Tuesday, March 3, 2015

EXCAVATIONS

post by Lynn
What we have once enjoyed we can never lose... All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.                      
                                                               - Helen Keller

For five years I led a writing group at the women’s addiction treatment center in Pine Bluffs. Every other week I sat down with eight women who were all trying to rebuild their lives.

We wrote for 10 minutes at a time, using prompts—simple questions or open-ended phrases. Then we had the read-around, where we read aloud just what we had put down on the page. No critiques, just a round of applause after each reading.

If a woman didn't want to read what she had written, she could say “pass” and we would move on to the next reader.

During those five years I shared maybe three hundred different prompts with the group. Some of them turned out to be confusing, or didn’t evoke much of a response. Others sparked excited writing and dense insights. Those are the ones I used again and again.

One of the most revealing prompts was this: “When I was a kid I loved to…”

No matter how closed off or angry a woman was, this prompt turned her back into a little girl. I would glance around the room frequently when we were writing to this prompt and never fail to see a quiver of a smile or eyes looking up as the writer tried to snag the wisp of a memory. During the read-around the group always buzzed with energy. Heads nodded. Laughter erupted.

No one ever said “pass” on this prompt.

And another thing—no matter how many times I wrote to this prompt (of course I wrote with the women, why do you think I started the group?) I always found a new memory, usually something I hadn’t thought about for years. Like:

  • I loved to stretch out in the back yard on a summer’s afternoon, belly on a cool spot, with a pile of new (or not-so-recently-read) comic books. I’d prop my chin on my hand and get lost in the world of Casper the Friendly Ghost, or Archie, Veronica and Reggie. 
  • I remember I loved to play games with names. In junior high I instigated an odd game of switching the first letter(s) of your first and last name. I was no longer Lynn Griffith, but Grin Liffith. My friend Connie Brewster became Bronnie Crewster. Poor unfortunate Marty Fernau was dubbed “farty manure”-- kids can be so ornery! 
  • I spent hours alone in my room, turning the floor space into a Liddle Kiddle town. Each doll had its own home and story line. Frequent natural disasters swept in and required my intervention to save the town. 
In those snippets of memory I find the origins of my love of reading, word play and storytelling.

I guess what I’m saying is that our first loves are often our enduring loves. If a childhood fascination with something has gotten buried over the years, writing about it lets you play archeologist and uncover it. You can excavate the memory tenderly and with respect for that child and his or her world.

I think, like me, you’ll find there’s a bedrock truth in those memories of what we loved that can serve our writing. It really doesn’t matter if we are trying to heal or trying to make words come alive on paper.

So, try it now… I promise you’ll find something revealing:

When I was a kid I loved to…


6 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, Lynn. I have few memories from childhood for some reason, but the ones I do have are strong and I've used them as topics for poems. Picking blueberries in summer with my Aunt Vi, hiking with her to a huge rock--it's not so big now I'm an adult--and having picnics on top of it, bellyflopping on my sled on the country road in front of the house, skating on a pond with my sister. I think I'll try using your childhood prompt to see if I can dig up some other poems. Thanks. Art

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    1. Oh, the blueberries sound marvelous! Thanks for stopping by, Art.

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    2. I find that the more I write about my childhood, the more memories that seem to come to the forefront. Like they were stored in layers, and pulling one layer back reveals another layer underneath. And, yes, lots of them seem to be poem-like in their imagery.

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  2. What a great prompt! I can think of about a hundred things I could write about based on that. Road trips, bike riding, drinking hot cocoa at a restaurant in the mountains... So many memories!

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    1. Oooooh -- bike riding. I'd forgotten about that one! I covered an awful lot of miles on a 50-pound Sears Free Spirit with coaster brakes and no gears.

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    2. Write away, Chere! The bike mention reminds me of riding on the handlebars of my oldest sister's bike. Middle sister was on the back. Three sisters on the way to the Lusk Municipal Plunge to spend the hottest hours of the day in the water... yeah, that brings back memories :-)

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