Several years ago, I think it was in college, I got into an exercise where I would ask someone to give me five random words. I would say “location” or “song title” or “emotion” or whatever seemed to pop into my head at the time. Sometimes I was suprised by the words my friends would give me. Other times, I felt challenged and borderline annoyed when I’d get words like “killer bees” or “yummy” or “Boise, Idaho.” These would throw me off, because for me part of the process was writing something that felt connected to the person giving me these words. I would often go into the exercise thinking I would learn something about my friend simply by the word choices they would offer up. And I did. I learned some of them liked to screw with me and give me hard words. But always up for the challenge, I’d pull something together. The trick was that I’d give myself less than ten minutes to complete a poem or piece of prose or whatever it ended up being. I wish I had copies of some of these exercises, but they were mostly done on the fly– written on ATM receipts or some other piece of paper. I’d almost always give the poem to the person, and God knows what they would do with it.
I like this exercise a lot because most of the time I feel as though I am half-functioning in a haze of lists and preparation and recovering from lack of sleep. I don’t feel “clear” most of the time. So when I do these poems, they are waking dreams. They force me to instantaneously zero in the happy little party that is my subconscious mind. Because my existence is one of contstant sleep interruption and it’s been almost one full year since I’ve gotten a solid night’s sleep, I believe it’s actually physically changed my body, including my brain. That said, my dreams have been intense little vignettes that I’ve given up analyzing. If anyone can tell me why I am trying to talk Amy Winehouse out of stalking former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill for his autograph and a cup of tea, please let me know.
I’m also a bit tied to the homestead these days, so it’s not as though I have a lot of people I can ask for words. So I found this nifty little site to help me get some inspiration. And, of course, send me five words (mix it up– places, proper name, adjective, animal, whatever) and I’ll (try to) send you a piece. For now, these are the words I’ve just been given:
silver, Merlin, godly, Gwen Stefani, productive
OK. Here goes…
In a more beautiful version of my life, my silver tea service is always so bright and clean that I could see you sneaking up on me. I am so productive– the stage stamina of a 1999 Gwen Stefani– that I can weed the garden or paint the ceiling in a half hour, maybe less.
But there is a fine, pervasive dust encroaching on my dining room that will not let up. In the autumn, we can barely plan our days. One day 80 degrees. The next we are finding old sheets or muslin or anything that breathes in hopes of protecting the hibiscus, the Mexican heather, the Knock-Out roses from perishing in the ice storm that will be here in less than twelve hours.
So instead of perfect, there is our storybook place– not other worldly, but there is always something good to eat, a subtle mystery to be solved in a house with a man, a woman, a boy, a cat, a dog, books and the desperate imaginations of the deserted. I could tell the neighbors, even the mean ones, that Merlin was real and I met him in my most recent previous life. My conviction is total and a line of scruffy believers swarm the cul-de-sac.
A storybook house has a godly allure. We hope the boy doesn’t catch on that all we’ve done is pour our little miseries and desires into these things. These bits of magic, dreary but clean clothes, fiestaware and family portraits will keep us together. We hope.