Saturday, May 30, 2009

in this one

I am working through a series of exercises in a book called Writing Alone or With Others by Pat Schneider. it is seriously, the best book I have ever read on writing, and I try to do a writing exercise each day from her book. They are simple, yet effective.

Last night's exercise:

"Spend a little time centering, turning from busyness back to your own inner reflections (I do this by journaling first and writing out the crap that's in my brain). Then call up from your memory a snapshot or photograph of someone who is important to you. It may be someone who is close to you, or someone who is no longer in your life. It may be a picture in your album, or just a mental "snapshot." Usually it is a good idea to take the first one that comes to your mind, rather than rejecting the first and sorting through the possibilities. If you feel some resistance, that may be an indication that there is a "knot" to be unraveled...."

here's my result:

In this one, you are looking away from the camera. You always look away, never quite able to face the glare of the flash, never as comfortable as you are with your living image. It doesn't look like you, the finished photo. It looks like someone who resembles you, but lacks your living essence. it is not quite the person you expect.

You are your own worst critic. Your mouth is crooked. There are gaps in your teeth when you smile. The flash catches your glasses and makes you squint. You write as though you are writing a stranger's story and not your own, so disconnected do you feel from your image.

Once there were folds of flesh. You gave then up, gave yourself to life and exposed the you beneath the disguise to the scrutiny of the world. Now your skin hangs a bit in the same places. Some suppleness lost, but you've regained the true outline of your face. Your eyes are larger. Your multiple chins have vanished. And your hair is curly, when it never used to be. Check yourself out...look at the strength in your biceps. You really are beautiful, girl, but you are the last one to recognize it.

In this one, you sit on a rock. The Thames rolls past in the background of the shot. It is a quick flash of blue green, moving slowly at this point in its coursing. In the upper left corner, barely visible, is the rusty shopping cart that has been sitting in the water ever since you can remember. Your hair is short and vibrant, the breeze lifts the bangs away from your face. You are framed by wildflowers, growing along the riverbank, clutched in your four-year-old hands, springing up through the rocks at your feet. You are not looking at the camera at all. Instead, you are focused on a person or object to your right, something hidden from the camera's view. You are grinning, squinting a bit in the sunlight. It must be cool outside because you are wearing a white sweater over your striped t-shirt.

In this one you are milking a cow. The photo doesn't capture the sounds and smells of the barn, small and outdated even then, with its tiny herd of aging Holsteins. They stand close to one another, steam rising from their backs in winter, the smell of manure overpowering all year round. But to you it smells sweet, like the scent of fresh milk and hay and the bodies of the animals you love. Your forehead rests against the warm brown flank of Lichen, your Grandmother's favourite cow, but your Grandmother is in the house. Your hands are pulling, pulling to no avail. The milk won't squirt into the pail even though you try as hard as you can. Large work-worn hands are guiding your tiny fingers. Those hands, that body behind you holds you in place, even when you squirm with discomfort. "Me luff you," he whispers, as he rubs his raspy cheek against yours.

In this one, the neighbour is carrying you down the street. He and his wife are looking after you and your siblings because your parents have gone away for the weekend, to look for a new house. You can't walk because your foot hurts, and you had to send one of your brothers for help. Actually, you cut your foot on a piece of glass two weeks ago, but you never told your parents about it. You had been swimming alone in the pool, which you are not allowed to do. Now your foot is infected, and it hurts so much that you want to scream. As it is, you're crying as he carries you. He is six feet tall, and can lift you on his shoulders as though you weigh nothing at all, even though you are almost nine years old. He carries you downstairs into his basement. It is unfinished, with exposed wooden beams and toys scattered everywhere. There is a bumper sticker on one of the beams that reads "The population bomb is everybody's baby," and you just don't understand what it means. He puts you in an old, stuffed easy chair and brings you a footstool. Slowly he begins to massage your leg.

In this one, someone has called for a group shot. All of the camp counselors are jockeying for position. You are supposed to be seated by your cabin mates, but everyone wants to be close to their friends. You are young, slim for the first time since you were nine years old, and baked a beautiful summer brown. You are wearing a bathing suit and shorts, and you are smiling directly into the camera for once. Just beside you, with a hand resting casually on your shoulder, is the girl you spent almost every waking, free hour with. She has just come out of the lake for the photo, wet hair slicked back, body glistening, blue eyes shining and clear. It doesn't matter what the other girls say. What matters is the night under the stars on the dock, the strange pull in your gut, the willingness to do anything, just to have a few more minutes with her before the bus pulls out to bring you home again.

In this one, you are in math class. You'd like to be somewhere else. You'd like the teacher to take her head out of her butt, and her nose out of the book she's reading behind the big oak desk at the front of the room. Pay attention, she constantly tells the class, and yet she is oblivious. You are crouched in your seat, bent over your textbook. Eyes down, you read fifty years worth of names carved with the point of a compass, you can interpret the woodgrain, derive secrets from the penned in ditties that mar the surface of the desk you inhabit. Your hair hides your face, hanging down so long that it touches the desk. Your hands are clenched, both of them, so hard that your nails have cut crescents into your palms. You are biting your lips, biting biting in an effort not to cry as spitballs fly though the air and land on your notebook, on your sweater, in your auburn curtain of hair.

In this one, you are invisible. You've disappeared, slowly melded into nothing because that what you asked for. You needed to survive, somehow.

In this one, you are looking straight into the camera.Your eyes are open, wide and alert. Your grin is a recollection of your childhood photos, when there was no restraint required, when you did not think about how you looked, or what shape your mouth was making. You're leaning back, resting you head against her shoulder. Her arm is around you, and your fingers are entwined. Joy. Even now you feel the soft hardness of her body, inhale the warm scent of laundered cotton, hear the laughter in both of your voices. it is a prefect, beautiful moment. That photo has yet to be taken.

No comments: