As we all started eating dessert, she turned to me and said, But how will you tell it? Before I had a chance to answer, she told me about some friends she had in New York, people her age, whose family had stories--terrible stories, she said--about the war. Now these people had a child, Alena went on, a daughter in her early twenties, who'd just taken a degree in literature, and who had written her thesis about her grandmother, the one who'd suffered those terrible things. Alena said that this young woman had given her the thesis to read, and while reading it she had been struck by something.
She said, It was like what she was interested in was not so much the story of her grandmother but how to tell the story of her grandmother--how to be the storyteller.
-- Daniel Mendelsohn, The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million
I gave my students a sheet of paper with the phrase "Eating the Honey of Words" written at the top, taken from Bly's collection of poems. The students were then to "collect" words throughout the semester--both ones they loved and hated, and we discussed them occasionally, and traded too, creating various prompts with the sheets. I also had a sheet of butcher paper stapled to the wall in the front of the room and invited them to write some of those words on the paper, which they loved to do. This, of course, was while I taught creative writing in high school, though I did do the paper in a pocket part with my college students in Intro to Creative Writing.
(special thanks to the gathering of quotes from poet Michael Dennis Browne)
"Forgiveness of the present is even more important than forgiveness of the past. If you forgive every moment--allow it to be as it is--then there will be no accumulation of resentment that needs to be forgive at some later time.
To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honor and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be."
-- Eckhart Tolle
"We have to pay attention to this very moment, the totality of what is happening right now.... we never see this right-here-now, this very moment. We can't see it because we're filtering.... all we must do is constantly to create a little shift from the spinning world we've got in our heasd to right-here-now. That's our practice... It's always a choice, moment by moment, between our nice world we want to set up in our heads and what really is.
Just be patient. We might have to do it ten thousand times, but the value for our practice is the constant return of the mind into the present, over and over and over... opinions, judgments, memories, dreaming about the future--ninety percent of the thoughts spinning around in our heads have no essential reality. And we go from birth to death, unless we wake up, wasting most our life with them."
--Charlotte Joko Beck
"As we awaken we discover that we are not limited by who we think we are. All the stories we tell ourselves--the judgments, the problems, the whole identity of the small sense of self, 'the body of fear'--can be released in a moment, and a timeless sense of grace and liberation can open for us.
The mind dismisses the present moment."
"There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium, and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you.
Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive."
These quotes are particularly nice to go along with the Change of Venue exercise, and though they speak to more general terms, being present to the moment is incredibly important with regards to writing and thus, can spur all kinds of discussion / advice.
I stand in good relation to the daughter of Tsen-tainte
You see, I am alive, I am alive
Writing exercise (in several steps):
- Begin by writing a series of "I am" statements. Be free, let this go for five, ten minutes. - MDB likes to have the writer cut one line completely, change a word, and give specific instructions for small edits. - The second step is to re-write the poem by shuffling the "halves" of the poem. For instance, in the first line, "I am a feather on the bright sky" and the second line, "I am the blue horse that runs in the plain" could become "I am a feather that runs in the plain" or "I am the blue horse on the bright sky." One does not have to make those shifts with phrases that are adjacent, but rather, let the eyes wander (quickly) and see what comes up.
Share. (MDB would then ask, "What's your pleasure, what's your pain? What was that like for you? Feed the monster.")
(a special thanks to poet Michael Dennis Browne for this exercise!)
Things to Do Around Seattle - by Gary Snyder
Hear phone poles hum. Catch garter snakes. Make lizard tails fall off. Biking to Lake Washington, see muddy little fish. Peeling old bark off Madrone to see the clean red new bark. Cleaning fir pitch off your hands. Reading books in the back of the University District goodwill. Swimming in Puget Sound below the railroad tracks. Dig clams. Ride the Kalakala to Bremerton. See Mt. Constance from the water tower up by the art museum. Fudgsicles in Woodland park zoo, the Eagle and the Camel. The mummy Eskimo baby in the University Anthropology museum. Hung up deep sea canoes, red cedar log. Eating old style oatmeal mush cookt in double boiler or cracked wheat cereal with dates. Sway in the wind in the top of the cedar in the middle of the swamp-- Walking off through the swamp and over the ridge to the pine woods. Picking wild blackberries all around stumps. Peeling cascara Feeding chickens Feeling Penelope's udder, one teat small Oregon grape and salal.
Assignment: Write your own Things to do Around _______ (campus, your hometown, the town we are in now, Uptown, the dorm, a place you vacationed, this classroom, your friend's house, etc.).
This blog is meant to be a resource for creative writing instructors, but many of these prompts can be adapted for individual writers who are looking for exercises. The labels are meant to help with categorization--so if you are looking for some good first day activities, you can click on "introductions," or if you are looking for something specific, you can click on labels that are forthcoming, such as "character building" or "poetry forms."
(Also: Please feel free to leave comments to make suggestions, to correct errors, and to let me know if I have mis-credited a particular source!)
I'm currently a poetry MFA student at the University of Minnesota. This will be my second graduate degree; my first is an M.Ed in English. I've taught creative writing at both the high school and university level, and this blog combines both my pedagogical and creative tendencies. You can learn more about my work at my webpage. (4/09)