Today, I’ve checked out the book “A Writer’s Workbook: Daily Exercises for the Writing Life” by Caroline Sharp from my local library in an attempt to use something other than my normal sources for writing exercises.
Appropriately, her introduction is all about the need to “exercise the muscles” that shape the ability to be a writer. The book consists of 32 exercises she designed initially for herself, which I intend to practice every day – and post when I am here at the library as I do not currently have internet in my home.
The first section of exercises are warm-ups. We need to stretch the muscles before we put them to more intensive use.
Write a short paragraph on each of the 30 listed items to work on descriptions. I’m going to post 10 of these today.
*I know #5 is more than a short paragraph – it just kinda developed. It’s not really a description of hot soup, but the soup becomes a symbol of something totally different.
- a circle | I feel it around us. Its curves cradle us, infinite as our souls, yet as fragile as our bodies. Balance is key, and for the rolling nature of life, it isn’t always easy. Let’s all hope, as it swings ’round and ’round, it doesn’t fall down.
- a spiral staircase | Shaken by the sound of water seemingly attacking the rocky shore, I felt around in the dark, reaching out for something to pull myself up. I felt cool smooth metal, a railing, and I rose to the surface. My eyes began to adjust to the pitch black. Only with the help of the lightning through the windows could I see the steps before me. The railing under my hand, it was red like blood, splotchy like violence. I backed away from it. Where did he go? My attacker could still be in here with me. I started to climb the stairs, fumbling around for direction, reluctantly sliding my hand up to be safe. It seemed to swirl and twirl and never end, spinning up into a maniacal frenzy. When I finally made it to the top, I was unaware. Uffffh. I tripped on the platform and my face smashed into the useless slip-guard floor.
- classical music | His lips were like one of Bach’s suites – soft, but joyfully arpeggiating. His electric tongue was swimming through my blood like each solemnly hopeful note of the cello. Suddenly, he slowed down and looked me in the eyes, still lip-locked, our mutual surprise sinking in. The music in my body swayed and built back up into a climax. Though we understood the grave impossibility of this union, my heart was playing jump-rope, wishing desperately that the song would never end.
- the color red | Red is a versatile color. If my cheeks are red, I’m warm or embarrassed. If my nose is red, I’m sick or cold. If my eyes are red, you know I’m tired. If my skin is red, I forgot the sunblock. If my hair is red, he probably broke up with me. If I’m seeing red, you better watch out. Authority is red, yet so is anger, yet so is love. We live in a red world where red dresses separate you from the ladies and red policies make you scratch your head.
- hot soup | It’s a snowy day here in Upstate NY. I know, that’s normal here. But you know what isn’t? PTSD. Okay, so listen, I mean, it isn’t the snow or the wind that did it to me. Guess what happened just 10 minutes ago. I saw my mother. I know, pal, it’s impossible. She’s dead. Man, do I know it. Since I was 6, my grandparents always told me she died in an accident. Okay, so I was walking outside, you know, here in the snow. I just wanted to take a look around my old town and since I haven’t been here in a while, you know, I just have some jeans and a long tee. I don’t own a coat. It’s just unnecessary. I’m staying with Jan, you remember her? She invited me for the reunion. Man, her legs are still a hit, but get this – she’s a lesbian, pal! In our town! Things are really changing around here, but I don’t mind. Anyway, I start getting so cold, you know, just freezing, after about half an hour of walking around the village. It was weird, these thoughts just started showing up. This small child, he’s got blonde hair but I can’t see his face. He’s so cold. He’s in this little shack of a house. I don’t think there’s any heat. He looks like he’s in so much pain. So, I come back to Jan’s house and she’s already made this huge pot of chicken noodle soup. Fresh, though. I mean Campbell’s is classic, but nothing beats the real thing, you know? So, I come in and sit down, rubbing my hands together. But get this- she puts the soup in a mug, like a coffee mug. She pours me a nice big one full of soup and throws a spoon in it. She hands it to me. It’s so hot, and I’m an icicle, you know, so I’m melting just holding the thing. Man, you’re not going to get this maybe, but something happened. In my head again, these pictures of this boy, and he’s holding a mug full of hot soup just like me. “Come on, honey, you need to warm up,” a woman’s voice. She sounds weepy…at the edge. I mean, it’s not Jan, pal. It’s not. It’s in the picture. The kid looks up and it’s me! I mean, when I’m a kid. I look into the cup – I mean he does. A drop of blood materializes and creates off-color ripples through his cup. It’s like slow motion. He drops the mug and it cracks everywhere, but there’s no soup on the floor just blood. It’s everywhere, man. That’s when it came back to me. I – he – I gently push aside a door and there she is, man. She’s covered in blood. Her open wrists push me out of the picture. Jan is yelling my name in my face and, dammit, I broke her mug and there’s soup all over her kitchen right now. I miss her so much. I just thought you could help me with something like this. You’re the only person who won’t think I’m scary. And I can’t shake these feelings. I can’t explain them, you know. It’s like guilty that I could forget finding her. And guilty for thinking about how beautiful she looked, like a fallen angel. I’m sorry. I’m just so sorry. I miss her so much. I just hope she knows I forgive her, you know? She’ll always be my mom.
- rain | The smell of grass and dirt is strong as I walk off the humid city bus. I have half a mile to walk still and not a second after my boots hit the sidewalk do the clouds burst. Even though it is inconvenient, it’s a holy kind of rain. I walk past groups of gangbangers and the women who fight over them or work for them. Children are neglected and poorly clothed, but happy as shit playing in the mud. Meanwhile, their mothers are god-knows-where in their finest Volunteers-of-America heels. I see the boards on the windows of historical houses and I’m sad. Rain is running down my face from my hair. It circles my nostrils on either side and drips until I can taste the pollution on my lips. Even so, I welcome the rain. It’s cooling me off and as a few tears escape my eyes, you would never know it.
- the smell of barbecue | You ever feel blessed to be alive? I mean like truly blessed? It’s usually something small and unexpected that does it for me. Last Independence Day – that day was a gift from God. We were at the park. There’s this waterfall that flows from the Genesee River and all these little kids with Spongebob swim trunks and orange floaties were just having a go of it! Splashing and jumping in a natural pool, giggling whenever they would get churned up in the water. One of the pavilions was decorated in red, white and blue. Buzzed laughter and the sound of chitting and chatting was on the air like a cool breeze. The smell of barbecue pervaded the atmosphere. It was spicy and sweet with a hint of black carbon that stuck to your lungs in the most satisfying way. My mouth watered as the charred skin of chicken and the melting pork fat from the ribs made itself known. My stomach turned, waiting for dinner and the beautiful floral sparks that were to soon grace the sky. It was just one of those days, and I couldn’t help but smile.
- cold weather | I don’t think I have ever been more at peace than walking alone in Williamson NY in the dead of winter on a sunny day. The sky looks like summer, blue and infinite. The sun smiles down on the cold denizens on the small apple-farming community we call home. It looks warm outside, but it’s a trick. The cold bites your lips and dries out your face. But walking along those roads, you see peace. You see stillness, the kind of stillness that only cold and snow can create. Any movement is sacred and deer and rabbits dance, leaving their choreography behind in prints. The air that fills your lungs is refreshingly freezing and livens your cells. It always makes me wish I was a good runner so I could run with the deep chill of winter helping me to breathe.
- a pillow | This was his first pillow. After years on the streets, you can’t imagine how that felt. The soft cotton pillowcase rubbed his cheek to calm him as he lay down to sleep on the factory floor. The old pillow was ragged, but still contained a bit of stuffing. His neck, better aligned with his body, sighed with relief. He turned it over and fluffed it out a little more and a chill hit his face, cooling him off within the stuffy walls. In any case, this was a step up for him.
- a hot cup of coffee | Smooth yet bold, the smell of dark roast hit me before I could even wake up. As my nose met heaven, I perked up in my frigid bed. What a glorious day! I stepped onto the hardwood floor and sleep-hopped into the kitchen, still in my boxer shorts. A whole pot of warmth and motivation sat unattended on the counter. I poured a steaming cup. No need to ruin it with sugar or milk. Before drinking, I simply set it under my nose and allowed the heat to soothe my skin. The strong smell drew me in close and I took my first sip. The hot liquid raced to my extremities and filled me with love.
What do you think? Comment below with your own descriptions! I would love to see your style and point of view!