Writing Not the Way We Think: August Write From Your Life

Lately, I’ve been thinking how much of life is not the way I think. This summer, for example, has sported weather more akin to Portland, Oregon or Montpelier, Vermont than Lawrence, Kansas (not that I’m complaining about highs in the low 80s and lots of rain). Our kitty cat, Hideki, recently vanished outside (when he’s supposedly an indoor cat), and as much as we look and call out for him, he doesn’t reappear like I think he will (at least, not yet). Then there’s my children, all the jobs I’ve ever owned, all the cars I’ve ever driven, all the physical ailments I’ve suffered, and all the losses and joys: most of them not the way I thought they would be. In truth, life is more like a quirky yard sale down the block where you might find iron sculptures of clows on horseback or soup bowls painted like leopard skin far more than life is like an orderly department store full of stacks of neatly-folded shirts in various sizes.

I remember when a friend of mine and her partner, having a year before adopted a newborn girl, found a message on their answering machine that simply stated, “Would you like the brother?” (who was just born). My friend joyfully said, after picking up her new son, “Life has more imagination than us.” Thank heavens for that, in celebration of how life is not the way we think, I invite you to try out the following:

Option 1:

  1. Make a list of at least 20 experiences you’ve had in your life that didn’t turn how you thought they would (it might be difficult to just list 20, so feel free to list more than that if you want). Your list can contain the mundane (”the garlic mashed potatoes didn’t taste garlicky”) or the profound (”childbirth was so much more painful and joyful than I imagined).
  2. Pick the one item off your list that seems to call to you the most at this moment because it seems especially intriguing to you for whatever reason.
  3. Write about what you expected and then what happened. Pay close attention to sensory description — what you could taste, see, hear, touch and smell.

Option 2: Using the phrase, “I used to think…….but now…….” fill in the blanks. Then repeat and fill in those blanks, and keep going until you have a long list of “I used to think…..but now…” For example, mine might look like:

I used to think pulling weeds in early August would still be worth it, but now I know to just admire the jungle and drink more iced tea.

I used to think camping in winter was exotic, but now I love down and a good book on icy nights.

I used to believe whatever old wounds I carried would one day dissolve to nothing, but now I know they’re the compost on my messy winter garden.

Please feel free to post your excursions below, and share comments about others’ writing.


One thought on “Writing Not the Way We Think: August Write From Your Life

  1. on the 18th birthday of my foster daughter:
    Collision of Love

    I write my riddles
    with a Sumi brush and water
    color abstraction.

    “She has nowhere else to go. Her birthday is in two days, she’ll be eleven.” What the hell am I doing? The records said she set fires, stole, molested younger children, and punched her last foster mother. But, I knew she was the one, you were the one; we needed to meet, to be yoked together at the heart. I needed to read to you at bedtime, braid your nappy hair, tell you about bleeding and tampons, argue about make-up and halter tops, praise you at parent-teacher conferences ~ praise you to your face so you heard the words come from me, not second-hand, there was too much second-hand in your life already. So together, in August, 2002
    we walked our riddles,
    briefly, awkwardly into
    a green-black mystery

    But then, in November, I thought it would hurt more than it did when I called your caseworker to tell her I couldn’t adopt you and they should probably find you another home before the holidays. Of course, I cried, a throat rattling cry. It took two years to find you, two years of forms and foster parent classes on Attachment Disorder and head lice. And prayers and candles lit to show you the way to me, and prayers and even eight months of insemination because maybe, just maybe you were coming through my uterus, and then bleeding, and screaming, “What God? What are you asking me to do?” and more prayers and then the phone call two days before your birthday. But then, one detached night, you aimed at me,
    fist like a haiku,
    three brief strikes with the impact
    of a tsunami

    I held your spindly body between my open knees, while you punched your bedroom wall and screamed, “I hate you, you fuckin’ bitch. You’re not my mother. I want my mom.” Which one? I was your eighth foster mother in seven years. I needed to know I could hold you through your rage and my fear. I needed to know I could hold you through this collision of love.

    I needed to know
    I could love like magenta
    no matter your hue

    Your rage! We both knew you could kill me. You locked yourself in the bathroom. I locked myself in my bedroom, called your caseworker at midnight to say I can’t do this. But I needed to know, so I found the key. I found you, curled in the dry tub, clutching all the blankets you owned. Was this a porcelain protection for you, or for me? “Come back to bed,” I whispered through my upset. I’ll sing you a song.

    You can be anybody that you want to be
    You can love whomever you will.
    You can travel any country where your heart leads
    and know I will love you still. ~ The Flirtations

    Finally, tears came. You curled again between my legs, pressing your head against my breast, your mouth so close to my nipple. You apologized in pre-pubescent awkwardness, “Sorry I touched your boobie.” I smelled the top of your head, “That’s okay sweetie.” You pressed closer as if trying to crawl back into the womb, the womb you could have come from, but didn’t. You came from a poisoned womb that poisoned you and yet you still survive. But then,
    this night, our riddles
    break open with violet truth ~
    to love and to let go

    that was our journey. That was all.
    Tomorrow we will
    find mother number nine, but
    tonight I need to
    know if I can hold your hardened
    body like the mother
    I would want to be, loving
    you unconditionally.

Comments are closed.