Writing on Stilts

While rifling through some used books for sale the other day, I landed Knitting Through It: Inspiring Stories for Times of Trouble (edited by Lela Nargi). As a knitter of nearly twenty years, I resonate with the title–not just because it involves one of my very favorite pastimes, but also because it acknowledges one of my strongest motivations for knitting: to cope.

Sylvain Dornon knitting on stilts (1893)

Anyway, this book features little stories about people who have knitted through unemployment, poverty, imprisonment, war, illness, and other life events that test our spirits. But what I like most about the book are the photos showing knitters hard at work in a variety of environments–some typical, some strange.

None caught my attention more than a picture of Sylvain Dornon, a French shepherd in the 1800s who knitted… on stilts! Apparently, his tribe–the Thchankats of Landes–did just about everything while elevated a few feet off the ground, mostly to avoid the poisonous snakes familiar to the group’s territory and to better brave uncharted terrain. In addition to knitting, Dornon journeyed to Moscow and back on his stilts–he even climbed the Eiffel Tower on the fool things!

You won’t catch me on stilts anytime soon. Heck, I can’t even hop off a step stool without feeling a bit woozy. But I think there’s a myriad of lessons to learn from Dornon’s escapades–even lessons that apply to the writing life…

1. Avoid becoming paralyzed by the feeling of impossibility. If Dornon can scale the Eiffel Tower on stilts, for Pete’s sake, you can prove yourself as a writer! You can get published! You can write that book!

2. Consider a story from a number of perspectives–on ground level and from a higher viewpoint. Such investment will only improve your writing.

3. Step around the venomous voices–both internal and external–that say you’re too busy to write. Enough excuses already–get to it!

And so on… May your writing reach new heights today!

WRITING PROMPT 1: Have you ever tried walking on stilts? Do you have an altogether different memory that involved someone on stilts–perhaps at a parade, circus, etc.? Describe one of those experiences.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Write about a situation from someone else’s perspective or while considering the bigger picture–from your metaphorical stilts, if you will.


Smile-O-Gram 2.0

It was my own darn fault. I had moved a cumbersome desktop organizer to the basement–it took up way too much room in my office, though I still appreciated its features for collecting workshop materials and props. Well, I’m guessing I forgot to put it back on the storage room’s shelf one day, leaving it a bit too close to our rummage-sale/donation pile. There’s no other explanation for its disappearance–we must have carted my special file thingie to the thrift store over the winter.

A proud Smile-O-Gram recipient (1978)

If memory serves me right, it held an old edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. No biggie. It also contained a copy of On Writing by Stephen King and a spiral-bound notebook, both filled with copious notes. That’s a bit of a bummer. But here’s the real heartbreaker. In one of the side slots was a framed “Smile-O-Gram” from my elementary-school principal. When I was in second grade, I had written about Ruffy, our family’s chihuahua/poodle mix, and Mr. Stouten thought my story was worth a note of praise and encouragement.

As far as I know, that wrinkly green Smile-O-Gram was the earliest existing evidence of my writing life. I confess there was a moment when I collapsed to the floor with regret and grief over the loss of the certificate. But I eventually recovered my bearings and prayed for a miracle. Despite the time that had passed (we made the delivery in December), perhaps the items were still for sale at the thrift store.

I scoured their shelves, I dug in bins, but none of my items turned up. Then my eyes landed on the writers’ classic Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. It just so happened that my next stop was the bookstore for that very book! In turn, I was heartened that my trip to the thrift store wasn’t totally fruitless. I made my way to the checkout.

The cashier–an older woman with close-cropped hair, simple wire-rimmed glasses, and a pleasant expression–searched for a price tag on the book. No luck. I expected the next step to be one of those obnoxious price-check-over-intercom moments, and I prepared for the glares of my fellow shoppers. However, the cashier just looked at me with a wink and said, “Forty-two cents, please.”

“Really? Just 42 cents?” I replied.

“Yes, 42 cents. Would you like a bag?”

I paid up and left the store–admittedly with a tear in my eye. Here I had been gloomy and downcast by what I had lost earlier that morning, but a nice cashier with no clue of my recent events changed all that. Call it “Smile-O-Gram 2.0”–compared to the first version, its features were quite different, but the experience gave me a lift I’ll always remember.

WRITING PROMPT 1: Think about something you’ve lost. Imagine the life it lives now, and write about it.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Create a story or poem about someone who has encouraged you somehow, perhaps in your writing.

WRITING PROMPT 3: Recall a time when you received a much-needed smile. Write about that experience.

Living on the Wedge

I’m one lucky gal. My husband notices when a certain item in a store makes me sigh or squeal or obsess. Such was my reaction when I spotted the red wedge canvas TOMS last fall, and such was my reaction when I received them as a birthday gift last weekend.

I’ve been traipsing around the house trying to break them in and to make them feel truly “mine.” However, despite the newness, I think these shoes have always been “me.” At the risk of sounding really self-absorbed, let me explain…

My new red wedge TOMS

Wedge heel –> Just as I choose not to wobble around in stilettos, I tend to live life on the more grounded side–“living on the wedge,” so to speak. Thus my appreciation for the solid foundation and stability of my new shoes.

Canvas –> To me, canvas represents a frugal and almost rugged practicality. That’s me to a tee. For instance, we still own a stove with those creepy wood-grain accents, but dang if it doesn’t make the most fabulous chocolate-chip cookies to this day!

Open toe –> These shoes aren’t strappy, but they still boast some feminine flair. You could say they’re reserved, with a hint of vulnerability, and I for one can relate to that. Despite being a classic introvert, I’m pretty comfortable letting others peep into my soul. (Oh brother–this is getting way too corny, I know.)

Red –> Not long after graduating from college, one of my first bosses told me I had “bulldog-like tenacity.” I’d like to think that’s a good thing, like being passionate and red with fire. So, fine by me. I’ll claim red any day over blue (sad) or green (envious) or yellow (cowardly)…

TOMS –> This company tugs on my heartstrings. They donate a pair of shoes with each pair purchased–“One for One,” as their motto says. And I can buy into that (literally). The older I get, the warmer I feel toward those who devote their lives to giving.

Remember, “obsess” was among my admissions above. Here ends my ode to my red wedge TOMS–my red wedge Romeos, if you will.

WRITING PROMPT 1: Write about how a pair of your shoes represents your personality.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Begin a story with “If I was in his/her shoes…”

WRITING PROMPT 3: Play around with symbolism. Pick a word–bird, tulip, matchstick, string, black, etc.–and write about what it symbolizes to you.

The Repurpose-Driven Wife

God only knows how I accumulated so many Health magazines. I’m not kidding–they filled a brown paper grocery bag. And I don’t even have the rock-hard abs to prove they did any good! Geesh.

My bowl in progress

To prevent my being mocked as a hoarder, I invited a few friends to help repurpose my collection into something “more useful.” Our mission? To fashion “coiled magazine paper bowls” from ripped, folded pages bearing protein-powder ads, weight-loss success stories, and tried-and-true workout tips. Add some glue stick and some tape and some varnish–and voila!–you have a bowl for… um, uh… something.

Thanks to ReadyMade magazine, Pinterest, and the creative pursuits of several resourceful friends, I’ve become fascinated with the “repurposing movement” in recent years. I’ve tried my hand at salvaging bottle caps, wool sweaters, plastic bags, etc. But today I got to thinking–I’ve been repurposing for years through writing!

There have been times when a story idea shifted and eventually revealed an unexpected life lesson. There have been times when a piece began as an essay, but morphed into a poem. And there have been times when I’ve taken out my metaphorical glue stick, tape, and varnish to rework an article or manuscript to satisfy a specific editor’s eye.

Indeed, I dream of having killer biceps and a hardy appetite for leafy greens someday. But, for now, I’ll do my part for the good of the world by repurposing that which clutters my corners… as well as that which I’ve dared put to page.

WRITING PROMPT 1: “Repurpose”–what a fun word! Try using it in a story or poem.

WRITING PROMPT 2: Repurpose one of your favorite stories by another author into a poem. (In writing, there’s no rule against using someone else’s idea and shaping it into something of your own. Plagiarism is an entirely different–and more vicious–animal.)

WRITING PROMPT 3: Perhaps you’ve been working on a piece that just isn’t getting there. Have you tried using the idea within a different format–perhaps turning a short story into a poem, or vice versa? Try repurposing a piece of your current work.

By Sofa or by Sea

I knew by the title it was the right magazine, but I had to take a moment to study the cover photo. A fishing boat. Four attractive and physically fit people. And one of those metallic, pointy-nosed fishes hanging between them.

In the end, the photo selection made perfect sense, despite its being on the front of a popular literary mag. The individuals flanking the 130-pound marlin were none other than Ernest Hemingway and his pals, all enjoying an adventure together off Key West.

Writers’ adventures. They’re the focus of the latest Poets & Writers magazine. The March/April issue spells out how we can take our writing interests to a whole new place–the literal kind of place, that is. From writing residencies to intimate retreats to faraway festivals, the magazine’s contributors tout the top travel opportunities for writers.

Talk about opportunities–my husband and I are in the thick of adopting a baby from the Marshall Islands, a collection of twenty-nine serpent-shaped “atolls” located in the South Pacific. We’ll be there for six or so weeks getting to know our child and his/her birthfamily, and I’m certain the trip will offer much food for thought and fuel for writing. It will be one heck of an “adventure”… but that’s not to say just sitting on the other side of the sofa tonight couldn’t inspire some fresh perspective.

So what makes an adventure, an adventure? I believe that the experience of travel can help beef up our lists of story ideas. But, in the end, it’s an adventurous spirit that sustains a good writer.

WRITING PROMPT 1: Begin a story or poem with “I took a trip to…”

WRITING PROMPT 2: Write about one of your favorite adventures.