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?

Activism Lost

Road trips meant talk radio. Many late night hours were spent dozing in the back of a smoke-filled car while we crossed miles, the family off on another vacation. Dad would drive, we would sleep, and pavement passed. I’d wake to see headlights shining on the center line, my dad with his cigarette, and the sound of debate. We grew up with debate. If it wasn’t talk radio at two in the morning, it was questions with no easy answer my dad asked at the dinner table.

Now I have these same kinds of talks with my son and husband. I love the feeling of power, the words flowing around something strongly felt, the sense that change is within grasp. And I especially love learning, hearing the other opinion, being swayed to think of things from a different angle, being forced to question my words and make sure I truly believe.

So last week in Vegas my husband and I drove out to the Valley of Fire State Park. Absolutely stunning rock formations, billions of years in the making. And we puny, infant humans driving in air-conditioned cars (it was 111 degrees!) gawking. Art and I started a discussion around the current politics. Well, okay, it was a debate about as heated as the ambient air outside. Our opinions don’t matter here. What does, is I asked him why, if he felt so strongly, did he not do something.

Which brought up the question.


As he said, he couldn’t even see the reason to start a blog because there were so many out there with the same opinions and he didn’t feel he could contribute anything that hadn’t been said before. I laughed a bit at that. What writer doesn’t question how to make their story original when it’s all been done? But he was right.

I was a kid in the sixties, the wrong age for the peace and love revolution. I envied my sisters. Too young to actively take part, I was still convinced they would change the world. I’m not a historian or philosopher so I can’t tell you what went wrong, if anything actually did go wrong. I mean, hey, we got the Grateful Dead out of that period. And the Age of Aquarius. Oh! and the Partridge family!

Parked next to us at the Valley of Fire. Not the Partridge Family bus but appropriate for alien landscapes.

Parked next to us at the Valley of Fire. Not the Partridge Family bus but appropriate for alien landscapes.

But what about now? You can’t go on Facebook without seeing a lot of photos posted with opinions written across the photo. It’s like the new generation of tee shirts with statements. After talking to Art though, I’ve been wondering what good that does. What physical, tangible change is made? Art said in that very hot valley, that all those thousands of people who posted photos of themselves holding signs saying ‘bring back our girls’ put pressure for action that wouldn’t otherwise have happened. Maybe.

What risk was entailed for those people who had to do nothing but post a selfie? Does activism have to include risk? Can you change the world without risk? Can you change the world at all? I hear stories about children and homelessness and desperation, and wonder, what can one person do? Donate money I suppose, but that’s a degree of separation from reality and is that really activism?

I’m not smart enough to answer questions I’m not even sure how to phrase. In the Valley of Fire Art got pretty upset. He didn’t feel he was eloquent enough to get his point across. He always feels he loses when we debate. Well, he was eloquent enough that a week later I’m still lost in thought. Still on that dark road trip with talk radio as background noise as I try to figure out how to bring back peace, love, no war, and songs like ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’.

It’s going to be a long, long drive.

Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire

Balancing act

Balancing act