This challenge has my name all over it. Not only am I a Natalie Goldberg fan, it was introduced with a running simile (so how could I not do it?):
“As a runner puts in time on the road to achieve their mileage goals, you need to spend time simply writing, just allowing the writing to flow on to the page or screen — not judging the output, saving revision for later.”
“Through practice you actually do get better. You learn to trust your deep self more and not to give in to that voice that wants to avoid writing.”
– Natalie Goldberg Writing Down the Bones
The challenge: Write for 10 minutes without editing what comes out.
The prompt: I remember (Your earliest/happiest/worst/freestyle memory)
Ok, here goes. I was watching Free play in the sand today and had the thought that I should write about games or ways I played as a kid. I didn’t think past that thought at the time, so I’m going to return to it now and dive in. It’s 9:07 pm.
I remember hitting tennis balls against the big wall on the end of the house. That wall was huge, massive, like a cruise ship must seem if you were swimming toward it. We would use tennis rackets sometimes, but more often I would just fling those balls as hard as I could against that wall and try to catch it when it bounced back. The rackets were heavy to hold and use well, but you could throw the balls forever, it seemed. When I go back to visit the old house now, the wall doesn’t seem that big, of course. Standard wall, but the standard has changed, I guess. I saw Newman pull out a huge tub of tennis balls out of his car a week or two ago, and I asked him how often his son has to get new ones. (His son is very good and got in the final four in states this year.) I don’t remember exactly how frequently he answered, but it was shocking to me. Like every couple of weeks. Sort of how I felt when Kristen said running shoes have to be replaced every 300 miles or so. I mean, it makes sense that the shoes and the balls are losing their ability to bounce back from being tossed around so much (my god they’re abused, when you think of it), but still, I grew up just dealing with the old. We tossed the hell out of those tennis balls as kids, and I think we must have had five, tops, for our entire childhood. Eight kids, one massive wall, five balls, years and years and years of wear.
I mean, it’s probably likely that at some point or another, the balls were replaced, and I just had no clue, but we didn’t replace toys so much in our household, and tennis wasn’t exactly a big sport in Ireland. Nobody around us played or had a lot of toys. Toys were expensive and wore out, so you didn’t buy them much, and that’s a fact. But we did play. A lot. I remember we had a sand pit for some reason in the front yard, probably left over from the house construction, and I used to love to sit there and dig tunnels and move bricks around, the ones with holes in them, and figure out ways to make water go through the holes and move through one thing to get to the next. I spent hours there fantasizing about tools and machinery that would make some fantastic system. When I look at what kids have these days, it makes me jealous. I would have killed for these lego sets and things. Free got a ton of little crafty sets for her birthday that sat there for two weeks before I piled them up and moved them to the basement, where a bunch of other sets are sitting there unopened from past birthdays and Christmases. I don’t know why I keep them, except for the possibility of a rainy day or that she’ll one day wake up and decide she will die if she can’t make friendship bracelets or recycle paper or make her own backpack. Maybe secretly I hoard them for her because I never had them and would have felt rich beyond my dreams had I had that stash available to me.
I’m glad she doesn’t need them and isn’t attached, ultimately. She’s great about cleaning out her stuff and passing it on to others, and she’s active and wants to be outside and moving around, so it’s fine with me that she couldn’t be bothered to get into the “stuff” waiting for her to be bored. She has a hard time finding time to be bored. She craves long hours with nothing to do but come up with an idea of her own imagining. My childhood was the opposite. I had nothing but time on my hands, and little to stimulate my imagination other than my siblings and what nature provided. Still, it was enough, you know?
It’s 9:21 pm. I’m unsatisfied, as I usually am when I do these freewrites. This is how I always start, and typically I may get a small nugget of a takeaway–an image, a phrase, an idea–and that’s it. Sometimes you get nothing, and this feels like one of those times. This is the real process for me as a writer, and I’m ok with it, mostly. Putting it forth in this blog doesn’t feel fabulous, but it’s good for me to strip down any sense of ego and just write.
I’m toying with an idea to get me writing more on my Ireland project. I want to try to organize prompts around literary terms I teach my freshmen. Most of the terms should be familiar to them from middle school, but of course they need reinforcement. I want my students to recognize them in literature (and beyond), analyze them in writing and discussion, and also create original examples of their own. This last goal is the hardest, and the best way I’ve come up with to teach it is to do it myself and figure out what strategies worked for me. I then share the model and the process with my students.
My plan is to use the terms as prompts and develop writing strategies from them to share with my students. I’ve made a preliminary list below of some terms I teach to my ninth graders that I think would work well as prompts.
Figurative Language (Metaphor, Simile, Personification)
Point of View
What do you think? Will this idea work? Can you think of any others I should include?