Tonight I had the pleasure of sitting with a group of other writers and going through a series of writing exercises at Barnes & Noble. It had been a while since I was able to do something like that with others, to explore that side of my writing, the “immediate” side, the one that can ad lib with anyone. I missed that. We wrote three small pieces, what I’ve always called vignettes, based on items in the store and a posed prompt.
Vignette #1: Choose a book in the store that speaks to you, and write about why.
We just keep killing Jesus, don’t we? With our societal restrictions and our lack of spirituality, true spirituality. And this book may have absolutely nothing at all to even to do with Jesus of Nazareth or anything at all about religion or the spirit or the lack of true depth to our existence nowadays. Having watched Bill O’Reilly’s program before I think I know where he might be going with this premise, and it isn’t religious history. It’s politics and politics alike. But it speaks to me as I stare at it across the room, speaks to me from a place down deep inside where I just listen and nothing more. I feel the passion and the pain tied up and twisted together in a rhythm so profound I almost don’t want to even open it up and destroy that illusion, that ultimate power it holds just by having its title and its cover imagery. Yet I still do want to open it, to see what history and politics have to say about the man from Galilee as a man and not just as the disputed son of god. I can just imagine the church tearing it down page by page, vilifying it like they did Jesus himself when he walked this earth. And I wonder if there will be photographs. Ever more photographs.
Vignette #2: There are random magazines and books spread out across the table. Write about them.
They’re all named Chris, those dapper men who probably don’t have middle names, as they grace so many magazine covers it’s scary. From Pratt to Rock to Martin to every Chris who ever was and ever will be. Why not put them all together, to line them up end to end like so many 4x4s and see how far they would stretch? Not their mini magazine selves but the real Chrises, the actual men who would probably be upset that I roused them from what is probably a satisfying night’s rest to perform this vastly boring experiment where they have to line up based on the random fact that they all happen to be named Chris. It makes me glad I wasn’t born with that moniker, that I don’t know very many actual Chrises in my life, because it must suck to be in a large space with many other people milling about and somebody yells “Chris!” while they all swivel their heads to see if it’s them, if they are indeed the Chris someone else wants, and it’s usually not them. Disappointment makes each of the wrong Chrises hang his head in abject humiliation, as they all go back to waiting. Because next time… it might be him. And he should always be ready.
Vignette #3: Write about a time when you were freezing in July.
She turns on the air conditioner the second we are inside, obsessed as she is about denying the soul draining heat outside any entrance into our home. We put on our robes at the door, plush terrycloth behemoths that remind me of Eskimos bundled up in the frozen tundra for some odd reason. It seems wrong to be so insulated in July but it’s necessary. The temperature in the apartment drops to negative numbers sometime during each night and I don’t want a cold or for body parts to freeze and start falling off so I also put on thick winter gloves and solid fleece socks, two pairs. She keeps her hands free so she can warm up the soup we will eat for dinner and I don’t know how she does it. I can see my breath in the frigid air and it’s hard to remember that it’s July outside, that just minutes before I was sweating in the sweltering heat. But the sweat has dried hard against my cold, waxy skin and I feel like a mannequin in a window, on display for all to see and to laugh at. I’ve always been good for laughs.