The Life We Could Be Living (If We Weren’t Living This One): July Write From Your Life

We’ve all made choices, sometimes seemingly small at first, that turned large in all they encompassed: moving to one particular town for a job that wouldn’t last, deciding to major in Australian history instead of photojournalism, going to an old cafe on a whim and meeting “the one”, or picking up a book at a yard sale that changes life as you knew it. Each choice leads to a place we wouldn’t have perhaps found otherwise. Each place, each person, each moment can lead to more variables, and so on.

For the July writing prompt, I suggest you get comfortable and do the following:

1. Write down another profession you might have enjoyed and pursued.

2. Write down another town, city or rural area (than the one where you live) where you could see yourself.

3. Jot down five small objects that catch your attention — things such as “hairtie, folding chair, gold leaf dangling earrings, plastic flower lying on a sidewalk, tiny nub of a pencil.”

4. Write an activity you enjoy — or would enjoy — doing but never or seldom do (ice skating? deep-sea diving? making bread?).

Now write a story of the life you would be living (if you weren’t living this one) in which you do the profession you named (#1), live in the place you name (#2), and one day — while doing (or preparing to do) an activity you enjoy (#4), you come across these five small objects (or at least some of them) in such a way that each object tells some part of the story about how you came to this alternative life.

I also share with you my own take on this exercise.

The Life You Could Be Living (If You Weren’t Living This One)

The life you could be living aches in its compression,
tires of being a spark, an asteroid,
a falling raindrop bouncing when it hits.
It’s wound tight between muscle and sinew,
lodged in the happy gaps of a synapse.
It’s fluid like flowers. It sounds like geese
out of sight. It’s marvelous as falling asleep
when exhausted, and it foreshadows your dreams
like a stray piece of sunlight or an unnoticed icicle.

Pull apart the paper vignettes and subtle
understandings. Find a favorite shoe lost
decades ago, a line to an old song,
and behind that, the melody that once
made you lift your arms and twirl
in your childhood bedroom after dark.

This life startles you with its foreign tongue
of traumas and kisses, its vulnerable eyes
staring into yours for mercy as it lies down beside you,
tries to say – although it doesn’t know your language –
that it’s okay how it turned out, that it’s still here,
and despite its wish to be lived,
it’s not going anywhere.

(from Landed, forthcoming from Mammoth Publications, August, 2009)

Visit soon to see monthly writing prompts exercises based on the vibrant words of a Kansas or Great Plains author based on “Write From Your Life,” a monthly intallment of the radio show “High Plains in Words,” (where you can soon download podcasts of the show) aired on High Plains Public Radio. This page will be a welcome space where you can post your writing responses to each exercise, and sing praises for each others’ writing.


2 thoughts on “The Life We Could Be Living (If We Weren’t Living This One): July Write From Your Life

  1. I recently moved my writing exercise page to my front page, so here are the comments made to the July writing prompt:

    Wendy Thompson // July 10, 2009 at 3:36 am | Reply (edit)

    Response to “Life You Could Be Living.” (Line break and justification is off. Is this where I post?)

    The Home I Long to Return to

    was re-discovered
    today in the pages torn
    from Architectural Digest – glossy
    photographs of room, after room, after room

    and a Mediterranean
    light through blue-white
    curtains that swayed in the morning
    breeze like Edelweiss or chiffon kites

    blown onto the veranda
    (also white and aged with salt water).
    Bedroom, livingroom, kitchen, garden, bath,
    photographs, patched together into a home, torn

    from a magazine
    during stolen moments
    when we dreamed of the life we
    wanted to live if we were not living

    this life, with
    only a trail of sweetpeas
    and philodendron to remind us
    of sea-green fantasies in the south

    of France,
    where lemons roll
    in cobblestone streets
    below lavender scented Alps,

    while you
    stack Caprese, fresh
    basil always lazily in reach
    from our rustic kitchen window.

    Two glasses
    of Bordeaux on granite
    countertop, your bright camellia
    lips, outside the photographer’s frame,

    in the white space
    for me to imagine: this house,
    this life, this scrapbook of our future,
    now sepia-toned with age and neglect,

    these pages
    of the house that never
    lived, but for in our dreams,
    these pages close in on themselves today.

    carynmirriamgoldberg // July 10, 2009 at 2:21 pm | Reply (edit)

    I really like the form of this poem in addition to the images, and especially the ending. It’s as if a whole life spun itself out of this form, building as it goes.

    Amy Nixon Karsmizki // July 12, 2009 at 12:47 am | Reply (edit)

    Spring Break

    Peevish March winds
    strafe the plank siding
    with snow missiles;
    spring comes late
    to the Twin Cities, allowing
    for more time spent
    in scarves and knitted slippers,
    or wrapped in smoky
    blue fleece and thick books.

    I rifle through the
    mess on the table
    with gluey fingers,
    searching for an image
    gone astray.
    Oh, there –
    pinned safely between
    purple tape measure and
    Roget’s Thesaurus –
    the tall grass waves
    from the past, dancing
    on wide, sun-shot
    Kansas plains.

    I crop and distress
    the edges, tack the photo
    to a scrap of ochre
    mat board with rubber
    cement, carefully roll out
    the lumps and bumps.
    I layer and build
    from there,
    things I love, have
    loved, will love:
    my cats, music-note
    confetti, the kanji
    symbol for journey,
    a purple bow, zucchini
    seeds, a snippet from a page
    of a decaying textbook.

    He should be on the road
    by now, heading north on I-35.
    I have a week to show
    him the cities, to play rummy
    and drink coffee, to peek
    in on him at night to
    make sure he’s
    still breathing.
    I have a week to unfold
    my life – the one
    I held like a big underwater
    breath all those years –
    a week to make him understand.

    I hope there’s fresh snow
    on the ground when
    he gets here, so he can see
    what I wake up to
    every day –
    a blank page,
    a fresh start.

    Wendy Thompson // July 12, 2009 at 1:42 am | Reply (edit)

    Wow, Amy, every line was a calm satisfaction of a life easily lived, and this simile, “I have a week to unfold
    my life – the one
    I held like a big underwater
    breath all those years -” is one of the most poignant I’ve ever read. From peevish and strafe to blank page and fresh start, I am happy for the subject in this poem.

  2. I am in awe of the imagery in the writing by the poet’s word’s I have read..this is particularly intriguing…given the subject matter. The uniqueness of the format as well..some emjambent I love to see…I wished I knew how to participate, but cannot seem to get in on this….

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