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Friday, March 29, 2013

Shards by Kitty Griffin

by Kitty Griffin

Some people have little bits of memories.
I have shards.
Fragments that have jagged edges 
so that when I remember
I bleed

That's what I came across in one of my many writer's notebooks. I'm sure it was the result of an exercise. At the back of this notebook I found a collection of 5 by 7 index cards, the big ones. Each one had an exercise. 

While I can't remember the class, or the teacher, or the place, I do remember this exercise. 

The teacher gave us this one sentence:

The big dog went to sleep.


How about that, I have a big dog for you. Not just any big dog, but the dearest sweetest Newfoundland dog, my beloved Moses. For 13 1/2 years he was my faithful companion, by my side every minute of every day. Ahh...see, here's one of those shards. His passing was so painful that even now my eyes burn and my heart aches. 
Never have I known such a kind, polite, respectful dog. It was my privilege to be owned by him.

So, let me take you back to the exercise.

The big dog went to sleep.

If you could see the card, you'd see that every line was written by a different hand with a different color ink. So we must have passed the card around. This is what happened...

The big dog went to sleep.
The big dog, breathing evenly, went to sleep.
The huge, loving dog fell into a deep sleep with my head resting on his exhausted form.
The hulking dog with salivating jaws was much less overwhelming when asleep.
The big fluffy dog climbed onto my freshly made bed and went to sleep.
The dog laid his head down and closed his eyes his form encompassing the entirety of the rug.
I's never seen such a big dog curl himself so small to go to sleep.

Ha...so there were seven of us in this class. 
And each person went to a different place for their sentence. 

When I work with new writers I always tell them, "Each of you could write a story about the same thing and each story would be different. Don't worry about anyone stealing your work, because no one can. If you can't write because you worry about someone stealing your work, well, you can't write.

So, you find yourself stuck on something. Do this exercise. Take one simple sentence and see how many ways you can change it. See if that doesn't perk the little gray cells.

Now, this next exercise I found...well, I must have been in a bit of a gray mood. This was a What If exercise. From looking at the card I must have been told to start with a sentence and  I was to keep adding "What if"...

Peters Lake

What if
What if I saw this old man sitting on a bench
What if it was a cold snowy day
What if the old man was my grandpa
What if I'd come home from school and what if I saw all his pain med bottles on the floor
What if they were all empty
What if I knew they'd just been filled the day before
What if I knew he'd just been to the doctor
What if he asked me to just sit and wait?

I know. Kind of goes with that shards poem.

But that's how writing is. Sometimes you have to let the shards cut you again and again because sometimes when you write you have to go to where the pain is so you can get the write words out...excuse me, right words. (There's one of those things Freud used to talk about, eh?)
Here's the most important thing, you also have to know when it's time to put the bandaid on. When it's time to cheer up and pull away. Spend too much time with the shards and you'll have too much blood on the page. No one will understand what you're trying to say. 
Writing is finding the balance, the balance between what is imagined and what is real. You have to be the conductor for your reader. You don't want them lost, you don't want them getting off at the wrong stop. 
Choose your shards carefully my friends.

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