2 workshops, 2 prompts, and 1 weird writing season

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

Who even am I? Is pandemic time throwing anyone else’s writing for a loop? Just me then?

Really, I remember thinking to myself way back in March that I was going to use the time I was no longer spending driving my kids to and from school to write. I definitely wasn’t going to fill that time with shower-cries or deciding if I’m a chocolate-loving, peanut butter-loving, or original goodness-loving sort of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups connoisseur.

Silly me.

I have, despite these pandemic extracurriculars, been writing some–but certainly not the same as I was. Fiction has been tough-going, but I’ve written some short essays and snippets someone really nice (or related to me) might call prose poems. I’ll say it again: I am not a poet.

And while I’m not a big fan of Zooming as substitute for activities I was engaged with, pre-pandemic; I’ve enjoyed new Zoom opportunities, in particular two writing workshops I wouldn’t have made in person because of distance.

I thought of these workshops, one I attended just yesterday, when Lorna over at Gin & Lemonade mentioned writing prompts. (You’re going to want to visit her if you don’t already.)

Ah, writing prompts. Controversial stuff, right? I’ll admit to assuming most of my writing teachers who started every class with a prompt were using the time to lesson-plan on the fly. Maybe some were. I know I did just that, once I began teaching. As a student, however, I generally used writing prompt time to work on whatever short story or novel chapter I was mulling over, largely ignoring said prompt.

Prompts were for memoirists and poets always gazing longingly out the window for inspiration.

What a stubborn idiot I was. Sure, some prompts don’t hit you right, some work better than others. But the best ones flip a kind of switch in your brain to get at often-forgotten and sometimes really-weird-good material in there. I’d wade through a million mediocre prompts, now, to come across the best ones.

That said, there was no wading in either of the workshops I took this spring–both of which included several generative writing prompts. So, here are a couple of my favorite prompts and my responses.

Maybe one of these will flip your writing switch today?

You might remember that I interviewed poet and editor Jessica Fischoff, just the day before I took her Persona Workshop. Over Zoom from her home in Cincinnati, Jessica discussed persona poetry and character in prose–and then let us writers loose, scribbling to her prompts. Jessica is a prompts queen, but the one that flipped the right switch for me was to…

Use an inanimate object as the persona of a poem or prose piece, and here’s my attempt:

Figures the Ferris Wheel

If I could count, I would tell you
how many proposals I've heard
proposed at the apex of my grand wheel.
How many rings dropped, how many squeals
of delight, and how many women murmured
under their breathes, looked down at their bare fingers
gripping my bar, and said something like
"I have to think," softly, as if they knew I was listening.
I am always listening.

If I could count, I'd tell you how many boys scared girls,
and girls scared boys, shaking my cars, pretending they would 
break a spoke, heave this wheel, and make it all come crashing down
to the ground, where they would keep falling out of fear.
How many times.

~~~

Yesterday’s workshop with memoirist, essayist, and writing professor Sonja Livingston, who I interviewed right here and here for Rust Belt Girl, was also just what I needed to get out of my own way and write for an afternoon: new stuff, which is gratifying (especially when at work on a novel). New starts mean the writing well is not dry, folks! One of my attempts came in response to a prompt inspired by the work of Ross Gay. (If you’ve been here a while you know I’m always, always inspired by Ross Gay.):

Write about a “delight” or a list of “delights” and I picked one of my little guys:

My Son's Buckteeth

the orthodontist wants to fix
the goofy faces he pulls with them
the way his cowlick makes his blond hair stick up
hair that will go dirty like mine
and fall out like my brother's
the fact he still gives a good squeeze I don't have to take
the fact his hugs put him at my chest height but
he doesn't yet think this is weird

~~~

What weird and wonderful stuff have you come up with from a good writing prompt? Let me know if the comments.

What are you reading and writing this week? Are we social? Find me at FB and on Twitter and IG @MoonRuark

Show me your poem of isolation reads

Just stack ’em up, any which way. Or, spend an hour creating your poem made up of titles you’ve read during the COVID-19 situation. (This doesn’t include my Google books, and does include books that I’m perpetually reading and a journal issue in which my words appear, but you get the picture.)

I didn’t come up with this idea, (shout-out to fellow blogger Lani, for introducing me to Steph @pieladybooks) but I think you can take a bit of license: add an article or two, play with punctuation and line breaks, of course. I went all ee cummings-lowercase, so the capitalization didn’t distract from the meaning. And my apologies to the late Sherwood Anderson, but I couldn’t help myself. Here it is, my poem of isolation reads. How about that near-rhyme at the end, right? Watch out, poets! And go ahead and suggest a title, if you’ve got one.

the heart is a full-wild beast, longing for an absent god
ruminate the everyday: old brown shiner, winesburg
o,
hi
o, find me!
magdalene, the virgin of prince street.
what you become in flight?
a catalog of unabashed gratitude, the book of delights

I’d love to see your poem of isolation reads! Still working on your reading arc–I’d love to see that, too.

I’ve done my best to chart and reflect on my family’s isolation here, even as restrictions begin to ease. Recreational boating is allowed again, so my guys will be back in Aqua Dove, that most glorious dinghy, soon. Maybe I’ll write a poem about it. Maybe not.

Want to read more of my isolation posts? I responded to WordPress Discover Prompts in April!–and you can, too. There’s no such thing as late work in blogging.

Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

What your reading arc says about you

Image by Giacomo Zanni from Pixabay

Hi, and how are you?

If you’re well, I hope you’re reading. If you’re reading, maybe you want to consider your reading arc. I never really had before. But, a Twitter contact, @MattWeinkam, associate director of Lit Cleveland, proposed a fun exercise for us reader sorts:

Chart your reading arc from childhood to present day in 10 books. After a bit of thinking, here’s mine:

A Very Young Dancer>Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret>Their Eyes Were Watching God>Come to Me: Stories>The Innocent>The Fortunate Pilgrim>Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir>Bel Canto>Magdalene: Poems>The Book of Delights: Essays

Of course, there are so many books I love that I had to leave out. If I had 11 slots, I would have added a craft book: maybe Stephen King’s On Writing, which was probably the first craft book I read; or maybe the classic, Donald M. Murray’s The Craft of Revision, which I return to again and again, of course; or maybe the recent Meander, Spiral, Explode (I talked about that one here) by Jane Alison, which upended so many writing “rules.”

What does my reading arc say about me? A lot you already know.

I was a dancer, myself, and a Catholic, drawn to the story aspects of both, I suppose. At 19, I moved from Ohio to Virginia–I left out my Tom Robbins obsession (remember Jitterbug Perfume?). College days brought courses like African American Autobiography and opened my eyes to stories outside what my mom had on her bookshelves from college in the 60s.

Short stories were my entry into the craft of writing–and Amy Bloom is one of my favorite story writers. (Good story collections are great writing teachers.)

Grad school left little time for pleasure reads, but when I could, I liked early Ian McEwan and books that informed my own writing.

If it’s not dance, song in story is a running theme. And for this writer who managed to get an MFA without writing a poem, I read a lot of poetry these days–and essays and hybrids of all sorts. And I think, you could say, I’m arcing toward joy in my reading habits.

I hope that means I’m arcing toward joy in life. I need it now more than ever.

So, show me your reading arc–in the comments or on your own blog. You might be surprised at what it reveals about your reading and your life.

Let’s read together. Check out my categories above, with Rust Belt author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more. Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

Small things: Discover Prompts, Days 29 and 30

My gratitude stops short of thanking the tiny tick I found on my hip. But if this period of isolation and fear due to the COVID-19 pandemic has taught me anything, it’s taught me to value the small things.

There are the gardening gloves given to me by one of my boys–for Mother’s Day, last year, I think. They are actually a little small for my long fingers, but they are also a beautiful turquoise. So I admired them as I weeded the flower beds around our house, yesterday afternoon–for a short time only, because my husband is a fastidious gardener, which is not a small thing.

Then there are the lilies of the valley I picked, which haven’t been overrun by the hulking hostas, this year, and whose little bells smell so sweet.

And then there’s the tree swing made by my dad, upon which I had a good swing after weeding and flower-picking–yep, this lady swinging away. It didn’t even make me nauseous, which is a pleasant small thing.

Today, it’s a soggy mess out there. But yesterday it was warm and clear and it seemed every neighbor was out cleaning his gutters, mowing the grass, or weed-whacking: in-town sounds, a minor suburban symphony.

My husband was in the veggie garden. Our boys finished their school work and came outside to join us, and eventually my little family lay down in the grass, feeling the springtime sun on our faces.

Enter the tick.

And…

Fin.

Many thanks to the WordPress editors for providing daily WordPress Discover Prompts in April! They helped me to chronicle our isolation. This post was in response to Discover’s daily prompts: List and Grateful. Read others’ responses here. My other prompts responses:

Don’t be a stranger. Check out my categories above, with Rust Belt author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more. Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

Mood: Discover Prompts, Day 28

“Harmony”

Cloudy. Off-kilter. A bit out-of-focus. This vessel will right itself, too.

How are you?

I’m chronicling our isolation with the help of WordPress Discover Prompts. This post was in response to Discover’s daily prompt: Focus. Care to join in? Read others’ responses here. My other prompts responses:

Like what you read? Check out my categories above, with Rust Belt author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more. Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

Take note: Discover Prompts, Day 23

Image by DarkWorkX from Pixabay

Though I’ve been writing creatively (and otherwise, believe me) for a long time, I’ve always balked at journaling. You know the kind: the unfocused early-morning stare out the window at the lifting fog and write until the well runs dry kind of thing. The stuff of dream revelations, unlocked memories, and Hallmark card feelings.

I take notes, sure. Furiously jotted questions to research; those in-shower aha moments for revision; essays to read; agents to query. But if I’m writing, I’m not engaging in stream-of-consciousness free-writing exercises. I’m not unlocking a poet’s chakra I didn’t know I had in me. I’m really writing: characters, scenes, story arc, conflict, resolution.

Then came this pandemic.

Shutdowns and closures haven’t meant isolation chez this girl. They haven’t meant I get quiet time and space in which to research, write, revise, edit, repeat, and submit, submit, submit. Those with school-age kids are nodding their heads right now. Shutdowns have meant the exact opposite. We’re fine around here. We’re lucky. We have jobs, our health, a house and a yard. We’re also stressed and frustrated and not sleeping well and are really missing normal. Let’s just say it’s a little bit of an Isolation Circus–and this ring leader is tired.

But I can’t not write.

Writing is how I remember and process. It’s the way I make sense of things–especially things that make zero sense. So, when the world shuts down, abnormal is normal, topsey is turvey, and all else fails. What is this writer to do?

Kind reader, I journaled.

No, not at dawn, while musing on lifting fog. More like right now, on this blog. I mean, what else is this but journaling? Color you disappointed, maybe, but these are my innermost thoughts.

I’ve said it before, strange times call for taking strange measures. Some advice that’s been working for me: Stories not coming? Try it as a prose poem. Stuck on the next chapter of your WIP? Begin an off-the-book essay that utilizes some of your research. Stuck in your own head, arrange to interview a writer you admire. Don’t journal on some strange and cynical principle? Try it! (Trust me.)

And, forever and ever, read everything you can. Buy books from your local bookstores or straight from the author. Join in with the virtual book clubs popping up online. And let’s all work together to keep the book world from shutting down, too.

Know of an author whose book is releasing during these pandemic times? Share the title in the comments. I’ll start, as I have two books arriving soon I’m super excited for: Amy Jo Burns’ (who I interviewed here) novel, Shiner; and Ellen O’Connell Whittet’s memoir, What You Become in Flight.

Your turn: what are you writing and reading now?

I’m chronicling our isolation with the help of WordPress Discover Prompts. This post was in response to Discover’s daily prompt: Note. Care to join in? Read others’ responses here. My other prompts responses:

Like what you read? Check out my categories above, with Rust Belt author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more. Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

A joyful noise: Discover Prompts, Day 20

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

No joke: my husband thought I was the neighbor’s beagle. OK, let’s back up. You know, as much as I love to sing, I’m not much of a vocal self-starter. In the car, I typically sing along with Evita, Sia, or Fiona (holla if you’ve heard her latest–is it as wild as this Vulture interview with her?).

In the family room, my boys and I butcher Queen and Journey ballads as something of p.j.-wearing chamber music ensemble.

As the newest soprano in my church choir, I spent Advent and the Christmas season joining my voice with others’–led by a choir director who knows how to get the best from us and our vocal chords. (Not squeamish? See vocal chords–not mine–in action, here.)

And so I came to a point in this isolation that I missed it–missed feeling the sound of song start in my guts and travel through my chest into my head all tingly. I felt I needed to sing. Only, the thing about my isolation is that it’s with three other people. What’s one more than trisolation? Anyway, it’s not exactly the introvert’s ideal. So, I warned them, closed my office door, and began. I am not great, or even very good, but I am loud. So, it was during these vocal exercises that my husband mistook my voice for a dog’s.

Reader, we are still married.

Joking aside, it’s been nice to explore the free resources–and plain fun–available to amateur singers on YouTube. I like vocal coach Madeleine Harvey’s warm ups and especially her video on head voice. Freya Casey, a German opera singer and vocal coach, also leads singers through exercises and has a “How to Sing” series that breaks down popular songs–including Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro.” All it takes is 17 minutes, folks. Or, a lifetime. Still, it’s fun to try. And then there’s swoony Josh Groban’s latest isolation-themed #ShowerSongs series. Sorry, Grandma, he’s fully clothed. But check out that subway tile.

So, tell me, how are your hobbies going in isolation, trisolation, or otherwise?

I’m chronicling our isolation with the help of WordPress Discover Prompts. This post was in response to Discover’s daily prompt: Music. Care to join in? Read others’ responses here. My other prompts responses:

Like what you read? Check out my categories above, with Rust Belt author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more. Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

Pen friends: Discover Prompts, Day 17, 18

We met as teens, so we’ve seen each other through ballet and boyfriends, husbands (one each) and kids. Distance hasn’t diminished our friendship. The talk is about books and recipes, these days, but when we get together we might as well be 15 and 16 again–light as air, fresh as daisies (her favorite flower)–for it seems like we’re that young again.

Now, her preschool-age boy is learning his letters, and so she thought it’d be fun to send letters–good, old fashioned paper, stamped and through the mail. My boys responded, in print and in cursive (a skill in-process), and included in their package a few googly eyes. Because every kids’ craft is better with googly eyes.

My friend reminded me of our days as teenage pen pals, before email. Yes, there was such a time. Family vacations. Summer ballet school. These were occasions when you wrote to your friends, wherever they were, and described your days. The sending was almost as exciting as the receiving. Postcards were good, but cards were even better.

Never have I received a prettier card than this one though–an old card made new with pasted paper inside and subtle threaded accents on the cover design. Can you see it?

Thank you, friend!

I’m chronicling our isolation with the help of WordPress Discover Prompts. This post was in response to Discover’s daily prompts: Distance and New. Care to join in? Read others’ responses here. My other prompts responses:

Like what you read? Check out my categories above, with author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more. Are we social? Find me at FB and at Twitter @MoonRuark

O Romeo: Discover Prompts Day 14 and 15

His bio reads like a great book. Born in 1949 into a wealthy Italian family, fashion designer Romeo Gigli lost his parents at 18 and set out on his own, traveling the world, before landing in New York in 1977. As the disco age raged, Gigli met Bianca Jagger and others at the famed Studio 54, where he was admired for his style.

A lover of history and art, Gigli eventually turned to design and started his first fashion label in 1981. His style was celebrated for its understated romanticism, even eschewing the big shoulder pad craze.

His signature fragrance, Romeo di Romeo Gigli, was launched in 1989. I was 14. Yes, I had other perfumes before Romeo, what I consider to be my signature scent. (I’m far from alone, this having been among the most popular fragrances on the market, at least back then.) There were stolen spritzes of my mom’s Charlie. And there was a momentary crush on the heady drug store favorite: Taboo. I still like a little Tocca Florence now and then. But Romeo has stuck, and I’ve been wearing it ever since.

What does a fragrance say about its wearer? What do you think yours says about you? Can my taste in perfume predict my taste in clothes, or makeup–or even books? Over at Twitter, I asked just that.

Heidi Czerwiec is an author, poet, and perfumista, who practices #perfumebookpairings. For one, she paired Randon Billings Noble’s collection of essays, Be With Me Always, which I talked about over here, with Maii by Bogue Profumo.

So, I asked her if she’d ever made a book recommendation based on someone’s signature scent, a reverse perfume book-pairing. And she did for me! I was thrilled:

“Based on your signature scent, Romeo di Romeo Gigli, which is a sweet, innocent floral with edgy marigold & asafoetida notes, over a resinous base, which fans have described as being in a fairy garden…I would recommend My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: 40 New Fairy Tales edited by Kate Bernheimer,” with stories and poems by some of my favorite authors and poets, “work that riffs on the old tales in unexpected ways.”

Brilliant, right?

So, spritz away if you’ve got it, even in quarantine. Anything to make you feel more human, more romantic, or even more like you’re sitting in a fairy garden (instead of your ratty old bathrobe–is that just me?) Read more about Heidi Czerwiec and her work. And tell me what are you wearing and reading today?

I’m chronicling our isolation with the help of WordPress Discover Prompts. This post was in response to Discover’s daily prompts: Book and Scent. Care to join in? Read others’ responses here. My other prompts responses:

Like what you read? Check out my categories above, with author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more.

Shining through

One of my kids made this “stained glass” in art class. It’s all the stained glass I’ll see this Easter, with churches shuttered. I’d like to say it’s enough, but I miss the rituals, symbols, and ceremony so in evidence in the Catholic Church. I miss singing with the choir.

But it’s going to have to be enough, this simple holiday. Our few voices in prayer. A meal together in lieu of Communion. Our health and home, when so many are suffering with much less.

I wish them, and you–all of us–peace and light, today. Happy Easter!

~Rebecca

I’m chronicling our isolation with the help of WordPress Discover Prompts. This post was in response to Discover’s daily prompt: Light. Care to join in? Read others’ responses here. My other Prompts responses:

Like what you read? Check out my categories above, with author and photographer interviews, essays, stories, book reviews, writing advice, and more.