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Every day we do things that we things that we’re just naturally good at. I, for example, am a totally decent cook*. Name some of those things.

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Every day, we also do things we aren’t naturally good at. I, for example, can barely match my clothes and am, honestly, not currently operating at a 100% success rate. Name some of those things.

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Choose one of those lists to work with.

If you chose the things we’re naturally good at list, write about how you discovered this skill and what that discovery meant to you.

If you chose the things you aren’t naturally good at list, write a guide to how (and/or why) to fake having that skill. Or why you don’t bother to fake it.

*Make no mistake: this is a humble brag. You definitely want my sweet potato pie in your life.

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Jot down a few names of people you know. People you’ve had at least some interaction with. Examples: mother, janitor, waitress, child, guy who always throws his trash on the ground, cashier.
This will be the “you” we write to/about. Once you pick someone, think about your interactions with them. Let’s think about those interactions in concrete terms: What were you wearing? What was the setting? What interaction did you have: dialogue, looks, physical contact?

Now, let’s write a few couplets:
Here are the ghost lines (which you may want to keep*)
The truth:
What I wanted you to think:

The truth**:
What you thought:

The truth:
What I thought:

Repeat the pattern as many times as you like.
*If you erase the ghosts lines, you may want to give consideration to how – or if! – you will communicate the structure. There a millions ways to do that and equally as many reason why you might not want to.
** Does “the truth evolve? Is it static? Is it rephrased? How can/might exact repetition serve you?

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What are some things that you are bad at? I’ll wait here while you write it down. Think about the not-so-serious things. A friend of mine cannot pour coffee from the pot into a mug without spilling it. Another friend has broken every cell phone she has ever owned.

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Write a poem from the commendation committee congratulating you (or presenting you with an award) on your failures. So what would the United Coffee Spillers of the North East say to my friend?

What other qualities (or choices) of my friend will the letter reveal? What do our smallest shortcomings reveal about our larger ones? What can a writer of this type of letter not help but reveal about themselves?

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For 5 minutes, list “horrible” things that have happened to you. Note: You decide how horrible. I could list my dad’s death. I could also list my dog peeing on the couch right before my company arrived.  I could also list dropping hot coffee on my lap as I drove to work.

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Pick one of those events and write down as many details as you can. What does the couch look like? What music was I listening to when I realized I had just put my hand into a puddle of dog urine? What colors where the walls painted? Was something cooking and could I smell it? What shoes was I wearing? You get the idea.

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I like to think that a novel is the sum of the choices the author has made. Why that word there? Why this symbol? Why name that character that? Etc.

Movies and plays, too, can be thought of in a similar way. The director makes choices that answer question like: Why that costume? Why this lighting? Why a small dog instead of a big dog?

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Take your “horrible” event and all of the details of it and write the scene with the cold detachment of a director. This will ask you to, again, look at the language you use; do you “cue,” “cut,” or say “action”? Will the director be the sole voice of the poem? Will the director appear at all?

It also asks that you impose an order. While I think my dog peeing on my couch is just another of life’s less-than-zen moments, a director must consider how it forwards the plot. What does the director want the audience to notice first in the scene?

Do you include stage direction? [Lights rise on a room empty except for a small dog. Dog exits. Spot light stays on the couch where the dog was. From the kitchen, a woman’s voice is heard humming.]

Does the detachment provide humor, as it might in the dog pee scenario? Does it offer a process through which you can grieve as it might if I write about the night my father died? What event are you best served by writing about?

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Note: Losers*, if you’re planning on slamming on Monday 4/14, this prompt fits the theme.

*I’m not a total jerk; the slam is called LoserSlam and we have a sense of humor about ourselves.

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This is less a list than a freewrite brainstorming session. What are the daily elements of your day? What parts of it do you value? (A nap, a quiet moment at a coffee shop, a bath?). What are its commodities? (Time, people, space?) What about negative values? (Grief, death, traffic?)

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For a long time, I woke up feeling deficient. Not as though I was not good enough, but as though my day began with a deficit.

At 7am, I was already 30 minutes behind, but add one cup of coffee, one too short (and too hot) shower and I was only 10 minutes behind.

Those are things I am in control of, but – let’s be honest – I’m mostly not in control of my day. Add children. And the molasses-like movement of the gas station attendant when I am already late. Add the stop light – all of them.

But am I not part joy? Add the smell of my town in the morning (I live near a coffee factory). Add my favorite song on the radio. Add my shameless and dancing children.

Today, write the math of your day. Write about what adds or subtracts, what multiplies or divides.

Will this poem be one line – an equation? Will it be a narrative that uses math terms? Will it avoid math terms all together and thinks of subtraction in terms of loss or death and addition in terms of gifts or births? Will it use the if/then of logic? Fractions?

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Today we question.

Go as fast as you can without pausing (or thinking too) for two minutes and list:

  • a question you’ve always wanted to ask your parent
  • a question you hoped no one would ever ask you
  • a question you have been asked before by the wrong person
  • a question that is often on forms (census, intake, etc.)
  • a question you want to ask a person you hate
  • a question you are often asked that you think is rude or inappropriate
  • a question about someone you love
  • a question that could be carved on your tombstone
  • a question that could be answered by a fortune cookie fortune
  • a question you read somewhere once
  • a question only a god could answer

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If you are in love with a person right now, there is without doubt someone else you could have loved. There are, likely, other people you did love.

If you are not in love, but open to the possibility, then there is a universe of possibilities – people who are “right” for you to one degree or another.

List 5 people you have, do, or could love romantically (or if you are not romantically inclined, people who you could have an intimate* friendship with.)

*intimate is not a euphemism for sexual; instead I mean thorough and long-lasting.

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Choose 4 – 5 of those questions. This will be the first line of each stanza (it could be a ghost line).

Choose at least 2 (but preferably more) of those possible loves. In each stanza, use the voices of those possible loves to answer the question.

How similar or different are those voices? Do you keep them in the same order of appearance in each stanza or do you juggle them? Do they speak to each other or only you? Is it obvious to the reader who you love now/more? Are the questions all in a similar vein? Is their a framework inside of which you ask these questions?

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For about 1 minute, list people who have impacted your life. This could be a parent, a teacher, a friend, your school bus driver, a bully. {In prompt 5/30, I asked you to make a list of people you’ve lost. Feel free to pull from that list.}

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Yesterday’s prompt led me down the winding hallway of my grandmother’s… departure, and ultimately my memories of her.

When I was child and she lived forever away from us (about a 45 minute drive); my whole family would visit her on weekends. She lived alone in a house with a big backyard. It was always impeccable. She mowed and raked and weeded and hauled to curb by herself.

Choose someone from your first list and think of 5 or 6 chores they might do (have done) or 2 or 3 things they were known for. For example, everyday my grandmother made a pot of coffee. Her spaghetti sauce alone was worth the 45 minute drive. She could haggle like spending one extra penny on things caused her physical pain.

Her neighbors knew her as the lady who was always in her yard.

I should mention that my grandmother was, since she turned 19 years-old, 104 pounds. Soaking wet. With rocks in her pockets. Because of this, her neighbors - a family with two young boys - called her Wonder Woman and I began to think of her that way, too. Isn’t this how legends are born? Through observation and exaggeration.

Today write someone into legend. Think of the language we associate with legends. George Washington could never tell a lie. Paul Bunyan was enormous and had a blue bull as a pet. Legends find a truth and exaggerate it into some unforgettable. They inflate and make their objects grand.

If the neighbor boys told it, they might have said my grandmother could rake with one hand, sip coffee with the other and finish in a minute flat. She might look, disappointed, at the weeds and they might uproot themselves and walk to the trash pile.

Today, let’s look with amazement at someone.

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List people you have known personally that have died.

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Yesterday’s prompt looked at a kind of cartography. Today I want to look at something related: transportation.

How do you most often travel? What modes are prominent in your life? (For example: Train, car, skateboard, plane, walk)

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Tell the story of one of the deaths you listed as if it is a story of traveling.

Is death in the running to the train station? Is it a cab you need to catch? Or in the riding of the train (or a walk one takes)? Has the whistle sounded? Is there an announcer? Are there other passengers?

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Take 1 minute to list abstract concepts and emotion (peace, love, disappointment, gluttony, nerdiness, etc.)

List the places you’ve lived (or visited enough to know the geography intimately)

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In a poem go from where you are now (physically) to one of the abstract concepts/ emotions via your old neighborhood.

Peace might be in closet of your childhood home. Love might be at the hardware store down the street from your 4th apartment. Is disappointment not in your old neighborhood but just outside the town’s limits?

Why is it there? Who else knows it’s there? And who doesn’t? Who do you pass on the way? Is it a straight or convoluted path? Is it a well-worn path? Are you going from memory or is there a map?

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Name 5 people you know and their role in your life – aim for some positive roles and some negative ones.

Name 5 famous (define as you like) people and their role in society.

List 5 things (nouns, concrete or otherwise) that amaze you

List 5 things that disgust you.

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Choose one of the roles you’ve listed. Let us write a recipe.

Let us consider for a second our tongues, our taste buds. How do I weigh the sweetness in my grandmother, her plump arms, and sugary voice against the sting of her anger? For every piano note I stir in, I must also put in a pinch of steel wool.

Write the recipe for one of the people you listed. If you know them personally, use your intimate knowledge of them. If you know them only as a figure or celebrity, think of how we have made them.

To be balanced, include at least one thing from your list of amazements and one thing from your list of disgusts.

No one is ever just one thing.