Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Go back... waaay back

Post by Lynn

In Pine Bluffs, Wyoming, I lead the In Our Own Words writing group at a women’s residential treatment center. Every other Wednesday I sit down with eight women who are trying to get their lives back from addiction, and we write. Simple formula: three writing prompts, ten minutes apiece. After each prompt, we have the read-around, where each woman says out loud what she has just put on the page. Unless she doesn’t want to, then she can say “pass.” The only “critique” is applause after each reading.

I’ve used maybe three hundred different prompts over the five years since starting the group. Some turn out to be weak or confusing. Others spark great writing and get recycled after there’s a complete turnover in the group. I’ve found that one of the most revealing and stimulating prompts is also one of the simplest:

“When I was a kid I loved to …”

I sneak peeks at the women as they write to this prompt and see a quiver of a smile or pursed lips. Eyes rolled up to catch a wisp of memory.

No matter how cynical or shutdown or angry a woman is acting when we start out, she becomes a little girl again when hit with this phrase. During the read-around the energy in the room rises. Heads nod. Laughter erupts.

Nobody has ever said “pass” on the read-around for this prompt.

Funny thing, in all the times I have written to this prompt (of course I write too – what do you think I started the group for?!) I always find a new memory. Many of them are things I hadn’t thought of for years.

“Loved to play with dogs…” yeah, that’s a given. But “hand-watering the lawn pretending to be a Rain God, bestowing life on parched lands”? I hadn’t remembered that. The memory turned into an essay, then morphed into a scene in a short story.

“Loved to design towns, peopled by my Liddle Kiddle dolls – each with their own passions and problems.” Well, I guess there was a fiction writer in me even then, huh?

So what I’m saying is that I think it’s important to remember what we loved as children. There’s a truth, an essence, in those memories that can serve us, whether we are trying to heal or trying to make worlds come alive on paper.

Try it now… “When I was a kid I loved to…”


Jerry Eckert said...

What a great idea. And what a great program. Good work. Lynn.

Patricia Stoltey said...

When I was a kid, I loved to learn all the lyrics to the hit songs on Hit Parade and then sing my little heart out with a hairbrush as my mic and no audience (even the cat disappeared when I started singing).

Anonymous said...

I think it's easy to lose ourselves...
When we tap into our childhood memories we can find that part of us we've been missing or pushed down for whatever reason... I believe when we embrace what we loved as children we get closer to our passion and purpose in life.
Great post!

Lynn said...

I agree with beckydue that unearthing our childhood passions can get us closer to our purpose.

So, I awaiting word of the next performance of Pat and the Hairbrushes!

Deborah Nielsen said...

When I was a kid, I loved to ride my tricycle, later a bicycle, down the alley through every puddle, including those in front of the incinerators (remember those?). My mother, however, wished I didn't. :)

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