An Uncapped Pen

November 6, 2009

Meet Joe, Assignment 1

Filed under: Writing Exercises — cindylv @ 1:42 am
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Welcome to the Writing School In My Head.  Sometimes I get so caught up in WRITING THE DAMN BOOK that I forget to enjoy writing.  I can’t afford any classes or, heaven forbid, any more writing instruction books.  So I have an imaginary writing instructor in my head who doles out free writing assignments.  Free Writing.  Just open the pen and go.  Whoosh!

Assignment 1:  Create two characters named Joe (or Jo) and describe them.

Joe Number 1:  Male, unmarried.  He lives alone.  He has a strong relationship with his mother (not necessarily a good thing). Dad – still living, but in the shadow of his wife, Joe’s mother.  Joe’s losing his hair.  He’s maybe 35 years old.  If he loses his hair (and begins to look more like his Dad) how will he ever get a wife and grant his Mother the grandchildren she craves, she deserves?  All she’s ever asked for.  Like a court.  Shining, happy grandbabies to admire and adore her. And teach them how to make perogies, like her grandmother did.

Joe sets his sights too high.  He should lower his expectations and catch a waitress.  Someone who’s used to serving others.  According to his mother.  Wives are better if they aren’t too smart.  Or too pretty.  Hey!  How did that happen?  Joe’s mother has taken over.  I could hardly keep up with her voice in my head. 

But look what I’ve learned about Joe.   He’s pathetic.  And probably has chubby hips and stooped shoulders.  And if I let her go on, I can see a confrontation in a page or two over those darn perogies.

I don’t know if Joe is short or tall.  I don’t care at this point.  But I can almost see the crocheted toilet cover lid in his bathroom.  I can see his resigned shrug and hear his apologetic voice offering excuses for her.  I mean Her. “She only wants what’s best,” he says.  But best for whom?  Probably not him. 

What about their names?  Mom, I should say, “Mother” needs something solid, grand…an imperious name.  Eleanor, maybe.  Or should I consciously cut against the grain and label her with something fluffy and soft.  Something that brings to mind an image she’s had to struggle to overcome:  Poppy?  Or Millicent? Or should I play off the perogies and tap into a ethnic vein?  I like Katerina. There’s a name you could cut yourself on.

And what about Joe?  So far, I’ve established that he’s not a Joe-Cool type of guy.  More of an everyday Joe, who’s mother named him Joseph, after St. Joseph.  The earthly father of Jesus.  A name so huge, a standard so high.  Under the weight of those expectations, it’s no wonder Joe slouches!

If Joe’s driving in the middle of the night and comes to an intersection controlled by a flashing red light, and no traffic for miles around, does he come to a complete stop?  I would say yes. 

He buys his clothes off the rack, knit shirts and regular pants (not trousers).  He shops in the Men’s department, two aisles over from Automotive.  When he shaves his neck, he wonders how far down he should shave. Aftershave?  Old Spice.

He lives in a two-bedroom apartment with dingy white walls and worn carpeting that used to be beige.  His bathroom is functional, a toilet, a sink with metal legs, and a shower stall.   A metal medicine cabinet is embedded in the wall above the sink.

His kitchen has formica counters.  He stores his two pots and a frying pan inside his oven.  In the  fridge, he’s got a box of canned beer and a shelf of dead leftovers from his mother’s table.  A full set of ivory china, with gold ribbons and blue flowers, collects dust in the cabinets over the sink, a gift from his parents on his 30th birthday.  It was supposed to be a wedding gift, but …

Describe Joe in terms of what he’s not:   Not too many people have to look up to talk to him.  He’ll  never be tall enough to please his mother.  Joe’s not the kind of guy who wears glasses.  He squints.  He’s never had to share a bedroom with a brother, never had to wear hand-me-downs. Joe doesn’t drive a pickup truck with a poodle on his lap.  Nor does he drive a sportscar, foreign and sleek, with a personalized professional firefighter’s license plate that says, “OOUCH.”

His sugarless chewing gum doesn’t have layers of flavors or a squirt of minty gel hidden in the middle.  His toothbrush doesn’t come with batteries and he squeezes his toothpaste in the middle or wherever he happens to grab it.  He doesn’t stand in his closet in the morning wondering which pair of loafers will showcase his new socks with yellow chevrons.  His earlobes remain unpierced.

His doctor is not female.  He doesn’t remember the last time he went to the dentist. His apartment building doesn’t allow pets.


Tomorrow, I’ll start on another Joe/Jo.

PS:  You can play, too.


April 1, 2009

Who Am I?

Filed under: Writing Exercises — cindylv @ 10:00 pm


Can you guess who I am?  Do you remember the first time we met?

You were a child, maybe three or a little older. Those boys had you backed into the wall. You didn’t understand. You wanted to play, but you didn’t know this game. I saw one of them reach toward you. I didn’t wait. I exploded, like a fire bolt flung from the sky, spinning, kicking, scratching, and biting. “You leave her alone!” I screamed. My back against yours, we circled. “It’s okay,” I gasped. “They’re gone. We’re safe.”

You turned around and asked, “Who are you?”

“Shhhh….” I replied. “You’re safe now. Do you want me to stay with you?”

You smiled. I took hold of your hand and we walked home. You invited me in. At first, I just watched quietly from the corner. Waiting and learning. As you grew, so did I. When you came home, upset and crying, I’d wipe your tears, soothing, “There, there . . I’ve got you.” I held you until you slept. Then I’d watch you dream. In the morning, you’d forget all about your tears, but I held them for you, remembering.

And I grew. Stronger, quicker, sharper. I watched you play with the other children. And I whispered in your ear. “Be careful. Don’t run — you’ll fall.” On the swing when you pumped your legs with all your might, reaching for the sky, I was there to slow you down. You learned to ride your bike. I told you it would hurt when you crashed. And it did.

You took me to school and I sat close, holding your hand as you struggled in class. Again I whispered, “Don’t raise your hand. Don’t ask questions. Everyone will laugh at you. Shh….” And you listened to me.

I was there when you fell in love the first time. I saw him murmuring in your ear, telling you lies. I begged you not to listen to him. But your head was in the clouds and you forgot all about me and my power. I waited. And when he left you for another, I made my move. “Do you see? Didn’t I tell you? Look what happens when you don’t listen to me?” I closed in, wrapping myself around you, comforting, protecting. I felt you relent, opening yourself to me completely. I slithered inside and spread my tentacles, filling your body and mind, wrapping around your heart.

And here I have lived for years, choking you. I feed on your insecurity, growing, scraping away your layers from the inside. I lurk, just behind your eyes, a suffocating shadow, seeing what you see, sensing your thoughts. I plant my seeds of doubt and worry. And I wait.

I pounce at the slightest hint of weakness. With icy fingers, I paint your mistakes, and your pathetic excuses on your face. I unbutton your clothes and peel you open, exposing your faults for all to see.

You hate me. You forget how much you need me. You drink and you medicate to silence my voice. You poke and pry, trying to dislodge my grip. But I am too strong. I dig my claws deeper, and bare my fangs. ‘You’re nothing without me,” I hiss. “You need me. I keep you safe.” I wrap myself more tightly around your heart, pulling you inside with me.

I am your fear.

And now, you are mine.



My assignment today was to write about an emotion without naming it until the end of the piece, inspired by the book “Writing The Natural Way” by Gabriele Lusser Rico.

March 31, 2009

If I Had A Stick . . .

Filed under: Writing Exercises — cindylv @ 5:07 am

I could drag it in the dirt and leave a trail of where I’ve been.

I could nudge my wind chimes when the wind dies down.

I could reach that itch.

I could tie this bandana on the end and run away from home.

I could make a flag and declare this plot MINE!

I could lay it across my shoulders and carry buckets of water, or paint, or … stuff.

I could tap my husband’s shoulder to get his attention without getting up when he’s not listening.

I could rescue that frisbee from the neighbor’s roof.

I could sharpen the point and use it to plant some of these bulbs.

I could twirl it like a rifle while I sing the theme from S.W.A.T. (It’s a marching band thing.)

I could poke it in this fire to wake up the sleepy logs.

I could play light sabres with the kid next door.

I could block the trail of ants from reaching the nugget of dog food Bailey left behind.

I could try again to dig to China.

I could work on my backswing.

I could balance it on the tip of my finger and chase it around the yard trying not to drop it.

I could twirl plates.

I could use it as a crutch.

I could outline the proposed expansion to the garden.

I could whittle it into a set of chessmen.

I could point out the constellations.

I could stick it in the ground and analyze the movement of the shadow to find North.

I could re-anchor my new lavendar plant to the side of the hill.

I could change the station on the radio without getting up.

I could skooch these rocks out of the way.

I could conduct the orchestra on NPR.

I could wrap a roll of string around it and attach a kite and run over to the park.

I could tuck it into my belt loop and pretend it’s a sword.

I could decapitate those dandelions.

I could dance a soft-shoe.

I could defend the perimeter.

I could play stickball.

I could measure the length of my block wall, in stick-lengths.

I could teach Bailey how to fetch (and more importantly, return).

I could pick up loose papers in the park.

I could prop open the  lid to the storage shed.

I could joust.

I could be Queen.

November 13, 2008

Now I know better

Filed under: Writing Exercises — cindylv @ 9:47 pm
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Thank you to:  CreativeWritingPrompts for today’s topic.  Prompt 100.  I used to think…   Ready, set, go!

I used to think I had magical powers.  I could fly, breathe underwater, and disappear at will. 

I used to think that the headlights from passing cars that raced around the walls of my room were searchlights looking for me. I’d lie frozen on the floor and watch them search, knowing that if I moved even a twitch, they’d find me.

I used to think that my parents would live forever. I must have been wrong about this one.

I used to think that dogs roamed the streets looking for kids to bite (Thank you, Kobuck.)

I used to think I was the only one in the world who was afraid of birds.

I used to think that if I held my breath when I passed a cemetery, evil spirits wouldn’t get in my mouth.

I used to think that the Russians were just over the hill waiting for any sign of weakness to invade my country.

I used to think that my big sister had the keys to the Universe and she just refused to share them with me.

I used to think that if I stepped in the stinkfish square (the last square on the sidewalk with the company’s stamp) that my mother would die.

I used to think that if I wore sandals, I’d get poison ivy.

I used to think that there was a shark living in the lake near our house.

I used to think that the weeds in the lake would grab me and drag me underwater if I let them touch me.

I used to think that my doll was possessed, and that if we buried her body in the front yard and her head in the backyard, she’d never be able to hurt me.  Thank you, big sister, for that tip.

I used to think that Barnabas Collins lived under my bed and that Quentin Collins lived in my closet.  Thanks again, big sister.  Hmmmm….I’m sensing a theme here.

I used to think that Donny Osmond would marry me.

I used to think that everybody in the world had 100 relatives who’d show up on Saturday evenings to drink whiskey and sing “Amazing Grace,” “I belong to Glasgow,” and “Skye Boat Song” until dawn.

I used to think I’d have a houseful of kids.

I used to think my teachers had all the answers.

I used to think that alligators could come up out of the toilet if I forgot to close the lid.

I used to believe in the tooth fairy and santa claus.

I used to think that the US government would always take care of us, and had our best interests in mind.

I used to believe in absolute right and wrong — no gray allowed.

I used to think that I could dig to China in my backyard.

I used to think that when I got married, I’d automatically live happily ever after.

I used to think that life was supposed to be fair.

I used to think that the way to cook vegetables was to open the can, dump them in a pot and boil them until the rest of the dinner was done.

I used to think that everyone told the truth, all the time.  And I used to think that the truth was the same thing for everyone.

I used to think that everyone was looking at me, just waiting for me to stumble.

I used to think I wanted to be a lawyer when I grew up.

I used to be afraid to go to the doctor.  I think I still am.

I used to think I’d always remember every friend I ever made.

I used to think nothing bad would ever happen.

I used to think I had ants.  That’s what my grandma told me when I couldn’t sit still.  I still can’t sit still, so I must have ants.

I used to think I’d know it if I fell in love.    I didn’t realize I’d fallen in love until long after the fact.

I used to think chiropractors were quacks. 

I used to think I was sure about what I knew and didn’t know.   (Now I’m learning to let go of my need for sureness and my need to be certain that the word I just typed is actually a word.  Okay, I should probably change that to “certainty” but I’d weaken my point.)

September 8, 2008

Wonderful Words

Filed under: Writing Exercises — cindylv @ 8:34 pm
Tags: , , ,

 Since I wrote a post last week about Annoying Words, I thought I’d give equal time to a few words I love.  While compiling this quick list, I noticed an abundance of onomatopoeic words.  I listed words that sound funny or look funny, words that flow smoothly or sharply, and even a few that are just plain silly.  I also included a few words that have a more personal reference.

Articulate – I learned this word when I started playing the flute.  It sounds tight, and clean — no fuzz!

Astronomy – It sounds soft and dreamy and full of unbelievable possibilities, yet sparkly and mysterious.

Beep – I can’t help but think of the Roadrunner cartoon.

Bilabial Click (affricate-like release, a click of consonants) – I couldn’t believe this was a word.  It’s too weird not to love.

Bubble – Reminds me of good times in the backyard with the super-duper giant bubble wand.  I don’t like “bauble” or “bobble.”

Cadenza – Splashy, show-offy, sparkly…and the end is coming.  Cadenza is good.  Credenza?  No, thanks.

Cinnamon – One of my favorite spices.  Cinnamon and sugar toast!  Also reminds me of the time I got into my sister’s candle-making supplies and rubbed cinnamon oil under my nose.  Zowie!  I had a burn for weeks!

Constellation – See astronomy above.

Creepy – I just like the way it sounds.  I think creepy things are icky.

Dance – I wish I could.  I wish I could just let go and let it fly (without killing or maiming anyone).  Dance implies rhythm, looseness, abandon, passion, honesty.  Raw-ness.  The word itself starts off hard and solid, and ends up soft and smooth.  What a great word!

Dipthong/triphthong – I learned these in Fourth Grade, thank you Mrs. Bostwick.  I was sure she’d made them up.

Eerie – See creepy above.

Extricate – My mom taught my little brother how to say this word when he was two years old.  I loved hearing him pronounce it!  Also, it implies extracting yourself from a really sticky situation.

Fire – I love fire and I love the efficiency of the word–short and sweet.

Gay – I can’t imagine a happier word, the original intent (not when used as a derogatory label for people.)

Giggle – It’s silly.  I love to hear children giggle.  See Moose Bite below.

Glee – Happiness in motion, riding your bike with no hands.

Glide – Happiness in motion, sliding the length of the hallway in your socks.

Gracious – So Jackie-O.

Hiss – The sound, not the reptile that makes the sound.

Honey – As a term of endearment.

Hoot – I like owls.  I enjoy activities that can be described “as a hoot.”  I like the character in Blackhawk Down.

Hum – It tickles.

Icky – One of my most favorite words.  Since I am picky.

Imagine – No explanation necessary.

Joy –  Unbridled.  What could be better?

Kiss – :-D

Mercurial – I can’t actually pronounce it, but I love the twisty bends my tongue makes trying to say it.  Oh yeah, and I’m a Gemini.

Moose Bite – My nieces do this all the time.  When you’re not looking, they pinch your bottom and shout, “Moose Bite!”   Guaranteed to result in a fit of giggling.

Mustard – German mustard, or Grey Poupon.  The word sounds funny, too…MUSS-terd.

Occlusion – I wore braces for three years hoping for occlusion.  I’ve had enough of his second cousin, “malocclusion.”

Opacity – Just sounds cool.  I like “Opaque”, too.

Pleiades – A constellation I can usually find.  I like the story of the Seven Sisters.  And it’s fun to say.

Queue – Just a funny looking word.  Makes “standing in line” seem a little mundane.

Reciprocity – My friend Nelly, may she rest in peace, came from Belgium.  Many of her words and pronunciations fit neatly into the category of Engrish.  She couldn’t say “owe”, as in “I owe you $5.”  But the word “reciprocity” flowed trippingly off her tongue.

Sibilant – This word sounds like great fodder for a tongue twister about Sybil and Seashells.  Maybe Sybil was jubiliantly selling shells.

Simile – Just like a metaphor, but smilier.

Slide – See Glide above.

Snazzy – The snappy-jazzy combo works for me.

Snowflake – Soft and fluffy and drifty and hushed (and it’s been over 110 degrees F since April).

Sonorous – Grandiloquent in a James Earl Jones or Dennis Haysbert kinda way.  Or like Dumbledore calling for “S-I-I-I-I-I-I-LENCE.”

Spiky – Punky, pointy, porcupiney . . . but not with sticky gel.

Spirit – I love the ups and downs of the letters, the swoop of the “S” leading to the droop of the “p” and then sort of tippy-toeing to the final “t.”

Splash – CANNONBALL!  Who can resist running off the diving board, leaping into the air, tucking into a ball and screaming at the top of your lungs while sending a few gallons of cold water in your sister’s direction.  Hey, I said I was sorry!

Sparkle –  Sparky and Twinkle all in one word.  Brings to mind diamonds, champagne, and um…diamonds.  I love to meet people that have an inner sparkle.  Author Tim Hallinan has a great sparkle.  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just the caffeine.

Splendid – How can you say this word without rubbing your hands together under your chin, and smiling?

Squirt – I liked the sour soda, but I don’t like grapefruit.  I like squirt guns (not the super-soaker kind, the regular ones).  This word just squirts out of your mouth.  Just be careful not to spit.

Striation – I think of “strive” and “try.”  Neither one has anything to do with “striation,” but that’s how I hear the word.

Swoosh – Any activity that involves “swooshing” sounds like a hoot!

Synonym – Oooh!  Some “synonym and sugar toast” sounds delicious!  Mr. Synonym introduced me to my best friend, Roget.

Tickle – Tickle precedes giggle.

Translucent – Sounds magical.  Sounds mysterious, luminous and iridescent.

Trill – On a flute or a sax.  Not a piccolo or a clarinet or oboe or a trumpet.  And certainly not a trombone.  A bird, though, is okay.

Twinkle – See sparkle above.  Also, I love eyes that twinkle.

Ubitiquious – An English bulldog of a word.  It’s so ugly, someone’s gotta love it.  Might as well be me.

Uvula – My brother always thought this was a body part hidden in one of the many secret hiding places that girls have.  I don’t mind uvulas unless I see one during an excruciatingly long yawn.  Don’t they have something to do with snoring?

Whippoorwill – It’s a beast to spell, but fun to type.  Two Ws, two Ps, two Os, two Is and two Ls.  What’s not to love?  It sounds kind of plaintive and lonely though.

Whisper – I like nice whispers that are close to your ear, not the librarian kind.

Yeast – Sounds like “yeesch!”

Zip – Just for fun!

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