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I’ve been suffering from a common illness: writer’s block. Yes, I can get words on a page or on a screen, but I have been struggling to form them into a tangible and coherent presence. On the verge of tears, I decided at the spur of the moment to attend a one day writing workshop hosted by the local community college. What I needed more than anything was to be in a room with others who want to write and toss creativity and ideas back and forth.

Although the exercises we did to tease out our creativity were seemingly basic, being able to physically work with others and share opened up a door that had become stuck shut. Plus, now I also have ideas for my 9th grade homeschooled son’s language arts curriculum. I am sharing here some of the work I did today.


The first exercise involved choosing a physical object and describing it in a tangible way. I chose the barn on my parents’ farm.

The old barn had stood for many years. Its planks were worn and warped. The upper door no longer closed properly. The hay loft had long since become residence to a thriving community of raccoons. Below, the milking stalls had devolved into crooked, rusted pipes. The smell of rodents and of ancient whitewash hung in the air.

Then, we were tasked with incorporating our object description with a positive event like winning money. The following was my imagined idea.

I am so happy to finally win a writing contest! With the small amount of money I’ve won, I will take a trip to the East Coast and spend a month on the farm. I can’t wait to see the old barn. We kids spent many wonderful, imaginative days playing in the hay loft. We would jump from bale to bale while pretending we were tending to our orphan babies (actually unwilling barn cats). I remember sliding down the hay loft into the barn to feed the calves. On cold days, I would allow the calves to suck on my frigid fingers as I petted them and felt the rough ridges on the tops of their mouths.

Next we were asked to imagine losing a job and figure the object into our paragraph of woe.

I have no idea what to do. I have bills, responsibilities. What am I going to do? My life is falling apart like that old barn. I am broken in the places that I need strength. Instead, my foundation is crumbling and littered with the lost memory of what was and can never be again.

The Old Barn

The Old Barn, photo by my niece Harley Ditzler


We also engaged in a poetry response exercise. First, we read a poem by Polish poet, Wislawa Szymborska. (Click here to read In Praise of Dreams). Then, we were tasked with writing a response to each couplet. Suddenly, each of us had our own poem.

I am talented in my dreams and can use tones, colors and hues perfectly.
I can meet up with and speak to Homer, Plato and Euripides.
I can command machines instead of being limited by technology.
I am like the great storytellers.
I bring forth great warriors like Beowulf, gifted leaders like Gilgamesh, intelligent women like the clever Penelope.
I can talk to God, whoever such a being may be.
Those who’ve walked the paths before me guide my way.
Music flows through me like a river through a gorge.
I am unfettered by physical laws.
The Earth rises up to cushion me.
As I fly like the creatures of the air, so too do I dive with my ancestors of the sea.
Nothing is ever truly lost for those who know where to look.
I can live my whole life again and again and rise to be reborn before awakening.
Like the flash of an explosive, I turn my back to violent struggle.
I can move effortlessly through space and time
Here I am a child.
Here I am an old woman.
Here I die.
Here I am born.
I can pass through the strings of the universe and stand on otherworldly horizons.
I observe the wonder at the edge of this world.


Next, we moved on to a tried and true story starter. We chose pictures from magazines and newspapers that appealed to us in some way. We then used the “recipe” of the pantoum poem, from the Malay oral tradition, in which to structure our thoughts on the pictures. As a history buff, I chose a picture of Richard III and a picture of the Roman Vestal Virgin hairstyle.

Richard III, from Wikipedia

Richard III, from Wikipedia

He stood on Bosworth Field.
His horse sweating through Leicester.
“I am the king! Royal blood, do not spill.”
No matter the princes in the tower.

His horse sweating through Leicester.
The Tudor pretender brought strength.
No matter the princes in the tower.
“Ride forth, York!” “Ride forth, Lancaster!”

The Tudor pretender brought strength.
Back twisted, eyes burning bright.
“Ride forth, York!” “Ride forth, Lancaster!”
The broad sword finds its home.

Back twisted, eyes burning bright.
Thrown out like a dead rat ’til some day…some day…
The broad sword finds its home.
He stood on Bosworth Field.

Young niece, sit and pay heed.
Here we show you how to weave.
A woman’s hair holds her power:
Section by section, braid by braid.

Here we show you how to weave.
Sit still. Be mindful.
Section by section, braid by braid.
Now hold this spot — Quiet! — and firm.

Sit still. Be mindful.
Tie these ends. Make graceful and right.
Now hold this spot — Quiet! — and firm.
Tendril the hair over and under.

Tie these ends. Make graceful and right.
Your presence will bless all souls.
Tendril the hair over and under.
Young niece, sit and pay heed.


Jeff and his Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run belt buckle.

Jeff and his Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile Endurance Run belt buckle.

The last exercise we did was to describe a situation from one person’s point of view and then describe it from another observer’s point of view. I drew on my ultra-runner husband’s first 100 mile run. I start with his point of view.

The first fifty miles were a dream, so easy. I felt so light and in tune with the trail. My focus was sharp. I glided from mountaintop to valley and climbed again. Now, the sun is leaving, and I am left in deeper and deeper shadow. The wind whips and bites above 5,000 feet. It’s June, but frost forms on my long, salty beard. Where are the flags? My foot falls are silent on the crusty snow. Ursa minor moves with me. I am lost on the mountain with 30 miles to go.

Then, I tell the story from my point of view.

Where is he? Everything has been going so well. He has been hitting all his time targets. He was bright and positive at each aid station. Now we’ve been waiting at this ski lodge for hours. I go outside and peer into the darkness. Every figure I see I strain to make out the silhouette of a beard. Where are you? People are coming in near hypothermic, shivering, incoherent, bloody! It’s June, for heaven’s sake, and ice is forming on my car! If he doesn’t turn up soon, I am driving up that mountain.

It was refreshing to dialogue and share. I missed that creative part of myself. I am no poet. I will never be a Hemingway or Angelou. But my mind and heart feel a bit lighter. Exercise is good for body and mind.

It’s nice to unstick that door.