Thursday, November 21, 2019

Writing Prompt: I am looking at...

In my pursuit to read and clear out a particular pile of books in 2019, I stumbled on a book of writing prompts specifically for the writer who wants to delve into memoir. The book is Old Friend from Far Away by Natalie Goldberg. She is the author of Writing Down the Bones, a seminal how-to for writers.


A few years back I tried to work my way through the prompts, but just didn't have the discipline and the stamina for the truth-telling that this book of prompts encourages. But on this go-round, well, honestly, I'm a better writer, a more confident woman approaching this craft. The following is another stream of consciousness piece I mined from my Page-a-Day 2019 archive. I've done a bit of editing, but not too much.

I am looking at a room that is my haven. Once filled with disappointment, sadness, and impotent possibilities for partnership, this room now brings comfort and joy and quiet. I am looking at a wall with a menagerie of memories. A plate that once hung on my grandma's bathroom wall, that with its muted colors and pastoral scene conjures her home for me visually and viscerally. I am looking at the paper tree surrounded by memories written in my early-20s handwriting—a gift I gave her as a celebration of what she'd meant to me through my life. A Christmas gift from a college student on a budget. I am looking at the magnetic board that used to hang in my teenage room in my parents' house. It displays magnets and wisps of paper that urge me on this creative journey.

Taped to a frame that covers the matted photos of two separate trips to Europe is a torn out magazine page with a tiny cabin and an awning covering the only window to the left of its door. I look at this and envision a future writing space. And I know that even if I don't get it in real life that looking at it as I write and even when I don't write, creates space in me. Creates the adventurous spirit I need to pursue this craft-love of mine. For the sake of the pursuit, with no attachment to a particular outcome.

I am looking at the race bibs hanging on my wall. A reminder that I have done hard things physically and not only survived, but thrived. I don't need to look at anything other than my flat belly with milk white stretch marks to remember my most physical, demanding feat: growing and giving birth to my daughter.

I am looking at the baskets on my floor. My handiwork as a high-schooler who took up basket weaving at a sports camp. Those baskets now hold some of my most treasured possessions: letters from friends and family through the years. The letters I prize the most are in a box on the top of a dresser I bought to conjure the woman who wrote those letters. The same woman who owned the plate in the bathroom and put her hands to her mouth when she was surprised and delighted, like when I gave her that homemade gift of memories.

I am looking at every item in this room knowing how I have carefully curated it. I have been the Director of Important Items in this museum of my life. Everything I look at has a story. And if it doesn't, it does not stay around for very long.

The longer I look at all these things the longer I know that I can also let them go if and when the time comes. Like if moving to abroad gets to be more than a dream, or if a tornado blew through this town. What I appreciate about having curated these things so definitively and early in my life is that they are not crowded out by things that do not matter. My eyes do not have to search for long to rest on something I love or for a story that these items tell.

This room brings me peace where it used to bring angst or resentment. It hosts sabbath, love, desire. It makes me feel whole where I used to feel halved and then quartered. It tells me that I could live in a tiny home and not feel diminished.

I am looking at the Pottery Barn quilt that rested on my daughter's big-girl bed when her daddy took her out of her crib and she wouldn't go back in. It rests on my bed now.

An item's story can change too. I'm looking at the truth of that. 

I am looking at the ceiling fan working at its highest speed. Employed so that the air conditioning can take a break and therefore give my wallet a break. The ceiling fan that delighted my infant better than any mobile toy dangled above her face.

My heart sees that baby's smile and it melts me still. All these years later.

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