More memories

March 29, 2011

When my father was a child he couldn’t understand how a camera could capture a person. He thought that every time someone took his picture he had to scrunch his body up really tiny so that he could fit inside of the tiny camera. This is him in action. Funny that he grew up to become a photographer, hm?

When photographer Larry Sultan’s father was forced to retire early from his job as a corporate executive, Sultan wanted to take a photograph that showed his father’s frustration and powerlessness in retirement. But, in fact, Sultan told his father not to smile. The photograph was posed. Sultan’s father told him,  “Any time you show that picture, tell people that that’s not me sitting on the bed looking all dressed up and nowhere to go, depressed. That’s you sitting on the bed, and I am happy to help you with the project, but let’s get things straight here.'”


Write about a time when you felt like you were a character in someone elses story. This could be based on a photo of you that tells a story using your image or someone talking about you. It could be over hearing someone talk about you, for example. Think about how their story compares to your own memory.


Wakey Wakey!

March 28, 2011

I missed you, Write Right Now! Last week I gave a presentation in one of my classes about Photography, Memory and Grief, and I ended it with an exercise.I gave a slide presentation of my father’s photographs and I figured I should share it here. As many of you know, my father is a professional photographer/photojournalist and he took pictures of my family almost every day of our lives. I used to resent him for this, in a way, thinking that he was exploiting us, using our private lives for his art. A lot of his pictures simply come off as sweet family photos that aren’t much different than the one’s you’d find in a normal family album, but others are clearly making statements outside of documenting family. Take this photograph of me  as a newborn, for example:

Then, when my mother  became ill, he, naturally, did not put down the camera.

When my mother passed away, and I began to write about her, I worried that my memories of her and of my own life, were only memories of photographs, memories that were only copies of memories. Later, I realized that all memories are copies, somehow. There is really no “pure” memory. As soon as we turn reality into a narrative, it’s already a copy, just like a photograph. I began to feel grateful for these images. All memories are acts of creation, of reassembling something. Photographs of my mother ruined the “pure” or “real” memory no more than a dress she used to wear or a song that reminded me of her.

Try to think about a memory that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about or something you’ve written about before. Write about an object that reminds you of it. Think about how the object is a loyal representative of the thing or person or event you were remembering. How is it a symbol for your real, pure memory or how does it betray your memory? Try to write about it in a way you’ve never thought of it, as if it were unfamiliar or from someone elses perspective.

If you’d like to see more of my father’s photographs:

September 11, 2010

“There is what is drunk in the mornings, and for a long while that was beer. In Cannery Row a character who one could tell was a connoisseur professes that “there’s nothing like that first taste of beer.” But I have often needed, at the moment of waking, Russian vodka. There is what is drunk with meals, and in the afternoons that stretch between them. There is wine some nights, along with spirits, and after that beer is pleasant again — for then beer makes one thirsty. There is what is drunk at the end of the night, at the moment when the day begins anew. It is understood that all this has left me very little time for writing, and that is exactly as it should be: writing should remain a rare thing, since one must have drunk for a long time before finding excellence.”

– Guy Debord


August 20, 2010

Around one in two million lobsters are blue.

Do some research on your favorite color.  Find a fun fact or discover something about it you never knew. Then, write a story that’s drenched in your color.

For more inspiration:

Crack, can’t go back

August 19, 2010

“I remember, in the eighties, when crack first hit the scene, hearing all kinds of horror stories about how if you smoked it even once, the memory of its unbelievable high would live on in your system forever, and you would thus never again be able to be content without it. I have no idea if this is true, but I will admit that it scared me off the drug. In the years since, I have sometimes found myself wondering if the same principle applies in other realms–if seeing a particularly astonishing shade of blue, for example, or letting a particularly potent person inside you, could alter you irrevocably, just to have seen or felt it. In which case, how does one know when, or how, to refuse? How to recover?”

-Maggie Nelson’s Bluets.

Write about an experience that has changed you. It can be a story about yourself or a fiction about a character in an experience that has altered them so that they may never go back. It may be an encounter with a lover or an enemy, a place, etc.  Positive or not.  Attempt to answer questions such as, how does one recognize this change? or Nelson’s “How to recover?”

Okay, this might be the dorkiest post I ever post. I hope you still like me.

I’ve always wanted to do a Lost themed writing exercise. Also, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t totally fucking excited (and sad) about the final episode tonight! You know I’m gonna be crying.

Write about a place. Give this place  feelings, a history and especially a desire. What does this place want and what does it do to achieve it’s goals?


Creative Nonschmiction

May 22, 2010

Hi Readers and Writers,

Sorry I haven’t written in awhile. I’ve been busy, and for some sad reason, haven’t felt compelled to do many exercises.  I found out a couple of months ago that I have been accepted into the Creative Nonfiction MFA program at Columbia University! It’s my dream program, and I’ve decided to attend this fall! So New York, here I come. Naturally, people have been asking me what Creative Nonfiction is, and I don’t think I fully understand it myself. I tell them that a lot of it is personal essay writing, memoir, and that it’s kind of like a more colorful, more subjective journalism, but I still don’t believe that’s all of it, and I have a lot of questions. A friend of mine told me that it’s probably a good thing to be studying a subject that still has so much mystery surrounding it; that it will make me all the more excited and curious about it. I’m trying to read as many personal essays as I possibly can to understand what people are doing. (Today it was some Joan Didion and essays from the Best American collection.)

The only real, meaningful Creative Nonfiction I think I’ve ever written was about my mom, and that was really, really challenging. Her illness and death was the most violent and painful (and “real”) event that I’ve ever witnessed. To write about something so surreally horrific has to be done very creatively. The facts and the feelings are too big for words, so I experimented with all kinds of different structures of narratives (like lists! like numbers!). As Joan Didion says, “we tell ourselves stories to live”, but she even admits that telling the story does not always make the truth more clear, or help the reality to make sense. Putting a reality that is too big for words into a story can distort, codify, blame, aggrandize, restrict, omit, betray, mythologize, you name it. It can place emphasis on one meaning, and take away from another that was once equally valid. And here is the challenge.

Write some creative  nonfiction. Write about how the events of your day interact with this picture.



March 25, 2010

Re-write a creation myth. Make it personal, modern. Look closely at the individuals who are affected by the changes of the world in your story.


How would you explain what a poem is to my seven year old? –herecomeseverybody

I’d really have to meet your seven year old, I think, before I could say! But in the abstract, I guess I’d say a poem is a bunch of words, usually on a piece of paper, though sometimes not, arranged in such a way that when you hear it or read it or say it, something happens to you, even if it’s not something you can explain right away.

-Maggie Nelson

Assignment: Explain poetry to someone new to language.

More Folk Folks

March 13, 2010



Published December, 2007


The “Songs of the Eastern Slavs” cycle was supposed to be a literary hoax. In the early 19th century, Mérimée put out an entire book called Songs of the Western Slavs, which the whole world (including Pushkin, who translated it) took to be a straight recording of various folk tales. I wanted to do the same thing—occasionally using certain traditional plots and developing them in my own way, other times making my own plots sound like folklore. And it worked: Some critics even wrote that one shouldn’t just publish “raw” folk texts, without first working them over. Which, actually, is high praise.

Early in the war in Moscow there lived a woman who didn’t love her husband very much. He was a pilot, and they got along somehow, but when the war began he went off to serve at a base near Moscow. This woman, Lida, would visit him at the airfield; one time she got there and was told that her husband’s plane had been shot down not far from the airfield, and that the funeral was the next day.

Lida attended the funeral, where she saw three closed coffins, and then returned to her room to find a draft notice for a brigade digging anti-tank ditches outside the city, and off she went to dig. It was autumn before she finally returned, and she began to notice that she was being followed by a very strange-looking young man: He looked thin, pale, and sad. Lida would see him on the street and in the store where she bought potatoes with her ration card. One night her doorbell rang and there he was. “Lida, don’t you recognize me?” said the man. “I’m your husband.” He hadn’t been buried at all, it turned out, they had buried some dirt instead, whereas he’d been caught by an air cushion after his plane was shot down and deposited in a tree, and after climbing down decided not to go back to fighting anymore.

Lida didn’t ask how he survived these past two and a half months—he told her he’d found some clothes in an abandoned building—and they began living together again. Lida was nervous the neighbors might notice, but they never did.

Then one day her husband said that winter was coming soon and they should go right away and bury the flight suit he’d left in the forest.

Lida borrowed a small shovel from the superintendent and off they went to the forest. They had to take a tram to the Sokolniki station, then walk for a while alongside a brook into the forest. No one stopped them and finally toward evening they reached a wide field, and at the edge of it a large pit. It was growing dark already. Her husband told Lida that he was out of strength but it was important that they cover up the pit, since he remembered now that he’d thrown his suit down there.

Lida looked into the pit and saw that, indeed, something resembling a flight suit lay at the bottom. She began throwing dirt on top of it, while her husband kept hurrying her, saying it was already getting dark. She shoveled dirt into the pit for three hours, and then, looking up, saw that her husband was gone.

Lida was frightened. She began searching for him, running around, then almost fell into the pit and saw that, at the bottom, the flight suit was moving. She ran away. It was completely dark now in the forest, yet somehow Lida made it out and emerged at her tram stop as the sun was coming up. She rode home and once she got there finally she fell asleep.

And in her dreams her husband came to her and said: “Thank you, Lida, for burying me.”

from Vice

I’ve been discovering more and more of Petrushevskaya’s works and I just can’t get enough. Vice has three really great stories posted, including The Arm. The Fountain House over at The New Yorker is pretty great too.

AND she co-wrote this: