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Prompt: “It takes guts to tremble.” —Andrea Gibson
Time: 10 minutes

It takes guts to put the pen to the paper. It takes guts to press send. It takes guts to show up. It takes guts to walk out the door in the early morning, on the edge of the day’s unfolding. It takes guts to sit with the hard feelings—to really feel them. Not brush them off, stuff them down, pack them away. It takes guts to set boundaries and ask for what you need. It takes guts to smile at a stranger. It takes guts to try something, to explore, to see where things go. It takes guts to focus. It takes guts to say “I don’t know.” It takes guts to keep trying, to not let obstacles become endpoints. It takes guts to be awesome. And to be yourself. And to grow into new aspects of yourself. It takes guts to keep on keeping on. And to admit you just need a nap. Or a hug. Or a dance party. It takes guts to light up the world with your fire. It takes guts.

Shout-outs to Shira E for this inspiring post and to Gabe Radeka for the vital question and tangled important woods metaphor!

Prompt: “Consider me / As one who loved poetry / And persimmons.” —Shiki
Time: 15 minutes

And summits. And scuffed-up boots close to falling apart. And holding onto a dear hermana’s hand for dear life while I cry. And the question, “What if nothing is wrong with you?”

And clementines, with their tiny sweetness and easy rinds. And that moment my heart swells. And the contours of my inner life. And my future tiny house with its tiny wood stove and tiny reading nook and tiny tub. And blankets.

And my body, surprisingly. And the fire, in people and words and life and my skin. And music made with small blue keyboards and ukuleles and electronic things I don’t know the name of.

And when I’m in it, whatever it is. And when you—or you, or you, or you—are there with me.

And a stranger offering me her table at a crowded coffee shop. And sitting there with her in shared concentrated silence for 10 minutes before she departs and I thank her, wishing I had introduced myself.

And when I know exactly what I want. And your smile. And the spring wildflower garden on my walk to the bus. And the bus. And my shoulders. And the wine stain on my Book Mill bag from a music, art, and wine night. And the big, comfy couch.

And peering into the clearing from the woods, from the important tangle, unsure of emerging. And that deep breath.

Prompt: Weather.
Time: 10 minutes.

A snowstorm. In Cotuit. We lost power for days. No electric heat. Only fire, fueled by the dismantled coffee table.

A thunderstorm. In Lenox. We sat in the window seat, watched the lightning, faces rapt, and listened to the rain.

A rain shower. In Clinton. We jumped in the puddles, smiling our we-have-all-the-time-in-the-world smiles.

A heat wave. In Arizona. We drove and drove and drove, and our boombox melted, and we smiled.

A cold snap. In Lenox. We cooked chicken soup and sat on the brown couch and cozied in.

A blue sky. We lounged in a cemetery on my birthday and read aloud.

Be a weatherperson.


Prompt: You stand there…
Time: 10 minutes

You stand there. You stand there. At the edge. The edge of a doorway, of a decision, of a new life. Pulled back, propelled forward. It’s like how you felt on that ridge. Wind, clouds, rime ice all around you, you stepped to the edge of the trail. All of the people, and there were a lot of people on the trail that day—the Canadians that weren’t nearly as annoying as your friends thought they were, the college kids in jeans and sweatshirts that had partied the whole last night through, the friendly guy who fired guns for a living (a consultant, he said)—they all fell away, disappeared. And it was just you and the edge. It was exhilarating, and you wanted to see it all from a step closer. But the wave of not exactly panic but some distant cousin rose from your toes up through your core into your stomach and heart and throat and ears. And it makes you think about that cheesy quote—the kind of cheesy that you can’t help but love—about stepping to the edge and one of two things will happen and there’s wings involved or maybe it’s like Indiana Jones or was it Harry Potter where the ground doesn’t appear until you take the step?

A few years ago, I took a writing workshop called Writing from the Heart with Nancy Slonim Aronie. A first for me, and it was a breakthrough. Timed writing exercises (10 minutes, here’s your prompt, just write—whatever comes out, just write, no editing), reading my words out loud in front of other people (voice wavering, but speaking nonetheless), taking in others’ stories. We only offered positive feedback. Following that workshop, I was part of a writer’s group for a year or so in which we came together every week or two and did timed writing using various prompts, and then we shared (if we so desired), and instead of positive or critical feedback, we simply reflected back words or phrases or sentences that struck us, stuck with us (“recall”). For me, timed writing with prompts is a great way to elude my inner editor and just get some words down on paper. Sometimes they stand on their own or get forgotten as soon as the ink has dried, other times they provide the seed for a longer piece that I work on later. Hearing others’ recall can be a great window into what resonates with an audience. For the freewrites, I generally write for 10 or 12 minutes. The timed piece makes it so that I actually do it (rather than getting overwhelmed with the idea of working on a big essay and forgoing it in favor of reorganizing my files or doing the dishes or obsessively checking my e-mail and RSS feeds; writing for 10 minutes seems less daunting).

Here’s a random (and short) example from my freewrite notebook.

Prompt: This happened.

This happened. I put my fingertips, then my whole hand in. The cold water was electricity. So I sat down on the rock in my orange shorts and took off my left shoe and my left sock, and then my right shoe and my right sock. And I was not alone, but part of me was—the part of me that is often alone when surrounded by people. And I plunged my toes, my feet, my ankles, my shins into that ice-cold mountain water just to feel it. Feel it shoot, and slowly creep at the same time, through my body.

And that’s that. I’ll post various freewrites I’ve done periodically. Keep in mind they’re unedited snippets—while I can guarantee that I won’t be posting any of the ones that make me really cringe, I still feel the need for that disclaimer. The freewrite above was based on a memory from a hike in the Rockies I did with dear old friends when I was out in Colorado visiting in 2004, so I leave you with this associated image.

Me and Jaime in Dream Lake

Jaime and I in Dream Lake

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