Prompts, Exercises, and Those ’70’s Songs

Seems like writers can’t go anywhere without being challenged to do writing prompts or writing exercises. It used to be I felt they didn’t teach me anything, especially when compared to books on writing that made me learn the craft better. Then when artist Lisa Hsia sent me regular prompts, I realized they work great for warming up preparatory to working.

Yesterday, while trying to clean the office, I got distracted by piles of paper scraps – those vital pieces that aren’t organized so we can find them when we need them. And yep, I found a list of writing prompts/exercises. This one caught my eye: Seventh Grade Soundtrack.

Knock Three Times by Dawn. This was hugely popular and I was embarrassed when it would play. Why? Because what kid wants a mom who loves the same song they do? It would play on the TV and mom would sing along. She’d sit in her chair with dad on his end of the couch, puffing his pipe. I’d be lying on the brown and yellow shag carpet in the middle of the living room floor with siblings scattered around. We were the remote controls of the time.

Black Magic Woman by Santana. I liked this song but always felt a little uncomfortable, a little lost, knowing there was something I was missing out on, didn’t understand, didn’t yet know. Of course that meant I also felt just a little racy and grown-up listening to it. A future not yet grasped but on the distant horizon.

Mr. Bo Jangles by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. There was a deep craving when I heard this song, that I also didn’t yet understand. I was writing stories by then but didn’t know how deep that went in my soul. I only knew that when I heard this song I ached to know the story, what happened, why, what happened after. I wanted beginning and ending, not just middle. I still do.

He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother by Neil Diamond, during the year we’re talking about. I still listen to this song and it still brings up melancholy feelings, the hope for society, the sadness that we’ve never attained the goal; back then the realization that the hippy era was fading without having accomplished world peace. And now, the realization that so much time has gone by and we still haven’t. I wish this was a theme song now when reading the news about the refugee horrors.

Oh my gosh – One Bad Apple by the Osmonds, I Think I Love You by the Partridge Family, I’ll Be There by the Jackson 5. Instant flashbacks to slumber parties. With girls, now women, some now grandmothers, all still my best friends.

Slumber parties!

Slumber parties!

And way too many to write about all the memories attached to them. But I’ll list the titles here as my Seventh Grade soundtrack – the songs I loved as I transitioned to Junior High wearing the hated skirts and knee socks (no pants allowed, let alone jeans), cat eye glasses, freckles, not fitting in, horribly shy, blushing at everything, a story world more real than the real world, daydreaming on the school bus.

Indian Reservation (Raiders), Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling (Fortunes), Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers), Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves (Sonny and Cher), One Tin Soldier (Coven), Sweet City Woman (Stampeders), Draggin’ the Line (Tommy James), Rainy Days and Mondays (Carpenters), The Drum (Bobby Sherman), Me and You and a Dog Named Boo (Lobo), Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)…

I need to stop. I’m starting to sing out loud. And now I’m warmed up to go do some writing.

How about you? What memories are attached to your seventh grade soundtrack?

Wild Book Review

I live near a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada. One of my sisters wants me to hike it with her. I admit it’s tempting. But I’d have to spend too much money in gear. And find a pack big enough for my bed.

One thing that whetted my fascination with the trail was reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which is about his trek along the Appalachian Trail. While he can be a bit hard on the forest service, the book made me laugh.

So when my sister gave me Cheryl Strayed’s new book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was excited to read it. Unfortunately the excitement didn’t carry through many pages.

The author hiked the trail to deal with a life that spiraled out of control after the death of her mother. The book took loss, and put it in a unique setting. The writing is polished, the pace moves right along, and the people she meets on the trail are interesting. And in one case scary.

What seemed to be missing, for me, was balance. Meaning by about two-thirds through, I decided I’d had enough navel gazing (and I have to admit, what felt like whining) and not enough of the trail. When the author finally had her breakthrough in dealing with her mother I felt relieved, as if I could now get on with the business of hiking. Unfortunately the book remained on the same path. I wanted more details than just how heavy the pack was or how many toenails remained at the end of the day.

There are a lot of uncomfortable passages and one scene with a horse that is terrible. None made me think or question or grow. They just made me squirm. And I think the analogy Strayed tried to draw with the memory of the horse didn’t work.

In the places where the author did talk about the trail, she did okay with descriptions. I could see the views and feel the weather. But it felt like a tiny snippet of trail, which then segued into a large hunk of grieving. The problem for me, then, was a lack of balance between outer and inner worlds. Plus the fact that, to be honest, the inner world got a bit tiresome.

If you want a book on moving forward after loss, on a life that was self-destructing and slowly pieced back together, then this might be worth reading, though I found it more self-centered than similar memoirs. If you want a book on hiking in the wilderness, read the Barefoot Sister’s books, or Bryson’s.  His may not be about the PCT but when he realizes his friend just chucked all the toilet paper over the cliff because it was too heavy, you’ll find yourself standing right next to him.

In Wild, I never found myself on the trail.