Friday, February 22, 2008

Check in and Weekend Writing Workout #14 - Wishes, Lies, and Dreams #3 of 6

Hello all, thanks for the comments and notes. It's nice to know I've been missed. :-]

Last weekend I was out of town for my 5th anniversary and my 40th birthday. Wow, I'm 40! Where did the time go?

Also, not only am I working a day job, I'm producing a film festival in my "spare" time (so it's like working 2 full time jobs right now). The Women in Film Festival runs from Feb 29 - March 8th. Our website is It's not the most inspired site... but the films are awesome and the festival will be great... if I can survive until then.

Time for this weekend's Writing Workout: The Cherish Wish

I thought of this one while doing my morning pages. I'm reading through Julia Cameron's "Finding Water" (her third book in her Artist Way series and the perfect thing to keep me grounded right now because it's all about "perseverance" and how to stay focused when other parts of your life threaten to distract you from your art - ha!).

This exercise has three parts to it, and each part could be a poem in itself. Although, I think running through the entire exercise will bear the most rewarding fruit.


In Cameron's book she asks readers to make short lists of things that they "cherish." They could be the small details of your life, objects you wouldn't want to part with, or pieces of the natural things around you.

Set your timer for 3-5 minutes and without stopping to think or edit, make a list of things that you cherish.


I cherish the birds flying east when the sun is on the horizon
the seagull who sits on the chimney of the blue house every morning
the full moon on a clear night
my father's reading glasses, which are the same prescription as mine
my "February" doll he gave me for my 12th birthday
the little wooden Buddha on my altar
I cherish my little coloured wooden cats that sit on the mantle
my cats themselves in their temperaments
my completely worn out and over-read edition of The Phantom Tollbooth
the walk through the cemetery on my way to the store


Pick one of the lines above and write a short poem using the formula: cherish, cherish, wish.
Meaning, you write what it is that you cherish, expand or relate a second thing you cherish. And then wish something about it.

Do this at least 3 or 4 times until you have a series of small poems.


I cherish the birds flying East when the sun is on the horizon,
and the caw-caw-caw as they make their way,
an entire city of crows moving together in space
I cherish the sun, too, as it sits there
admiring the birds
I wish I could fly with my home
and bring all the world with me

* * * * *

I cherish my father's reading glasses, which he wore
for the months before his death, so he could see us
large moist eyes behind good-bye eyes
I cherish the moment in the hospital room when we discovered our
prescriptions were the same, and we exchanged glasses, laughing
I wish I could give them back to him, so he could see me, and I him
one more time

* * * * *

I cherish my walk through the cemetery on my way to the store
and my discovery of Ruth Mystic, who must have been a fortune teller,
her small old headstone buried in the grass
I cherish the way the trees are shaped like animals, as if the spirits of the dead
have taken on new forms, the coyote tree howls to the sky
I wish I could howl, too, like an animal tree-spirit, and shake my furry leaves of
all the winter snow


Now that you've got these little cherish-wish poems, you can leave them as they are, or you can try something a little less formulaic.

The formula was simply a way of getting the words out and onto the page, although the little poems are quite satisfying in theselves. Now you can play with what you have and merge them all into one long poem and see where it takes you.

Add details, let it take you new places, and FIND the connections among them. There's a reason you chose those items in your last exercise. There is probably a theme running through them.

I see now in the examples above, a theme of longing and loss. What connections can you make with the mini-poems you wrote? Take that connection, that theme or tone or idea, and base your final poem on it, keeping that connection in mind.

I recommend a circular path, meaning go back to where you began at the end of the poem. This will make the connection complete. You'll see in this one that the reference to the birds returns at the end:

Every day as the sun sits on the horizon
the crows head East
a city of birds
cawing together in space
I head West, taking a short cut
through the cemetery
on my way to the store to buy
more fruit
the trees are shaped like wild animals
howling across the graves
I visit Ruth Mystic, born 1889, died 1947,
a plain stone with no flowers
a tree-rabbit peers down at us
snow at its feet

At the store, I wear my father's glasses
to read the labels on cans of beans
the same glasses he wore for the few months
before his death, after eye surgery
large moist eyes behind good-bye eyes

I cherish the moment in the hospital room
when we discovered our prescriptions were the same
and my mother exclaiming,
when she learned there was
nothing to be done for him
that he had just gotten
his new eyes

Returning from the store
I fill the space between my self
and my home
the city of birds long gone,
the cemetery dark as
silhouettes of tree-wolves bay
at the moon

Have a great weekend!

Friday, February 8, 2008

Weekend Writing Workout #13 - Wishes, Lies, Dreams #2 of 6

Is the opposite of lying telling the truth? We'll find out in this next exercise.

There's a really great group writing exercise I play when I lead writing workshops called "opposites." Each student writes a line on a piece of paper and then passes it to the next person. That person writes the opposite of what the line says, folds the paper so that only their line is showing and passes it again. The next person writes the opposite of that line and folds it again. They keep passing the papers, writing the opposite, and folding it so that only one line is showing until it gets around the room.

When you unfold the papers, you usually get a fantastic surprise.

This exercise is kinda like that, only you write it by yourself.

First, think up a wacky lie. Something a little quirky or surreal is good, like the "moon is made of green cheese." Then, write the opposite of that line, and the opposite of that line, and again, and again until you have written at least 10 or 12 lines. The odd lines should be the lies and the even lines the truth, right?

Not really, but when you get to the last line, you right... "and/but the truth is..."

When you play with opposites, don't be too LITERAL, otherwise you'll just go back and forth between: The sun shines during the night, the moon darkens during the day, the sun brightens up the night, the moon darks up the day... that's boring. Make it a little more creative than that.

The "opposite" can be whatever you define it to be. If it sounds strange, you're probably on to something.

These are both from students in one of my creative writing workshops:


Cats with no tails can see into the future
Dogs with tails regret the past
Domesticated lions chase the wind
Turtles lie low in the hot sand
the ocean is home to wild dolphins
the sky will not support elephants
the ground beneath my feet welcomes tadpoles
my skin shivers when I think of pterodactyls
warmed by the fire, I dream of skeletons
on the snowtopped mountain I forget about meat
the plants cry tears of molten lava
and the truth is animals are made of air

This one takes a few surprising turns:

I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
I saved a woman from drowning so she could be a star
I joined the circus in order to be forgotten
On the marquee was my name in lights
In the dungeon I turned to bones where
I dreamed of castles and staircases made of air
I sit down for breakfast, just an ordinary guy
but my name is in the headlines for my rotten crimes
so I moved to Africa out in the bush alone
the truth is I am surrounded by millionaires

Try it a few times and see what you come up with. Have fun with it!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Weekend Writing Workout #12 - Wishes, Lies, and Dreams #1 of 6

This Weekend's Workout is the beginning of a six week series I am dedicating to Puget Sound Community School in Seattle. I used to work for them about 10 years ago and it was a blast. It's a small private school where kids focus on self-selected pursuits in a positive and collaborative environment.

The School's Director Andrew Smallman is leading a class on poetry called Wishes, Lies, and Dreams based on Kenneth Koch's book of the same name.

Since I cannot be there in person to hang out with them, I'm going to post 6 weekend writing workouts focused on poetry, in the spirit of wishes, lies, and dreams. Join on in if you'd like.

This week: The Dream Deferred

What is something you've always wanted to do, but haven't done due to fear or embarrassment or some silly excuse like you don't have time or you don't know how? Have you wanted to go sky diving? Have you wanted to take singing lessons? Have you wanted to write a novel? Have you wanted to learn to knit?

Write a poem based upon your dream deferred.

When you write the first draft, write it spontaneously. Write from your gut. Don't stop writing, don't edit as you write, just write.

Line One:
Begin the poem by stating that you are doing this thing you want to do.
"I dance the tango..."

Line Two:
You do this thing to... (finish line)
"I dance the tango to..."

Line Three:
You do this thing because... (finish line)
"I dance the tango because..."

Line Four:
You do this thing and...
"I dance the tango and..."

This time, let the line take you away (remember to keep writing). Keep running with the thought.

When your ideas run out, simply start the next line with "I --do--this--thing--" (I dance the tango...)


I play the drums
I play the drums to hide the pain
I play the drums because someone
has to hear my heartbeat other than me
I play the drums and the rhythm fits into the palm of my hand
a palm is the size of a heart they said in biology 9th grade
young and thinking I knew something about love
I hold the rhythm, hold grace, hold the place
where other hearts beat like footsteps like rain
I play the drums to soothe to hide to forget names
and places and dates but rhythms I'll keep I'll keep the rhythms...

I usually time these exercises, but on this one, I just want you to write until it feels done.

Remember, go with your gut and keep writing. You can edit all you want when it's done.