A Worthy Exercise

When I wrote in college, I always hit a wall at about 2000 words. I could spend days doing research and organizing my ideas, but when I got out my yellow pad and began to write, eight pages was my limit. At that point, I’d said everything I wanted to say. This wasn’t a serious problem in college; I wrote well enough to get passing grades. When I started graduate school, though, I realized (duh) that eight pages wasn’t enough. I had to push myself to say more about the Roman Attitude Towards the Christians During the Fourth Century A.D. or The Significance of the Order of Horace’s Odes.

Being able to churn out lots of words is a skill my students struggle to master. Even after weeks of writing journal entries and stories, a few of my creative writing students can’t seem to put out more than two hundred words at a time. Part of the problem is that they don’t have a lot of experiences to supply them with material.  Another part is that they don’t trust their own imaginations enough to let go and write badly, which is the first step to writing well. Writers know this, but our students have been taught to keep their page clean until they are sure of the right answer.

This new year, I have begun an experiment: write less. My goal is to write one hundred words a day — exactly one hundred — about anything. More

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O Xmas Tree

When I saw it standing there, between the poinsettias and the plastic lawn Bambis, I had to have it. No strings of lights to get tangled, no needles to vacuum up. It didn’t have any smell, but that’s what scented candles are for. I could imagine folding it up and carrying it down to the basement until next year.
Tonight I sit on the couch in the dark, gazing at its tiny, winking lights, remembering how we dragged the boys through the woods every year to find the perfect tree. It never was. But it always smelled wonderful.

Sitting in Church

He had gotten over the feeling that someone was always watching him. He told lies without blinking, but sometimes hated the awful things he wished.

I have sinned against you in thought

Prayer always felt more like a group exercise than communication with the ineffable divine. The minister hawked the book, blessed everyone’s messes. Tell God what’s on your mind.

He wondered, does God really make decisions based on what we say to him?

As far as he could tell, God had always ignored him, or perhaps listened to him the way his wife did, nodding but thinking of something else.

Piano Lessons

The prompt said, “Describe a person who has influenced your life.” For some reason Alice kept thinking about her piano teacher’s dog, a large setter named Clancy.

She aspired to play piano, but rarely practiced. It was hard to play with her mother calling out from the kitchen, “That was lovely, Alice — but isn’t it supposed to be allegro? Are you using the metronome?”

Her lesson was on Monday. While she waited, Clancy placed his head on her knee and stared at her, wagging his tail. You are wonderful, his eyes said.

She wrote: Clancy Walton taught me many things…

Demons

She didn’t remember inventing them. They were just there, in the blue darkness. The invisible one talked, the other was silent. She named them Pan and Xan.brown_lady_lg
“They’re demons,” she said.
Her mother told her father, “They’re just imaginary friends.”
“If a demon gets inside you, it makes you evil,” her brother said.
They weren’t inside her. They lurked. At night Pan whispered to her, teaching her their strange language. When she went down the dark hallway, she could see Xan waiting for her at the stairs.
An adult now, she still sees Xan’s shadow. Pan whispers, we’re always here.

The Oracle Has Moved

He was sure that she was lying, so when she left to buy more wine, he began going through her drawers. In the back of the kitchen drawer he found a postcard dated March 17, 2004.
It read:
oracle“Notice: the Oracle has moved. It can now be found only by those who are not looking for it. All other rules still apply. The Oracle does not accept checks or credit. Cash buys answers only to money questions. Those seeking answers to life must bring their most precious thing. Without payment, there can be no answers. The future has a price.”

Book Report

“It’s my favorite,” she said, handing him the battered paperback. She didn’t ask, but he knew he was supposed to read it.

“Thanks.” He didn’t know what to say. Books were things he rarely thought about. He didn’t have a favorite.

The book stayed on the kitchen table for a few days. Then he moved it to the top of his dresser. Every morning he looked at it and thought, I need to read this. It made him feel guilty.

book_stackFinally she asked.

“Amazing,” he replied. “Can’t stop thinking about it.”

She smiled. “Do you want to read the sequel?”

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