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I’ve always hated those bumper stickers that read: My money and my child go to [insert college name here.]

And, I could never quite figure out why they bothered me. I think I’ve figured it out. Until today.

I work at a community college. I went to a community college. I worked (and, god help me, borrowed) my way through college. So now, these bumper stickers which are well-meaning humblebrags, read to me like a declaration of privilege. “Hear ye, hear ye: I can afford to send my child to college, thereby saving them from years of loan repayment.*”

Today, write a narrative (poem, prose, microfiction, you decide) in which everyone wears a declaration of their particular privilege.**

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* I can also afford (own) this horseless chariot which I have defaced with a sticker.”

**Including you, if you inhabit the poem.

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This prompt is the fraternal twin of the previous one.

I organize a slam. It’s almost 10 years old. Last week, our feature pointed me out to the audience. I sit in the back of the room, at a table with a computer, a printed list of our rules, merch, and other organizers. The room turned and looked at me as if I had not been there for(what seems like)ever. I wanted to say that in my past life, I was a poet.

Today’s ghost line is “In a past life, I…”

What were you? What did you do? How did that part of you die? Did you grieve it? What did you “come back as”?

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What do you do that makes you invisible?


Is a job? A title? A role? Are you invisible to everyone? To one specific person? Do you see you? Is it permanent?

Write that story.

Source: youtu.be
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List a few of your proudest moments. These can small or large victories – tying your shoelaces or finishing 8th grade.

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List a few of your lowest moments. This could be the time you ran out of toilet paper and defiled that towel or when you betrayed someone who loved you.

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Choose one incident from each of those lists and flesh it out with sensory detail words (or snippets*). Air conditioner in the background, cotton, it was hot. Revisit each of those lists and choose

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I’m a mom now. And yet, I’m still me. They say - in commercials, in soft tones, while trying to sell baby products – that parenthood changes everything. It does. But, I’m still me.

Today, I’d like to think about the humanity of our parents (blood, chosen, or fated).

Write a letter from one of your caregivers or parents to you. What do they sound like? What phrases are particular to them? Is it an open letter or is it just for you? What was their experience of your triumphant moment? What was their experience of your failure?

Those last two will be the tricky parts. I’m not sure if my children will remember last weekend – how I barely saw them – and blame me for my negligence, but from my point of view (working 10+ hours on my days off to finish my work and by the yogurt they so covet) I was doing the best I could. Similarly, at your dance recital, you were on stage, but they were surrounded by a sea of parents – could they even see you or were you just a blur? Did it even matter to either of you? If your caregiver, from your perspective, failed you, how does s/he justify it? Does s/he bother to?

*I make no apologies for this grandmotherly word choice.

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So it’s weird how even if I write prompts on my yellow legal pad they don’t magically appear online. I’m going to transcribe the past few day’s worth of prompts in the next few hours (ironically, I’m actually ahead now.)

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Make the following lists as fast as you can:

  • 5 famous people (dead or alive)
  • 5 exes (ex-lovers, ex-partners, ex-teammates, etc.)
  • 5 cartoon characters (that you know relatively well)
  • 5 religious or spiritual characters
  • 5 ideas you hate (Could be racism. Could also be sporks. Could be student loans. Could also be decorative soap.)

Have you ever thought about marrying? Today, I want you to marry. Not in the sense of getting married, but instead I want you to officiate at the marriage of any two (or more!) people/things from the list above.

As you write, consider both practical and philosophical concerns. Where is this wedding taking place? What senses does the place stimulate? Who are the guests? What do they wear? Is this a religious or secular ceremony? Is there dancing? Is this a marriage of convenience? Love? Celebration? A business agreement? What is your role beyond officiant? Are you friends with the groom? Family of the other groom? College roommates with the bride?

If a wedding is essentially the public signing of a contract, what does the contract include?

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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?