Featured WordPlayer and Writing Prompt

Thanks to Julie Degni Marr for inspiring this week’s word-of-the-week, “gratefulness.”

Julie Degni Marr

Julie Degni Marr is an advertising writer and creative director in Charlotte, NC, where she lives with her husband and three children. She  graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her writing credits include commentaries on NPR affiliate WFAE 90.7 FM as well as two children’s books for Wing Haven Gardens, Elizabeth’s Garden and Elizabeth’s Wish. She writes an ongoing love letter to life at verytrulyjulie.blogspot.com.

Day of Bittersweet

by Julie Degni Marr

If you’ve been to the Farmer’s Market this fall, then you’ve probably seen bunches of bittersweet for sale. A native vine that wraps around trees in the North Carolina mountains, its orange and yellow berries burst open in autumn, providing a feast for songbirds and a cheery glimpse of color against an increasingly spare landscape. You’ll see it coiled into wreaths and around pumpkins at this time of year, too, and mixed with chrysanthemums and yarrow in arrangements that grace the Thanksgiving table.

Come to think of it, what better metaphor for Thanksgiving than bittersweet? Because, if you’ve done any living at all, the holidays are a cumulative feast of memories, both bitter and sweet. And they show up every year, invited or not, along with the stuffing, the pickle tray, the cranberry relish with bits of orange.

Think of pine cone turkey place cards, parades, football rivalry, the baby’s first Thanksgiving, a long distance phone call that always makes your day complete. Swirling like autumn leaves are also memories of when you couldn’t make it home or perhaps didn’t have the heart to be there, the year there wasn’t enough money to fill the grocery basket, relatives who didn’t try hard enough to get along, the achingly empty place at the table.

This may be a year in which it’s difficult for you to muster gratitude. Or maybe your cornucopia runneth over. Either way, when the fourth Thursday in November arrives, rest assured that the memories will, too, their baggage of joy and sorrow and wistfulness in tow.

Especially at Thanksgiving, I remember my husband’s great aunt who lived out in the country near Raleigh. We stayed overnight at Aunt Jane’s ghosty farmhouse that summer he took the bar exam.  The first day she taught me how to make a pie crust from scratch and that night we sat in rocking chairs on the front porch, watching for his headlights down the long driveway. Every year, Aunt Jane mailed us a box of pecans gathered from beneath the huge tree in her yard. I can picture her now in a flowered house dress and sweater, stooping to collect nuts that would fill a homemade pie crust.  She’s been gone quite some time, but not a Thanksgiving goes by that she doesn’t reappear, as sure as Mom’s china with the turkey pattern.

Just last week there was a knock at my kitchen door and it was Kathy, the wonderful person who helps out next door. “These are from my tree,” she said, holding up a bag of pecans. “I thought you’d like some.”

The kids are going to shell them while I dig out my cousin Kay’s recipe for sugared pecans. And pay homage to another person dearly loved and missed, but with us in memory. They’ll be a perfect complement to our Thanksgiving menu: to the bitter, to the sweet, to the flavors of life.

 

I’m so grateful to Julie for being willing to share  “Day of Bittersweet”, both here i and in my writing handbook, Spinning Words into Gold.


What writer Julie Degni Marr says about WordPlay:

Working one-on-one with Maureen as a writing coach, and also taking several WordPlay classes, had an enormous positive impact on me both as a writer and a person. From Maureen, I learned about intentionality.  With her guidance, I experienced the power and joy of getting words from the heart onto the page, and from the page into the hearts of others. She helped me become a more creative thinker, see possibilities, set goals, follow through. Thanks to Maureen, I have completed some special projects that have added lots of life to my life!

You can connect with Julie here:

Blog:  verytrulyjulie.blogspot.com

Website: http://www.stewartmarr.com/


WordPlay Now! Writing Prompt

This is WordPlay — so why not revel in the power and potential of one good word after another? This week, it’s “gratefulness.”

Watch this two-minute video by Brother  David Steindl-Rast of http://www.gratefulness.org on the relationship between gratefulness and thanksgiving. In it, he speaks of opening ourselves to surprise,  of the “great fullness” that is present in every moment, of our full response to what is given to us “gratuitously” — as in freely given, without being earned by us in any way:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svbKLm3QLl8&list=UUWKa5jvlOrH_KgX2UMbAEFw

Then, take a gratefulness inventory by sticking a pen and a small notebook or a few index cards in your pocket. Then, throughout the next several days, stop periodically and ask yourself, “What am I being freely given in this moment that makes it sweet (or bittersweet)?” Jot down the people, places, experiences, and things that grace your day, moment to moment. Stay with the immediate — a hug from a friend, the whistle of your tea kettle, legs that carry you from one room to another, your mother’s cranberry sauce recipe, heat…

Word of the Week: frontier

Featured WordPlayer and Writing Prompt

Thanks to Bonnie McCarson for inspiring this week’s word-of-the-week, “frontier.”

This photo of Bonnie McCarson was taken at Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, two years ago when she was on an “adventure.” Bonnie is a retired teacher with a lifelong interest in writing who also enjoys reading, travel, genealogy, gardening, and, of course, a good adventure.  In her retired life she pursues a variety of new learning experiences and activities, as well as fulfilling her writing dreams. You can read more about Bonnie (including more details about her great adventures) at https://bonmcc.wordpress.com.

The Last Great Adventure

by Bonnie McCarson

During our married life, my husband and I had a number of great adventures. Though many of them included harrowing moments, they were fond memories we often recalled. Now they remain as pleasant reverie and comfort.

The first such adventure began when we packed the few things we owned into a U-Haul trailer around the time of our first anniversary and moved from our home in the beautiful mountains across the length of North Carolina to a lonely outpost on the northeastern coast.  We’d gotten a job offer from that area when none were forthcoming in our home area of Asheville, and the person recruiting us had painted the area we would be moving to as a Garden of Eden. How could we decline?

Once we were settled in a rented cottage on the Currituck Sound, we discovered we were also just at the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp and that, perhaps, we’d been a bit naive. Dismal was a good word for much of the year we spent there, though it was educational. Living through a very cold winter in a summer cottage taught us much, especially that we wanted to move back, closer to home and to civilization. Currituck then was desolate in the winter.

We really made the decision to move closer toward home after making an impromptu trip back to Asheville for Thanksgiving — eight hours drive each way, during which time I read aloud to my husband and our puppy from Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley .  A few years later in our new home in the Piedmont of North Carolina, after we’d taken on the adventure of becoming parents and building a house, we began to muse about our dream vacations.  Short of money, we came up with plan for seeing as much of the country as possible on a budget, inspired, of course, by Steinbeck and Charley.

Over the years, we had a number of memorable adventures, camping far and near.  Our trips became the subject of much reminiscing and laughter.

Life, as we all know, brings not only adventures but also great challenges.  After we gave up camping we had other adventures, like the marriages of two of our sons and the births of our grandchildren, but those travel adventures were the ones I recalled for my husband the day after he’d been moved into Palliative Care.

For two months he had been facing one of the biggest challenges of his life in the form of critical illness. Like Steinbeck’s when he traveled the country in his camper, my husband’s health was failing. When, per his wishes, the feeding tube had been removed, and his illness was sapping the last of his life, I reminded him of all the great adventures we’d had. We held hands and laughed and wept together, and accepted that inevitable one great adventure he was preparing to face.


What writer Bonnie McCarson says about WordPlay:

I’ve just finished emailing my writing group — a group that has been going for six years now.  About a year before we began, having such a group was a dream of mine. Then I took an Artist’s Way workshop with Maureen Ryan Griffin at the North Carolina Writers’ Network. I was launched. With a couple friends I was able to pull together a group of like-minded, creative women to commit to twelve weeks to study The Artist’s Way.

That was only part of my dream. The other part was to finish some of the many projects I had begun and/or wanted to write. I had been writing for a long time and had published poetry and nonfiction, but I wanted to do a memoir, a family history, and some fiction.  I was stalled and overwhelmed by the variety of things that I wanted to do. Though I did write and had been writing for many years, I was undisciplined and disorganized in the way I approached my writing.

Working with Maureen has given me the encouragement and the tools to get going and accomplish my goals. Last year I published the family history and was able to put it into the hands of my extended family. I have completed the memoir and am now well into a historical novel. I continue to write poetry and to maintain a blog.

Maureen has been a wonderful teacher, mentor, and guide with her coaching and through the many workshops I’ve attended. I continue to grow and learn in working with her.


WordPlay Now! Writing Prompt

This is WordPlay — so why not revel in the power and potential of one good word after another? This week, it’s “frontier.”

So often, when we write, we look back at where we have been for inspiration, whether we are writing fiction, memoir, essay, or poetry. This week, look forward instead, through your own eyes or the eyes of one of your characters. Writing is a great tool for bringing dreams of new frontiers to life, after all. So it’s “bucket list” time. Give yourself a good thirty minutes to come up with a list of 50 things you (or a character) would love to accomplish. Where will you go? Who will you connect with? What goals will you achieve? Dream big!

Word of the Week: wolf

Featured WordPlayer and Writing Prompt

Thanks to Savannah Maynard for inspiring this week’s word-of-the-week, “wolf.”

WOLF

by Savannah Maynard

Twenty-seven years after my brother Worth gave me this large, white Graphic T-shirt inked with the black image of a wolf standing guard over a winter wood, I unfold it, my favorite, from atop a stack of other less inspired tees of basic white, pink, brown, and grey. You solid shirts must be jealous as you languish, knowing that I feel most myself when I wear my beloved wolf tee.

Blessed be tees that provide, if not Gwyneth chic or Angelina cool, comfort and an unexpected smile from a stranger at the Farmer’s Market who, detoured from his Saturday morning search for the sweetest, plumpest strawberries, pauses, rapt by the piercing yellow eyes of the wolf, and lets out a howl of affirmation. I am not alone.

Could my brother have known when he gave me this shirt how I would treasure it all these years? Did he think it in style, a trend, a fad, a joke? Or did he recall his little sister, clamoring after him, crying, “Wolf, Wolf,” her lips pursed, almost whistle-ready, her tongue too young to curl and flick against her teeth when calling her brother’s name, but her devotion too great to ever stop trying.

Now eighteen years after his death, could Worth ever have guessed how many Goodwill bags from which his gift would be spared? How many times its existence would be defended? You can always see it coming. My sister pulls into the driveway, catches me planting, willy-nilly, a patchwork of morning glories and tiger lilies around the lamppost. “You’re not wearing that shirt out of the yard, are you?” she asks.

“What would it hurt?”

“Promise me,” she says. “You know our mother raised us better.”

But I can’t promise what I know to be a lie. My brother taught me better. Granted, I would not get married in this shirt: there is a tiny hole in the side, the wolf’s black nose has faded, his yellow eyes have dimmed with age. But I’ll never see the harm in wearing it to the gas station to grab a Dr. Pepper, or the grocery store to pick up paper towels, or the post office to mail a package for that matter.

I tell my sister, “Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.” People love this shirt.

I finger the hem and think words I dare not speak: if cremation ever loses its charm, I should be buried in this shirt.

(This essay appeared in the June issue of Sassee magazine.)


What writer Savannah Maynard says about WordPlay:

Up until a few years ago, when I first signed up for one of Maureen’s writing classes, I’d spent the better part of the previous two decades thinking a lot about writing, reading every book I could find on writing, fantasizing about how great it would feel to one day be a “real” writer. The trouble was (imagine a cymbal crashing here for effect) I spent precious little time actually putting pen to paper, and instead spent precious years blocked by anxiety and fear and self-doubt.

Thank goodness for Maureen Ryan Griffin! She is far and away the most amazing, generous writing teacher I’ve ever had. Her enthusiasm for words and the myriad ways in which they can be put together is contagious. Maureen cares so much about creating an emotionally rich environment in which her students can share their stories that she has helped me to shift my attention away from worries about how well my writing might be received and refocus my attention on the way I feel about the characters in my stories, the way the characters care about each other, and the way everyone in class supports each other and celebrates each other’s work.

I’m constantly blown away by how everyone’s writing has blossomed. Several of us have had pieces published and/or have read them as commentaries on Charlotte’s NPR Station WFAE 90.7. Two of my essays, “The Fine Art of Singing Badly” and “Fried Lemons in Heaven,” were NPR commentaries; my “Fried Lemons” piece appeared in Imagining Heaven: An Anthology of Personal Visions of Heaven; and I was among several contributors to be invited to read my piece during the Sensoria festival at Central Piedmont Community College. Most recently, my essay, “Wolf,” appeared in the June issue of Sasee magazine. None of these successes and experiences would have been possible without Maureen’s guidance and encouragement, her writing prompts and recipes.

Even though my anxiety still sometimes gets the better of me, I’m so grateful for the other times when I can write in spite of my fears, and I relish the breakthroughs when all those old, nagging worries fall way. Thanks to Maureen and the community of my writing mates, I’ve been able to savor the writing process in a way that had too often escaped me in the past.


WordPlay Now! Writing Prompt

This is WordPlay—so why not revel in the power and potential of one good word after another? This week, it’s “wolf.”

Savannah created her essay using a WordPlay “recipe” inspired by Rebecca McClanahan’s essay “Loving Bald Men.” (If you read “Wolf” carefully, you’ll find most, if not all, the ingredients listed.) And here’s the “recipe”:

A WordPlay Recipe

  1. Read “Loving Bald Men.” You can find it here: http://www.ddevet.addr.com/essay_loving.html (The examples from the parentheses are from this essay).
  2. Pick a subject to write about, something you love (quirky, and unexpected is good, but not necessary). EX: Loving sunrise walks at the beach, free samples, the T-shirt your brother gave you, etc.
  3. Gather these ingredients to use:
  • at least one “story” (the grandmother’s high school prom date)
  • at least one List (Gandhi, Yul, …)
  • at least one metaphor or simile (“Brailling his fate,” “bald as a plucked chicken”)
  • at least one “Hello It’s Me” (Address reader: “How can you not love men like that?”)
  • at least one question (“If bald means weak, how to explain….?”
  • at least one bit of dialogue (“You’re getting there,” I say…)
  • at least 3 visual images (High, bare forehead, elegant bones of his skull, brownstone stoop), extra credit for auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and/or tactile images)

4. Take the “ingredients” and use them to “assemble” your essay.

Try this! At least one other WordPlay Under Construction class member published her resulting essay.

Feel a bit intimidated? It’s way more fun to begin your essay in a WordPlay class, and be able to share it when you’re done. You can find out more about Under Construction here.

Featured WordPlayer and Writing Prompt

Thanks to Beth Broodno Downing for inspiring this week’s word-of-the-week, “adventure,” and for sharing her poem inspired by my late dear friend Mary Wilmer.

(That’s Beth on the right, in the white top, with the other participants of the WordPlay Summer Writing Retreat)

The Side Yard

by Beth Broodno Downing

As you’ll read in Beth’s words below, her experience in “The WordPlay Summer Writing Retreat,” along”The Gather”  method—and Mary Wilmer’s poemfrom Spinning Words into Gold, resulted in her lovely poem. “The gather” is one of the most adventurous writing methods I know. Here are both poems so you can see the words that Beth “gathered” from Mary’s poem to use in her own.

Resistance

I take from the cupboard
this milk-white bowl,
this fruit from the basket,
these apples, grapes, bananas, plums.
I dice them into the bowl and eat.
I do this so I won’t have to write this poem,
tell you
how birds sing this early morning,
how delicate the new
lace on the dogwoods,
how bold the azaleas.
So I won’t have to put into words
this beauty around me,
or tell you that it is like my life
after winter’s cold sleep.

—  Mary Wilmer

The Side Yard

From my bedroom window
I see
The helicopter tree.
Not the kind with seeds spiraling
like the blades of a helicopter.
The small dogwood is bright
with milk-white flowers
cherry-stained in their centers.

Its branches converge in the center,
make the perfect seat for me—
the pilot’s seat for my helicopter.
I hide in its basket of branches and blooms.
Around me below are my mother’s
fiery azaleas before they’ve been scorched
by the mid-summer sun.

I hover just above the side yard—
the hyacinths and slate stepping stones,
our garage with its blue-flowered curtains,
the horse and rider weather vane
at attention atop the roof.
I am careful as I ascend.

—  Beth Broodno Downing


What writer Beth Broodno Downing says about WordPlay:

When my children were small, I took a few writing classes with Maureen as a treat to myself to nurture the writer hiding within me. As a result, I made wonderful connections with other writers (now treasured friends)  and created a few pieces that were later published. A few years later, because of  the demands of motherhood and daily life, I allowed writing—creativity—to take a back seat. The WordPlay summer writing retreat was just what I needed. To be with kind, creative, supportive  people in a relaxing environment was a gift in itself, but to actually be able to write and create uninterrupted was the icing on the cake!

Ever since the retreat I’ve been trying to do a little writing practice every day and using Spinning Words into Gold for prompts and ideas.  It’s been an “adventure” to try new writing experiments and to tap into forms and subjects I hadn’t visited in a long time.  A prime example is  the poem below, which came from a “gather” exercise using Mary Wilmer’s poem ‘Resistance’ that Maureen highlighted in the book.


WordPlay Now! Writing Prompt

This is WordPlay—so why not revel in the power and potential of one good word after another? This week, it’s “adventure.”

This is WordPlay—so why not revel in the power and potential of one good word after another? This week, it’s “adventure.”

Beth referred to trying new writing experiments and tapping into forms and subjects she hadn’t visited in a long time as “an adventure.” For a writing adventure of your own, try your own gather.

The Gather (from Spinning Words into Gold)

  • Find a short piece of writing containing gorgeous, interesting language. Poems are perfect, but a few paragraphs of strong prose work, too.
  • Draw a square in the center of a blank piece of paper. I like to think of this square as a magnet that will pull just the right bits of language to itself.
  •  Listen to your piece of writing. And I do mean listen, whether you ask someone to read it to you, tape it and listen to yourself, or simply read it out loud. Mindfully. Don’t think or analyze, just listen to the sound and music of the words.
  • Listen to your selected piece of writing again, and this time, as you listen, gather words and phrases from the writing at random, grabbing them as they go by. Again, don’t think or analyze, just write random words and phrases around your magnetic center. Put them      anywhere you like, arranged any way that pleases—clockwise, counterclockwise, higgledy-piggledy.
  • Read over your words and phrases, and let one of them, or a few of them in combination, suggest a theme, topic, or title to you. Go with whatever shows up in your brain. You can’t do this wrong.
  • Write your theme, topic, or title in that square in the center of your paper. Stare at it, sitting there, surrounded by words and phrases.
  • Rewrite your theme, topic, or title on a separate piece of paper. Keep your Gather beside it for the next step.
  • Set a timer for four minutes, and assemble a piece of writing from your Gather. Use as many or as few of your gathered words and phrases as you like. Add anything you care to. Note: This process, like many of the others, is designed to be done without thinking or analyzing.      Don’t think or analyze. Just write.
  • Read your finished piece out loud, and enjoy.

Featured WordPlayer and Writing Prompt

Thanks to Caroline Castle Hicks  for inspiring this week’s word-of-the-week, “rendezvous.”

A former high school English and Humanities teacher, award-winning freelance writer and poet Caroline Castle Hicks’s essays and poems have appeared in numerous publications, including two editions of the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series as well as Open My Eyes, Open My Soul, an anthology published in commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 75th birthday. Since 1998, she had also been a regular public radio commentator on Charlotte, North Carolina’s NPR affiliate, WFAE 90.7 FM. This essay from Caroline’s  book of essays, Such Stuff As Stars Are Made Of: Thoughts on Savoring the Wonders in Everyday Life, that was first delivered as a commentary on Charlotte’s NPR station WFAE describes a passionate rendezvous with something much larger than ourselves…. unfathomable space.

IT GOES RIGHT OVER OUR HEADS

by Caroline Castle Hicks

Becoming an astronaut was not my destiny. I’m too claustrophobic, for starters, and advanced math was never my thing. But that didn’t stop me from developing a lifelong fascination with all things space-related. I’m one of those people who keeps track of the phases of the moon, the seasonal positions of Mars and Venus, and the likelihood of a meteor shower. It sounds paradoxical, I know, but for me, there’s something comforting about the unfathomability of it all.

Naturally, it makes my day whenever the local paper announces that the International Space Station will be passing through our celestial neighborhood. By now, my husband and kids are used to seeing a sticky note appear on the kitchen cabinet every few weeks reminding me of the exact time and coordinates of the next fly-over. Shaking their heads, they smile indulgently as I bundle up before dawn or leave dinner on the stove in order to keep my regular five-minute rendezvous at the end of our driveway. Sometimes, if it’s not too early or too cold—or if the TV isn’t too mesmerizing—they join me, and I keep hoping my cosmic cheerleading will rub off on them.

We tend to get ourselves so revved up over the stuff that’s shoved in our faces every day—the latest sports statistics, the latest American Idol auditions, the latest antics of Brad and Angelina. For me, those few moments spent in the dark, waiting for a fast-moving pinpoint of light to climb out of the horizon, provide a wake-up call, a welcome reminder of what’s really amazing.

Every once in a while, it just feels good to marvel, to stand in awe, not only of the universe, but of the collective earthly intelligence that vaulted a house-sized metal contraption into orbit and enables human beings to live and work on it for six months at a time. There are people up there, I think every time I see it, and I get goose bumps still. What do they see, I wonder, as they streak across the night sky, sometimes threading right through the notches in Orion’s belt. The whole east coast of North America, at least, its cities mapped out in lights, and all of it bumped up against the vast darkness of the Atlantic.

A Saudi Arabian astronaut on the space shuttle once said that “on the first day, we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day, we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth.” The rest of us will never have that stunning perspective of our planet, but I think it would do us all a lot of good to step outside in the deepening twilight every now and then and watch for the ones who do. After all, watching them watching us can’t help but make our own world view a little bigger.

(This essay was first delivered as a commentary on Charlotte’s NPR station WFAE and appears in Caroline Castle Hicks’ collection of essays, Such Stuff As Stars Are Made Of: Thoughts on Savoring the Wonders in Everyday Life.)


What writer Caroline Castle Hicks says about WordPlay:

In the dedication of my first book, from which the essay below is taken, I wrote that Maureen’s “remarkable writing and creativity classes have transformed me from somebody who ‘always wanted to be a writer’ into somebody who is one.” Maureen sometimes refers to herself as a “creative midwife,” and over the course of our 19-year friendship, she has indeed labored with me, nudging, encouraging and breathing my writing dreams into being. As I’m sure many of her other students could attest, she is often an incubator as well, keeping our dreams warm until we come to believe in them as much as she does. Her nurturing spirit and uncanny teaching skill make Wordplay a powerful wellspring for all of us who long to bring our creativity to life.


WordPlay Now! Writing Prompt

This is WordPlay—so why not revel in the power and potential of one good word after another? This week, it’s “prefer.”

Pick up your pen and describe

  • the most surprising…
  • the most heartwarming…
  • the most impactful…
    rendezvous you’ve ever had.

Now shape at least one of these memories into

  • a poem
  • an essay
  • a scene in a story or memoir.

Featured WordPlayer and Writing Prompt

Thanks to Kim Love Stump for suggesting this week’s word-of-the-week, “prefer.”

…and for sharing her beautiful poem about her father, daughter, and mother (in order of appearance).

PREFER

by Kim Love Stump

Creaky knees lift potentially unsteady feet
over crunchy leaves scattered thick on the gravel
while loose-skinned arms and rough hands
protectively wrap around his back
to hold his granddaughter
securely in place for the ride back to the house.

Blonde threads of her silky hair
brush his cheek as she
babbles on about her little brother, the baby birds
they’d checked on that morning, her mommy, her new
blue dress, the Popsicle Nana will have ready for her
once they reach the house.

He is winded and within
ten yards of the door
when she says,
Dahdah, you may put me down now.
Sometimes
I prefer to walk.

What writer Kim Love Stump says about WordPlay:

Providence. Serendipity. Synchronicity. Whatever you prefer to call it, I experienced it when I signed up for Writing to Heal with Maureen Ryan Griffin in 2010. I chose the class, not because of the subject matter, but in spite of it. I wanted to take a writing class and the time worked best for my schedule, that was all. At least that’s what I told myself.

In reality, I was carrying a constant weight of sadness from my mother’s death two years earlier. Through the course and Maureen’s tutelage, I experienced writing that healed my heart. The course was structured around writing about our personal pain or loss, but not just about that. Maureen encouraged me, and all of us in the class, to write about a variety of subjects and to try all kinds of writing: prose and poetry, lists and letters. By the end of the short course I felt as if the vise that had a perpetual grip on my heart had been unwound. I could breathe again.

Since that first class, I have participated in three WordPlay “Under Construction” sessions. This has provided me with inspiration and encouragement, as well as laugh-out-loud fun and joy. I am currently working on a children’s fantasy novel that I have wanted to write for over a decade. Maureen’s guidance is bringing my dream of being a writer to life—one assignment, one class, one submission at a time.


WordPlay Now! Writing Prompt

This is WordPlay—so why not revel in the power and potential of one good word after another? This week, it’s “prefer.”

This week’s prompt is not a one-time, write-for-ten-minutes kind of thing. No, instead, welcome to a week of honoring your own preferences.

  1.  Write the question “What do I prefer?” on at least 3 Post-it notes.
  2. Place your Post-its where you will see them throughout each day. (Hint: Move them daily—we stop seeing what’s always there.)
  3. Whenever you notice you have a choice of
    • what (food, activity, color, etc.)
    • where (inside or out, upstairs or down, shady or sunny, etc.)
    • when (9 a.m. or 10, afternoon or evening, etc.)
    • who (alone or with a friend, with Mary or Mike or Mary, Mike, Wendy, and Russ, etc.)
  4. At the end of each day, take a few moments to reflect and write about what you are learning about yourself and your preferences.
  5. Use what you’re learning to treat yourself to a life that holds more of what you prefer, in your writing and beyond.

The Power of “Prefer”

By Maureen Ryan Griffin

First, a disclaimer: I am not, by nature, someone who chooses between options quickly, or even necessarily without agonizing, which is why I am the perfect person to write about this topic. After all, according to author Richard Bach of Jonathan Livingston Seagull fame, “You teach best what you most need to learn.” So, given that, I’ll start off by addressing the power of not preferring. (Yes, there is power there, too.)

How “Not Preferring” Can Serve Our Writing and Our Lives

I still remember the moment I first encountered Wallace Stevens’s poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” I was sixteen, sitting in my contemporary poetry class at Mercyhurst Prep School. It was Section V that made my heart literally leap:

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

I know, by the sheer fact that you receive this Word-zine, that you have had this same experience of reading words that gave you an aha! flash of, “Yes, this is just how it is! You wrote these words on my behalf, because if I had thought to, I would have!” How true, I thought, that “the blackbird whistling” and the “just after” are equally beautiful! How true that the world offers us so many-splendored opportunities for beauty that we can’t possibly choose between them! (Yes, I was an intense and total word-nerd of a sixteen-year-old.)

It is true, though. We are so graced by an abundance of beauty and opportunity, and it serves us as writers, and in our lives, to be open to it. Take a moment, right here and right now, to stop and drink in everything you see, hear, smell, feel. Whatever this is, it is a gift. And if you allow yourself to be open to it, you’ll find inspiration for your writing. Maybe it’s an image you can use in a scene of your memoir or novel, for an essay, or in a poem, as Stevens did. Or maybe the whole experience itself deserves recording.

To disregard the treasures life is offering us because they aren’t what we “special ordered”— or to not even notice them at all—is so easy.  The simple, but oh-so-difficult practice of honoring exactly and whatever comes to us yields happiness, gratitude, and a constant stream of writing material. After all, as Robert Louis Stevenson said, “The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

How “Preferring” Can Serve Our Writing and Our Lives

Ah, but Robert Louis Stevenson also said, “To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you ought to prefer is to have kept your soul alive.” And I say Amen to that! Yes, it is important to be open to what life gives us. But it’s just as important, if we are to make the best use of our time and our talent, to boldly stake our claim to the power and energy of our own preferences. The doers of the world, writers and otherwise, are not afraid to say what they prefer:

“I prefer you to make mistakes in kindness than work miracles in unkindness.”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“I prefer rogues to imbeciles, because they sometimes take a rest.”
Alexandre Dumas, père

“I prefer the folly of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom.”
Anatole France

Just what does power is there in “prefer”?

Preferring connects us to our hearts. Have you experienced lately the energy that comes when you come from heart instead of mind? If not, it’s time.

Preferring boosts our self-confidence and self-trust. Allowing ourselves to state and choose what we prefer lets the creative self inside know she/he matters.

Preferring leads to action. “I prefer the salmon.” (Dinner is now on its way to you.) “I prefer Paris.” (Book your flight and let the vacation begin!) “I prefer to write first thing in the morning.” “Today, I prefer to work on a poem about blackbirds.”   (Your word count and body of work keeps growing.)

You get the idea. You can always change your mind. You can prefer something else tomorrow. But right now, be willing to honor your heart. Be courageous. Be someone who is willing to boldly, beautifully “prefer.”