Try 101

Practice — Process — Projects

Month: July, 2012

Writing Exercise: Prose Sonnet

by ajanefountas

Constraint can lead to beautiful things! Here the constraint is a prose sonnet, a fixed form narrative. The following is a variation of the form originated by Bruce Holland Rogers.

Prose Sonnet: A narrative of fourteen sentences. The final word of each sentence slant rhymes with the last word of another sentence corresponding to the pattern ababcdcdefefgg. The last two sentences must summarize the story, or cast the story in an ironic light, or subvert the story, or do anything else that constitutes a strategic shift.

Write a prose sonnet. No line breaks (though you might want to compose with line breaks to follow the rhyming pattern). Please post your results in the comments section if you’d like to share!

Some first lines in case you’d like a starter:

  • On Mondays, I like to do math.
  • Our mother wears elephant pants to bed.
  • It was a hot and hairy day.

Sonnet for Our Father
by Angela Jane Fountas

Our mother wears elephant pants to bed. She climbs in, her legs flapping. She goes to bed when we are bad. She says, “You kids.” We say, “You’re flippin’.” When she isn’t mad, she sleeps on the couch. Our father left before we knew him. She says, “He was cold to the touch.” We say, “Like a side of ham?” And she laughs, and says, “Yeah, that pig.” We laugh, all three, and make pig noses. Then our mom, cheered up, says, “I think I’ll make a pie.” “Who will grind the flour and churn the butter?” she says. But on the inside it hurts, inside her and us. We’d rather have a father, because everyone else does.

Quotes to Write By: Bruce Springsteen

by laura didyk

“First of all, everybody has a memory when you were eleven years old and you were walking down a particular street on a certain day, and the trees—there was a certain wind blowing through the trees and the way that the sound of your feet made on the stones as you came up the drive and the way the light hit a particular house. Everyone has memories they carry with them for no particular reason and these things live within you—you had some moment of pure experience that revealed to you what it meant to be alive, what it means to be alive, what the stakes are, the wind on a given day, how important it is, or what you can do with your life. That’s the writer’s job…to present that experience to an audience who then experience their own inner vitality, their own center, their own questions about their own life and their moral life…and there’s a connection made. That’s what keeps you writing, that’s what keeps you wanting to write that next song, because you can do that, and because if I do it for you, I do it for me.”

—Bruce Springsteen, an interview on BBC

What’s that memory for you? What “street” were you walking down? What time of year was it? What was under your feet?…

30 Things I Love Right Now

by theyogaofcake

1. the scent of a tomato plant. 2. When I can smell a season coming especially fall– I love smelling fall in the summer it soothes me to know even this won’t last forever. 3.  ice cream  4. The phrase; You can do anything but you can’t do everything.  5.  To bask among giants (tj, laura, angela.) 6. Cat ears  literal ones and the ones you use to keep your place. 7. Jupiter (my car) that looks like a floating planet and represents Abundance. 8. Inspiration over Envy. 9. Common denominators= Me. 10. Saying “I’m sorry” and having it mean something. 11. Falafel 12. Friday book babies with Arlo- 3 days a week I sit for a 10 month old baby. I get to temporarily enter the world of motherhood. On Friday mornings we visit the local library with bunches of other babies we read sing and blow bubbles together. 13. When he sings what I can’t  put into words 14. When she writes what I can’t put into words. 15. The dog that I don’t have yet but when I do I will name him Stanton. 16. Making space  .17. The phrase a father of one of my characters would tell me daily and now on a coin I keep in my back pocket; To thine own self be true. 18. Running at night. 19. Su who brings me avocados. 20. Cat waterbeds- I was reminded today from my dad of when I was a kid and we owned a Snack Bar. There was a frozen yogurt machine and my dad would always have to empty these big plastic bags of liquid yogurt into the machines. One day he had the genius idea to re-fill these bags with water and call them cat water-beds ( as a joke.) The thing is the customers caught on and  wanted them for their cats and so my dad put them out for sale and they sold . 21. Sunshine. 22. Telling the truth. 23. My students who share with me their stories on how yoga changed their lives and I can say back to them – me too. 24. My counsel of wise women that I can call scattered around this country that let me cry over phones. 25. Geneen Roth. 26. Split shots of Clarity. 27. That I never feel deprived from not dining out- because I’ve discovered I can cook anything and in my opinion it’s just as good as any restaurant- usually better . 28. Leaving. 29. Staying. 30. Not making a difference either way.

Living Where I Live: Words from the Rock

by theyogaofcake

I am living in Portland, Oregon, but in a few weeks I am moving back to Massachusetts. Portland is, as all cities are according to those who love them, the place to be. Which is why I moved here, and at the time that was enough to move. What makes it the place to be? I’ve asked locals and some of their responses are…You can grow anything and never have to pick up a watering can. The meat and veggies are as tasty as they get. There is a food cart for every comfort food you could possibly crave. There’s no better spot if you have a passion for recycling. The beer is amazing. Bicyclists own the roads. The people are kind—aggressively so.

I get lost in this city but I can get lost anywhere, and it seems I prefer to get lost most days.

Some days I must take the deepest inhale I can muster, scrunch up my face, close my eyes, and point my index finger forward. From here I turn in circles until I have the spins. When I open my eyes I go in the direction my pointed finger tells me. Today it was here.

I was prepared to lounge on the beach reading the newest Nick Hornby novel and eating dried mangoes.

I found myself walking down the beach freezing my butt off in my rain jacket getting closer and closer to this rock (I must mention this is more than just a rock, it is the rock from the 1985 movie The Goonies) for some reason I needed to get close to it like it had something to tell me or I had something to tell it.

I approached it and stood for a while, just staring, cold and wet. Finally I heard this ringing in my ear: you get to be okay, you get to be okay, you get to be okay. It was the perfect phrase to hear while standing in the rain. I opened my mouth and spoke out loud a familiar saying of mine—good-bye— to this rock, to this city, to this coast. The good-bye began to expand and say good-bye to more than this rock, city, and coast but something deeper, something I’ve held to so tightly it’s become a big part of me. It was good-bye to the beliefs and pursuits of skipping over all of this. It was good-bye to a yearning, to not have to sit still in my life. It was good-bye to thinking that I could somehow avoid really having to live this experience if I just keep moving. Having said my good-byes, I walked back along the beach, got inside my car, and drove back to Portland, this still echoing in my ear: you get to be okay.

Pilgrimage: A Writer’s Beginnings

by ajanefountas

When I was twenty-seven, I went to live with my Yiayia for four months in a village on the Peloponnese. Along with my suitcase of clothes, I also arrived with a small suitcase filled with books, among them The Granta Book of the Short Story and a blank journal covered in a map of Greece.

I had visited my grandmother four years earlier for about six weeks, and having not spoken much Greek at the time I wrote long letters to friends back in Pittsburgh describing the village and its ways and people. When I returned home after that visit, two of my friends, both writers—one a journalist and the other a musician—encouraged me to try my hand at the craft.

Four years later, I returned to the village to do just that (and also to live the simple life). Having taken umpteen English lit classes in college, I had read mainly novels and plays, but I knew that I was not ready to attempt either of those two forms so I figured I’d start with the short story because it was short. Thus, the packing of The Granta Book of the Short Story.

I had no idea how to go about writing a short story, thankfully, but I knew from my readings that I needed characters if nothing else so I began to study and take notes on some of the villagers that intrigued me. I arrived in the village on June 1, and on July 18, I recorded my first attempts at characterization in my journal:

She is twenty years old and stays inside mostly. Tall with long legs and long hair and a large nose but all is in proportion and she is pretty. She keeps a pack of cigarettes under the sofa cushion and empties the ashtray into a vase when her father arrives unexpectedly and then she sits with a nervous smile. Her mother is dead. When her father is at home she answers the phone with παρακαλω so that her secret boyfriend hangs up presently. She walks around the house in short shorts, does the cooking and cleaning, and her radio is a companion. Her mouth is often in a pout.

I didn’t write a complete short story while I was in the village, but I continued to play around with characterization and wrote some lines and scenes, and by the time I returned to Pittsburgh I had the bones of two stories. The character above not only became the protagonist of my very first short story, written for an introductory creative writing class, but she also came back to visit me decades later while I was writing my very first novel, which I recently completed.

I’m glad I made a pilgrimage to the the village so many moons ago to try to write short stories. Tell us about your beginnings, whichever art you practice, in the comments section.

Listing for Fun: *Vocations I Might Try in Another Life (If I Were So Inclined)

by laura didyk

1. Actress (movies, not plays).
2. Professional chef.
3. Librarian.
4. Owner of super cool office supply store (specializing in hard-to-find Japanese and Korean stationary).
5. Motivational speaker. (Though I would not make people walk across hot coals and burn their feet, thus ruining my reputation.)
6. Stand-up comedienne.
7. Park ranger.
8. Rock n roller.
9. Cliff dweller (off the grid, way out).
10. Filmmaker (writer, director, all of it).

*I realize that many of these “vocations” are things I could pursue, in this lifetime, but I probably won’t, so it’s fun to dream.

Listing for Fun: Who can resist a list? At Try we have our signature “30 Things I Love Right Now” list, but what about lists that fall outside of (or inside of) “30″ and you want to hone down “things” to something more specific? List away (in the same vein as the editor’s) in the comments section!

30 Things I Love Right Now

by laura didyk

1. The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick.
2. This, from the above:

We had all used the river, the heat, the remoteness to frame our stories. Beyond that, how alone each of us had been, sitting there side by side on that raft, carving out of our separating anxieties the narrator who, in the midst of all that beauty and oppressiveness, would keep us company—and tell us what we were living through.

3. And this from same:

I began to see that in the course of daily life when, by my own lights, I act badly—confrontational, challenging, dismissive—I am out there on that raft before I have found the narrator who can bring under control the rushing onslaught of my own internal flux. When I am doing better, I am able to see that the flux is a situation.

4. When I am doing better.
5. Helpful, long-ass conversations with Birmingham, AL.
6. Best (solicited) imperative advice I’ve received so far about my current writing angst(s): Blindly muddle forward.
7. How when I read that statement, I want to roar like the MGM lion, which is maybe the point. Roar, then muddle forward, roar again, muddle forward some more. And so on. (I like this one best):

8. Smoothing music. (I meant to write “soothing” but the typo works better).
9. REM.
10. 1983.
11. Remembering!:

12. And this! (I feel I could watch these people jog in place in unison to this music until the end of time):

13. Questions.(If you watched the above video to the very end this one will be more fun)
14. More questions.
15. Answers, and, yes, more answers.
16. The word: Practice.
17. Practicing.
18. That all my plants are still alive (miracle).
19. That I have concern for them.
20. A walk.
21. Rain, 72 degrees, low humidity.
22. Bird sounds.
23. Q & A with self regarding certain aspects of my current writing project (inspired by AJF’s writing exercise) :

Q: What do you think [all your moving around from state to state, town to town] was about?

A: Trying to get comfortable—literally—on every level. I’m not unique I realize. We all do this in different ways. We try to find a way out of the human experience. Like somehow, maybe, we can be the exception. Beat the heat. Some go at this harder than others. Some have their limits to what they’ll do in order to be successful in that endeavor. Others have zero limits. Those people generally die. Or come close. (Back in my early 20s, I had a lot of limits, but as the years went by and life happened, those limits fell away one by one. This was not a good thing. It wasn’t a bad thing either. It was, if anything, unfortunate—unfortunately inevitable.) What you don’t realize when you’re in the midst of your own version of “trying to get out of” the human experience is that the “trying to get out of it” IS the human experience (or at least a big part of it).

24. Getting to the point.
25. Getting the point.
26. The point itself.
27. How quickly the point falls apart.
28. Watching it do that.
29. My situation.
30. My story.

Notes-to-Self: from 11.07.10

by tjbeitelman

This, copied word-for-word (and pondered and re-pondered), from Bob Dylan’s Chronicles:

“I can’t say I’d seen any performances that were like spiritual experiences until I went to Lomax’s loft. I pondered it. I wasn’t ready to act on any of it but knew somehow, though, that if I wanted to stay playing music, that I would have to claim a larger part of myself. I would have to overlook a lot of things — a lot of things that might even need attention — but that was all right. They were things that I probably felt totally powerless over, anyway. I had the map, could even draw it freehand if I had to. Now I knew I’d have to throw it away. Not today, not tonight, sometime soon, though…”

Are there any maps you know by heart and (therefore) have to throw away if you’re going to claim a larger part of your creative spirit? Maybe there aren’t, and that’s fine. But it’s usually not a terrible idea to ponder such questions, even (or especially) if you’re not ready to act on the answers yet.


Notes-to-Self are real-life excerpts of resurrected insight from real-life notebooks. (What do your old notebooks still want you to know? Feel free to share it in the comments section, if you’re feeling generous…)

Writing Exercise: Q & A Story

by ajanefountas

Read “Passport” by Deb Olin Unferth.

Use the story as a template for your own story. First, choose a question to put at the end of your story. Then start at the beginning and answer this question in the narrative. Add a changing refrain throughout, like in “Passport,” playing off of the subject of your story: “Her blue bathroom pass…” and “Her welcome parade…” and “Her marked cards…”

This exercise is good for fiction or nonfiction, I think. Each its own kind of truth! (And the exercise can most certainly be morphed into a poem.) So use the exercise for whatever form you are inclined to write, and if you care to share please post your piece in the comments section (or just post a comment about your experience of writing the piece).

Living Where I Live: Do-mi-mi, Mi-so-so

by laura didyk

When you know the notes to sing
You can sing most anything…

It’s true. You really can. You can also watch a movie that’s 174 minutes long and leave the theater with your face hurting from smiling so much. I admit there was a little bit of a hunt involved trying to find the right friend to go with me, a friend who when I asked wouldn’t respond with “How long is it again?”

My friend Cristie said yes immediately, and she’s guaranteed fun; another friend, Lara (see below), ended up directly behind us. We all sang loud with the song lyrics subtitled on the screen, laughed our heads off as we booed the nazis, saluted Captain von Trapp when he entered the room, hissed when the Baroness did the same, and acted out the “doe, a deer” hand-jive routine we were taught before the movie started.

The best part about where we were sitting, ground floor, middle section, at the very back, was that we could see the whole audience, everyone, doing all the movements: making doe ears over their heads, using a single finger to make a shape in the air of a sun (ray), the flat hand over the brow and toward the north implying distance (far a long, long way to run), the graceful wrist action involved in air-sewing, the hoards of right arms stretched to the heavens opera-singing “laaaa!,” and the miming of a pinkies-up sip of ti. It was so freeing to know that not only were we allowed to sing-a-long with the movie, we were expected to.

This event definitely makes the top of my list of favorite cultural/entertainment experiences for 2012 (plus Christopher Plummer was CUTE!). Here is Lara, lovely as ever, and one of the many beautiful “girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes” present at the theater Saturday night:

And you can’t have a Sound of Music sing-a-long costume contest without some sisters from the convent:

The winner of the costume contest was a munchkin in a sequins dress portraying the Baroness (the girl on the far right looking out of the picture is so clearly Brigeeta):

I don’t know how unique this event is to Great Barrington, but I know it was completely my speed. A mix of ages. And nobody, it seemed, too cool to make doe ears one minute and bark a messy “Rolf! Rolf! Rolf” at the blonde, dreamy, misguided bike messenger the next… I certainly felt like I was 40 going on 17. I didn’t realize how much I needed a dip into something that wasn’t about being “productive” and “making progress.” Having good old-fashioned fun is important for every level of my health.

I forget sometimes.

Here’s one of my favorite sing-a-long scenes:

And just click on “Do-Re-Mi” below for more unbounded joy: