Memoir Writing Prompt…and thoughts on memory..

Memory is a funny thing.  I sometimes think my experience with it is exceptional because I know first hand what it is to be without one (I lost my mine once when I had a traumatic brain injury.) Sometimes I don’t trust the memories I have because I simply don’t know which ones are mine and which I have created based on stories I have heard.  In the end, it doesn’t matter….we all have exceptionally creative brains that fill gaps and rewrite stories all the time….can anyone really trust their memory?  No, I don’t think so…which is why I write at times….because at least then there is a record of what I believed when I believed it.  Memoir is an exercise in memory recall.

Did you write on our last prompt?  My friend who was so excited I was starting this series was disappointed that it was something so mundane…But Natalie Goldberg suggests that there are four prompts we should flex writing muscles with all the time: “I’m thinking of../I’m looking at../I remember../I don’t remember.”  So we continue with lifting the ten pound weights before we transition to the 25 lb ones.

I want to share a bit of what Natalie shares with those beginning this practice:

“Don’t cross out. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar.  Be specific. Not car, but Cadillac. Not tree, but sycamore.  But don’t worry, if you write “bird” instead of woodpecker, you can figure out what kind it was two weeks later when you reread it. The important thing is to keep your hand moving. If you get stuck go back and write the prompt again…

Say what you want to say, not what you think you should say. Trust what you put down, even if the editor or critic inside you says it’s wrong or you made a mistake…feel free to write the worst junk in America.”

So here are the rules:

  1. No editing.  Write what you write.
  2. You may choose to share your post- just post the link in the comments.  Or you don’t have to.  I sat on some of these writings for a year before I was brave enough to post them.  Let them be true…without thought of audience AND then choose what you will share with the world at large.  If you choose not to share, will you share some thoughts about your experience writing this prompt?
  3. Write for ten minutes….at the end of your ten minutes, wrap up with a final thought and end your piece.

That’s it! Easy-peasy, right?  So let’s go!

Write for ten minutes on the prompt- “I remember.”

n-WOMAN-CHALKBOARD-large570

I remember the year we left the Christmas tree up until March.  It was after my sister, Lora’s, birthday before we took it down.  I think Lora thought it was something special we did in honor of her in that way only young children can imagine that the most mundane of things is a gift to them.

I remember my mother was filled with shame at the thought of it.  I wonder if she felt it was an outward reflection of an inner failure on her part that the tree was still up and glistening with icicles and homemade ornaments. We never turned the lights on after Christmas.   Those lights were great blinking beacons to her failure and a lighthouse alerting all who would come near that this home did not have it all together. 

I remember the day that she admitted truth….that we didn’t have it all together and that, in fact, that made us a stronger family not a weaker one.

I remember my grandmother was dying that year and my baby sister, Alexis, was young, celebrating her second year on earth- or perhaps she wasn’t born yet- perhaps I don’t remember that part at all.  I simply remember that there were good reasons for our delayed response to removing the tree at a socially acceptable time.  I remember that life had intruded with busy schedules and more important priorities and had stolen from us any of the moments we might have taken to stow away our Christmas memories.

 

 

 

And it begins….A Writing Prompt from “Old Friend from Far Away”

 

This is not the first prompt from Natalie Goldberg’s book Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, but it is the first prompt that unveiled the magic of simply beginning to write.  As I was writing this piece I realized that where I started with nothing…I ended with a story I had forgotten.  It was a wonder to me.  So let’s begin there…I want to share a bit of what Natalie shares with those beginning this practice:

“Don’t cross out. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar.  Be specific. Not car, but Cadillac. Not tree, but sycamore.  But don’t worry, if you write “bird” instead of woodpecker, you can figure out what kind it was two weeks later when you reread it. The important thing is to keep your hand moving. If you get stuck go back and write the prompt again…

Say what you want to say, not what you think you should say. Trust what you put down, even if the editor or critic inside you says it’s wrong or you made a mistake…feel free to write the worst junk in America.”

So here are the rules:

  1. No editing.  Write what you write.
  2. You may choose to share your post- just post the link in the comments.  Or you don’t have to.  I sat on some of these writings for a year before I was brave enough to post them.  Let them be true…without thought of audience AND then choose what you will share with the world at large.  If you choose not to share, will you share some thoughts about your experience writing this prompt?
  3. Write for ten minutes….at the end of your ten minutes, wrap up with a final thought and end your piece.

That’s it! Easy-peasy, right?  So let’s go!

Write for ten minutes on the prompt- “I’m thinking of.”

child-raising-hand

I’m thinking of nothing really.  I’m thinking of a million tiny threads of thoughts that are jumbled in a ball of wire.  The wire was not rolled “over-under” and is knotted and frayed.  It doesn’t connect thoughts to source as it should and this writing jumps from place to place like a Mexican jumping bean.  I’m thinking of all the things I want..no have…no need…no feel like getting done today and how I sit here writing. What I really want to do is flex this muscle all day, but I know the quiet won’t last long and soon there will be cries of “Mom! I’m hungry!” and “I don’t have any clean underwear.”  And since I never left my jammies yesterday, I’m not sure I should indulge in the same sluggish, non-activity again.

I’m thinking these free-writing activities in this TMNT notebook remind me of the fifth grade, where we first started free-writing. I hated fifth grade, but I loved writing and it is interesting to me that both coincide.  My fifth grade teacher was an awful woman (or at least I thought she was) who wanted to “squelch” my “drive to succeed.”

No really, she said that to my parents once.  She told them that I raised my hand too much in class and always knew the right answer and it was disruptive because no one else would ever answer questions.  She banned me from wearing black patent shoes because they clicked when I walked and sent me to the principal for touching a girl’s necklace when we were in the lunch line.  She hated me and I never understood why.

Now, as an adult, I think perhaps I was one of those overly precocious, know-it-all children who was clueless to the fifth grade misfit rebellion she was leading.  At my ten year class reunion, there were three classmates who told me that year was formative.  One said, “Watching you quietly thwart her every move helped me know that I could be who I wanted no matter who didn’t want me to.”

I had no idea.

I just wanted to wear my black patent shoes again and go out to recess and not be afraid to raise my hand with the right answer because my teacher wouldn’t like me. I tried to be sweet. I brought apples, but she was allergic. I cleaned chalkboards, but got the chalk dust on the floor. I helped put up her bulletin board, but I didn’t hang the pictures in the right order and she “would have to do it again anyway..” and “just wished I would pay better attention to instructions.”

She kept me in from recess and made me sit under her desk in front of the room for the rest of the day.  My fifth grade crush (who happened to be her teacher’s pet) snuck me a piece of chocolate and asked “Why is she mad at you this time?”  I shrugged my shoulders and continued reading Brave New World.

Everything changed at parent-teacher conferences when my parents realized that my tears and stories about her continued mistreatment of me were less the tears of a dramatic ten year old and more the truth of a young child who didn’t understand how to follow the rules of the game she was supposed to play.  When they met, she began to tell them of all my many issues.

“She always answers the questions in class. Other students don’t get a chance.”

“Does she blurt them out?” My dad asked.

“No, she raises her hand.”

“Then don’t call on her.”

“Well, she is the only one who raises her hand.”

“That doesn’t mean you have to call on her.”

I sat with my ear pressed against a tiny crack in the door hoping to get a clue of how to be.

Rule #1:  Don’t answer questions.

“She finishes her work too quickly and spends way too much time reading fiction books,” she continued with her list.

“Is she disturbing the class?” My mom asked.

“No. She is quiet, but the other kids feel bad because she finishes so quickly.”

She was getting frustrated now, and a defensive whine was creeping into her voice.

“Is she doing sloppy or inaccurate work?” There was a steely edge in my mother’s voice. One I hadn’t heard before.

“No. It is right and acceptable.”

Rule #2:  Pretend you are slow.  BE AVERAGE.

“She just has this drive to succeed and be right all the time.  She seems to be driven to be the best at what she does.  At everything.”  The whine had completely taken over my teacher’s normally abrupt and commanding tone.

“Well, that’s Cari.  She’s a very driven young lady,” my dad said proudly.

“We need to squelch her drive to succeed so she can better fit into my classroom.”

I heard the scrape of the chair across the floor as my mother stood up.  Daddy shifted and leaned forward in his chair.  Waves of energy poured from them both so strong I nearly recoiled from the force of it.  My mother put her hands on my teacher’s desk and leaned in close to her.  My mother’s voice was the quiet ice of tightly controlled anger. I had to strain to hear her words.

“You may choose to point that drive in any direction you want, but you WILL NOT squelch anything!”

I smiled.  I didn’t know exactly what squelching was, but it didn’t sound fun. Daddy’s chair scraped against the floor as he stood next to my mother.

“It sounds to me, ma’am, like the problem is not with our daughter.  If you have some suggestions that don’t require ‘squelching’ then we are happy to ask Cari to implement them. In the meantime, I expect her days to be spent at her own desk and not sitting under yours being shamed for no reason. Is that something we can agree on or shall we stop by the principal’s office on our way out of school?”

Rule #3  #1:  Be yourself.  The people who  love you have your back.

 

 

 

Inspiration from an “Old Friend from Far Away” (aka an effort to return to writing)

Hello my friends in the blogosphere! Have you missed me? I have missed you all so much…or maybe I haven’t missed these nights here at the computer nearly enough to return to them…or maybe, as I told a friend the other day, I am speaking so much now and I just only have a finite amount of words in me and it leaves me with nothing to write.  (She reminded me that I was created in the image of an infinite God and thus there was nothing ‘finite’ about me…including my words, but perhaps I was releasing them through the outlet of speaking rather than writing and simply didn’t need the writing as much these days.) Or perhaps I have simply become a slave to my busy schedule and make no place for this platform.  Whatever the reason, I am limping back this way complete with shiny good intentions to be here on a regular basis.  

My plan is to post regularly again in the “Ministry Resources” category (once every other week) and to hopefully share some words from you that I have been working on in my free writing exercises.  This second experiment terrifies me as these are some of the truest, rawest words I have written.  I have been hiding them in a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” notebook for over a year now and I think I am ready to share some.  But cause I am all scared and stuff and hate to do this authenticity thing alone- wanna play along?showyourheart

Here’s what I’ll do:  

I will post a prompt from my memoir writing book by Natalie Goldberg, Old Friend From Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir, and other books every now and again.  I will commit to writing on this prompt for ten minutes and share my writing with you…and you share with me?  Post a response to the prompt and share your link in the comments?  What do you say?  If yes…super cool! Let’s do this thang! If no, well…then…I will share what I write anyway…So to start, just a quick story about how I came by this treasure of a book by Natalie Goldberg.

I was undone by her gift.  When I unwrapped it, it seemed…well…typical….of my sister- of her habits, of her life and loves…that she would gift me with a book for Christmas.  It is what she always gives- a tradition begun in her grad school days when money was tight and knowledge premium.

A sweet gift for a bibliophile like myself, but…well…expected.  I almost didn’t even flip through the pages….but I am so glad I did.

The book itself was one chosen specifically for me- Old Friend from Far Away: The Practice of Writing Memoir by Natalie Goldberg- a treasure for a storyteller and writer like myself.  It was a book I had longed for for several months and I was excited she’d chosen it for me.

“I just bought this for my Kindle!” I said and watched her face fall a bit.

“You can take it back if you want,” she offered, “but you should check inside first.”

I opened to the introduction and began skimming when out slipped a slip of cut looseleaf notebook paper.  Scrawled in blue magic marker in my sister’s handwriting was a quote:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you cannot do.”- Eleanor Roosevelt

Her letters formed straight up and down, started neatly and ran off the lines at the end of the quote. The slip of paper was torn cleanly from it’s sheet. I stared in wonder at this gift.

She’d stolen moments to write these words and tuck them in this book for me to run across at just the perfect time.  She’d searched and saved and thought of me when she saw them…and then she’d pulled the cap off of a blue Cars magic marker and written them down for me late at night or during nap time or when she could have been showering in peace.  Moments her busy-mom-of-two-with-a-newly-adopted-special-needs-chld-life just could not afford….but she spent them anyway.

As I flipped through, I found other slips of paper and had to fight the urge to read them all. I knew her intent was for me to unwrap these tiny gifts all year long- to dole out bits of encouragement over time…so I waited….and sat in awe at her gift.

I have loved working through this book over the last year….so now I am ready to share SOME of this writing with you…maybe these prompts will be as beautiful a gift to you as they have been to me.  Stay tuned…I’ll be back soon!

Excuses, Excuses…or why I haven’t been around much…

I am still alive.  Strings Attached Ministries is still thriving and moving and grooving.  We are still speaking to groups all around the nation and teaching that relationships are meant to be deep and connected.  I am still writing, but in a notebook that doesn’t plug into the wall.  My friend, Holley Gerth, says that I am still weaving words prolifically, but they are spoken and not written and my clever words are finite.

Life has taken over.  I am struggling with all the demands of being a working mother and wife, a ministry leader, and a daughter. And in the midst of that, I am working on writing my fears….the true stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff I shove under rugs and try to forget, and well, I am just not ready to share that yet.

I say all that to say this.

I miss you guys. :) I miss sharing thoughts and words here, and hope to do it again soon. I sense an opening margin on the horizon, but I must climb this looming mountain first.  I will return to regular posting, soon, I hope.

If you’ve come here for the first time- stay a while…look around…there’s some great stuff here (even if I do say so myself!).

Grace and Peace,

Snow Days Make Slow Days…for when life takes your breath away

barn in snow

“See we made a good time tonight…home by 8:30.”

Good time.  Man code for speedy.  Quick.  Many errands run at breakneck speed as if by finishing early we break some unseen tape at some unseen finish line.  My head spins and my senses are all wonky like I’ve stepped from a dark room with shades drawn and lights off into a bright sunshiny day.

It’s been six days of snow and ice.

Six days since we rushed to the store to stock up on food for the kids and caffeine for the parents.

Six days of no school and limited services and the trash man can’t come cause the roads are too slick.

Six days of not making “good time.”

Six days of slow.

I always look out over the snow and think how beautiful and clean and quiet it all is, but this year…this year reminded me of how slow it makes us.

The hazardous roads make running to the store a decision pondered and taken seriously.  Offers to leave the house are scrutinized and weighed and every step is watched and cautious.

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Life becomes INTENTIONAL.

Every step, every move, every venture out the front door is mulled over, carefully considered, and made with specific purpose.  Our thoughts, actions and activities are distilled to only the very important.

It was frustratingly beautiful.

I didn’t truly notice it until the white roads faded to black grippy asphalt and the cars began to zoom by again. Until we took the on-ramp to the highway at prescribed speed and it felt like we were FLYING.  Until I realized that we had just spent the evening running around, flitting from house to house, dropping this off there, picking a child up here and zooming two towns over to pick a child up there and then back home to shower and get in bed to rise early and start a normal day with school and work and two cars rushing and ballet practice and recitals and “can you pick me up early mom so we can get there faster.”

My breath is stolen away by the pace of it all. I find myself secretly yearning for a little patch of ice to come and close us in again when just a day ago I was lamenting the days of slow.

When will I learn that I should measure my steps even when the ground is not slippery and uneven?

How do we find the slow without the snow?

 

Five Minute Friday- Fly

 

On Fridays around these parts we stop, drop, and write.

For fun, for love of the sound of words, for play, for delight, for joy and celebration at the art of communication.

For only five short, bold, beautiful minutes. Unscripted and unedited. We just write without worrying if it’s just right or not.

Won’t you join us?

Here are the rules:

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.

2. Link back here and invite others to join in.

3. Most importantly: leave a comment for the person who linked up before you – encouraging them in their writing!

OK, are you ready? Give me your best five minutes on:

Today’s prompt is:  Fly

Ready? GO!

There is a moment when time stops just before I jump.  There is a split second, blink of the eye instant where doubt creeps in and I pray that my people see me, that they hear me and that they know me well enough to know that I am going for it. There is a moment when I wonder if my troupe will catch me…or not…and my launch into the air will be met with gravity and floor.

But it’s just a moment….because in this world- as it is in the world of improv…you have to trust that when you jump, you will be caught.  And because I was born without wings or a superpower and my cape is dirty and in the wash :), when I jump, the only way I can fly is on the hands and strength of the people I trust to catch me.

In our improv troupe, when someone assumes the role of a superhero or bird or some other flying character, the troupe will come together to "fly" the individual by lifting that person into the air (or catching them as they jump).  It is a profoundly moving and frightening experience, and so magical to watch.

In our improv troupe, when someone assumes the role of a superhero or bird or some other flying character, the troupe will come together to “fly” the individual by lifting that person into the air (or catching them as they jump). It is a profoundly moving and frightening experience, and so magical to watch.

STOP!

Back on the Wagon…for when you’ve been away too long.

It’s been too long since I’ve haunted these pages.  I am sorry.  I do have reasons…good ones…but I promised consistency, didn’t I? And I love this place here that we’ve created together.  A place where I can turn raw sentiment into flowery words; where I can share the things God is teaching me;  where I can ask hard questions and maybe sometimes get answers, but most times just get support. Most of all, a place, where you can find these things too (I hope).  But I haven’t been around much lately….I kind of fell off the wagon, eh?

Charlie and me_ch 13

This is the wagon I hopped on…Captivating Heart 2013

This year’s Captivating Heart was the best yet.  Sixty women from 5 states joined us in Oklahoma for our second year.  We’ve already begun to plan our third- perhaps two events next year.  And, what I’ve found is that there is “Administrative Leader Cari” and “Creative Writer Cari”, but they don’t tend to inhabit the same time and space well.

I did have moments when God’s beauty was just so breathtaking that I wanted to pick up my pen and write…

Like this one…

All photo credits - Brandi Jones

All photo credits – Brandi Jones

and this one…

Photo credit Brandi Jones

Photo credit Brandi Jones

I have long wanted to capture in words what my heart has been learning in real time, but the words don’t come…and the time is short…and I’m real sorry ’bout that.  Now that I am exiting this very busy speaking season, I hope to experience a flurry of writing! I hope to regail you with wise (and maybe even some funny) stories.  So stay tuned…there is so much more to come!

New Life Ranch Chapel, Captivating Heart 2013. Photo credit Brandi Jones

New Life Ranch Chapel, Captivating Heart 2013. Photo credit Brandi Jones

 

Enjoying the fire pit at Captivating Heart 2013

Enjoying the fire pit at Captivating Heart 2013