Saturday, March 15, 2008

Telling Tales

The kids are into story telling and play acting these days, each in a different way. Last night Sammie put on a penguin mask, something she'd brought home from an Arctic-themed birthday party months ago. She draped her security blanket around her neck like a cape and leaped off her bed, our bed, Garret's bed. I said, "Are you a magical super penguin?" And she nodded, grinning. I asked if she was saving people from the bad guys and she lit up. What a great idea. Up to that point, being a super hero was just about jumping and wearing cool stuff. 

The G-man, meanwhile, has taken storytelling to heart. While Sammie jumped and jumped, Garret wanted to tell me a story. "Once upon a time, there was a dragon." OK, I said. And what happened next? Um, said Garret. He looked around his room the way kids do when they're thinking, as though the idea is sitting on a shelf or under the bed, like a lost Lego or puzzle piece. Maybe it is. "Once upon a time, there was a dragon, who farted on Mommie's head." Nice. This is how he cracks himself up these days. I said, OK. What then? But the well had dried for him.

That's how I feel. The well is dry. Lots of exciting news, some distressing news lately. Too many events to coordinate. I've veered away from daily writing. My notebook comes with me everywhere, but I don't write in it. And when that happens for even a few days, the cobwebs grow inside me, and I'm afraid to go back to it, afraid of how bad the writing will be when I start again.

Time to get back to it. Today. To ease the path, I can start with someone else's writing exercise. I'll take a cue from What If, which is indispensable in such moments. The exercise is about fairy tales.

THE EXERCISE: Write the phrase "Once upon a time..." and finish the sentence, writing for about ten minutes. Then do it again. Part two is more interesting. Take the first part of one of your two favorite fairly tales and omit the "once upon a time part." Then rewrite those first paragraphs with realistic, modern details added in. The book details all sorts of lessons about narrative distance and the separation between author and narrator that should come from this exercise. Save the learning for another day. Just write.

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