in Los Angeles, and my mother was a patient at UCLA.)

I learned today that Hempel was a student of the famous literary editor Gordon Lish, and it turns out that this story was a result of an assignment he gave to write about your worst secret, something that has the power to dismantle your sense of self.

Aimee Bender

February 6, 2010

Awesome and surreal and wacky and sweet and serious Aimee Bender is one of my favorite short story writers. Her website, posts monthly writing exercises. Here we go.

Write one page that has a watering can, the word ‘ache’, and someone yelling “Stop!”

Thanks Aimee!