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July 22nd, 2006

I met Kevin, Marla, Meredith, and Daniel at Finch's for breakfast at 8:00.

We had a nice visit, where I saw "Crocs" for the first time "up close and personal," as Meredith was sporting a pair. I also thoroughly enjoyed her, "Bless you, Mr. John" after each cough.

Daddy offered, "We're working on manners. She's not quite got the difference between a cough and a sneeze down yet, though."

Daniel was a beautiful baby, with part of his charm being his sweet disposition.



I arrived for my second Prompt Writing Workshop at Market Street Books in Southern Village at about 15 minutes until start time, and had a cup of discounted coffee at the coffee shop next door to it.

Today's group initially looked, from the size of the circle of chairs, like it was going to be a smaller group than last time. However, by the time it was all said and done, it was a big crowd, comparable, if not the same in size as last time. There were some new faces, though, so not everyone from last week was there again this week.

Once again, we began with introductions and where we were in our writing, and once, again, Nancy reviewed the "rules":
  • I'm going to give you a prompt phrase from which to write.

  • You write, without stopping, for 15 minutes. I'll start a timer after giving you the prompt.

  • Do not edit as you go.

  • It's okay to stray off topic if you don't really have anything to say specifically about the prompt. What's important is to just keep writing.

  • Once time is up, you have the option of reading your piece to the group for feedback.

  • Feedback is in the form, of "I liked this about the piece..."


"For the first prompt, I'm going to pass out these photos, randomly," she said as she began around the circle handing one to each participant. "What I want you to do is to write not about what's in your photo, but about what's not in it."

Here is the image with which I had to work:


After making sure everyone had one, and returning to her seat, Nancy said, "Ready? Begin."

This is what I wrote, and subsequently read aloud.

This man comes home from work every day to his quiet apartment. "Where's Meredith?" he thinks, and then, "Oh." He opens the fridge, and forages for dinner-for-one. "How long has that boiled chicken breast been in that container? Oh, that's the picked-over one."

He looks in the pantry where he is tempted by the macaroni and cheese, but then remembers, "That's for Meredith this weekend. Wait. Is this the third, or fourth, weekend of the month?"

He settles on a TV dinner from the freezer — the one advertised as a "man-sized portion," and forces himself to refer to it as a "frozen entrée," as he hasn't had a TV in the house for over four years now. Shortly, the second ding of the timer sounds announcing that the entrée has served its two-minute sentence in the microwave after cooking.

He sits in the living room on a chair that's arranged in a nontraditional fashion, as is all of the seating in the room. After all, there is no electronic centerpiece commanding attention.

He forms a mental picture of Meredith, and winces at its lack of clarity. As he sets up his easel, he thinks, "I'm going to paint myself a vivid memory of her during our time together this weekend," and he pictures it like he'd like it to be, instead of how it really turns out.

He doesn't stop to consider that she might not sit still long enough to be painted — that he won't be able to catch what he so desperately needs to have of her when she's not around. He does think about how poorly he draws faces, and fears that he'll never capture those squinted eyes and wrinkled nose as she smiles at him while he paints.

"Perhaps a photo would be better."

Some comments shared:
  • I liked the "two-minute sentence in the microwave" wording.

  • I liked the "electronic centerpiece" reference.

  • I thought it was a great description of the circumstances surrounding the picture — it fit real well with a possibility of what was happening outside of the picture.
There were some very outlandish pictures that people got stuck with, and it would have been interesting to hear stories they'd made up about the photos themselves. Hearing the stories of what wasn't in the photos, though, added an extra dimension, and complexity, to the exercise. Great fun.

The only thing I didn't like about this exercise was when I didn't get a decent look at a picture before the person started reading what they'd written about it. Knowing what the picture was, for me, was critical to my ability to enjoy the work. Mostly because, if I didn't see it first, I was more focused on finding out what was taking it so long to get to me, and getting mad (senselessly, I know) at anyone holding it "too long." I'm not saying I was right or wrong. I'm just saying that that was my experience.



"The second prompt is, 'Someone you haven't seen in 15 years knocks on your door.' Begin."

This is what I wrote, but did not read to the group.

In June, I flew to Rhode Island, rented a car, and drove to 45 Breezy Lake Drive in Coventry. I stood at the front door with an 8½ x 11 manila envelope containing last month's blog entries, which I usually mail to this address the following month.

I rang the doorbell to a house I hadn't been to for 15 years, and a white-haired man, older than I remembered, opened the door.

I said, "I thought I'd deliver this month's writing to you in person this time." While saying this, I watched the eyes of my favorite uncle in the world, squinting a little, his brows peaking, and his forehead furrowing, and I thought I could hear his thoughts whirring like a supercomputer processing some complex formula to find a cure for the AIDS virus, or complete the human genome sequence.

Click. His eyes flew open. His face lit up. "Johnnie!" he yelled in recognition. He bear-hugged me, and said, "Come in. Come in!

A couple of months ago, I had been thinking about these two people — this uncle, and my aunt who was not home at the moment of my arrival. We lived next upstairs from them when I was 12 and 13, while my dad did a year-long stint serving our country in Vietnam. Not having any children of their own, they relished us, and we adored them. While thinking about this, I thought, "You know these are two people for whose funeral I would fly "home" for even though I haven't seen them in 15 years."

Right then and there, the filaments on the proverbial light bulb made contact. Ding! And I said to myself, "Why don't you go see them now, while they can still talk back to you?"

Right then and there, I went to travelocity.com, searched for the cheapest flight between RDU and PVD, and then went to that airline's direct site to actually book it — saving the $10 extra from which travelocity makes its living.

I know that that'll hurt me in the long run, putting travelocity out of business, taking away my search capability. But right now, I'm living for today. The here and now. Carpe diem. I've got to get up there before I'm shopping for the lower priced "bereavement fares," which incidentally, are not as much of a bargain as they should be.

And seize the day I do once up there. It turns out to be one of the most heartwarming weekends of my life. My aunt and uncle confided in me a secret they've been carrying for way too many years. They have a daughter — and I, a cousin. They gave her up for adoption at birth, and about ten years ago she found them. It was a special weekend of deep sharing that lightened their load, and lifted my spirits.

I didn't read this story more so because I wasn't really captivated with it, than due to some noble desire to give others a chance to read their work.

That made me think, "What does it mean when you're not taken with your own work?" Superficially, it feels kind of pathetic. Deep down, I don't really know what it means.

Several of the other stories from this prompt were quite compelling, and I thought about the toll of humanity on each other in terms of lost loves, lost time, and lost dreams.



"Today's final prompt is, 'It was a prize-winning...' Begin."

This is what I wrote, and read aloud afterwards:

It was a prize-winning ticket he was handed at the door of a dark, dingy, underground establishment that used to be "The Fallout Shelter," but was now a gay bar. It was Thursday night, "Trailer Park Prize Night," the night that draws the biggest "straight crowd."

He was sure he could handle it, and had no idea people would "have his number" way before they'd call his. He walked around with his girlfriend's hand tightly clutched in his at the small chance that the gay guys in the bar couldn't tell he was straight just by looking at him.

It was her idea, his girlfriend's, to come here. Her good friend, Shane, was in the show tonight. She'd warned him that this wasn't one of those "female impersonator" shows, but booger drag — where the drag queens look bad on purpose. And why her plus-sized, African-American friend Shane would be "performing" tonight under the stage name of "Shelita Buffet."

Anyhow, between performances on Trailer Park Prize Night, they have drawings for gifts that no one in their right minds would ever pay for, or buy for themselves. The term "winning" is really a misnomer. Basically, you get called to the stage, get teased or embarrassed in some way, and walk off the stage with a trinket. Of course, his girlfriend hadn't mentioned that part.

"And now for our first drawing of the night. Get those tickets out ladies and gentlemen. The first number is 6-3-0-2-5-6, that's 2-5-6 folks." His girlfriend squeals, and he raises his hand like he's silently yelling, "BINGO."

Up on the stage, the emcee asks his name as the spotlights are highlighting his dark, good looks, accentuating his pecs, and showing off how taught the ends of his short sleeves are around his biceps. And momentarily, he exudes masculinity along with a slight bead of sweat forming at his temple.

"Everyone say, "Hi, Kevin.' and they do.

"Kevin, are you gay?"

"No."

"He's straight ladies and gentleman." The crowd roars.

He is smiling now, waiting for his prize, and is taken aback when the emcee yells to the frenzying crowd, "Who wants to see Kevin take his shirt off?"

Unfazed by the split infinitive, the crowd goes bananas. Kevin does not. But, he looks at his girlfriend, who gives him the thumbs up, and he decides to be a trooper.

After the whooping and hollering, he puts his shirt back on and reaps the reward of his prize-winning ticket. "Ladies and gentleman, for Kevin, for being such a good sport, we have..." she says reaching off-stage to grab something, which turns out to be a white plastic bag, covered with red, yellow and blue, quarter-sized, circles on it, held closed with a twist-a-seal. A loaf of Wonder Bread, which she holds out ahead of her as she does a walk around the perimeter of the stage to make sure everyone sees, before handing it to him.

He takes it, immediately, and starts walking away. "Wait, wait. That's not all, Kevin — here, this is for you, too." She reaches aside again, and takes out a brown-stained, wooden bread box, and hands it to him. "Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Kevin!"

He leaves the stage in wonder — wondering what the hell just happened.

There weren't very many comments about this piece, which kind of matched my sense about it. It was okay, nothing great, not bad.

This version is slightly edited from what I read. I like it better, but it's still not all that.

Similar to my writing about "itous" words last time, people laughed during the reading, and in the places where I went for a laugh, which is always a good thing. I mean it's nice to get a laugh where you didn't expect one, but not getting one where you did expect one, probably indicates a problem.

There were a huge variety of prize-winning things written about — prize-winning ideas, prize-winning frying pans, and prize-winning days among them.

My favorite story of this prompt was Nancy's, which revolved around prize-winning ideas. My other favorite was the one that explored, "Why can't we win prizes for doing ordinary things?" Like, shouldn't the second toe win the prize for growing the longest, since in so many cases it does?



I stopped by the hospital and had lunch with Robert. It was a short, but sweet visit. I love watching him work — the care and thoughtfulness he displays with the patients.



Will, Amelia, Courtney, Wilkes, E-Ching, and David came by for drinks and appetizers between 6:00 and 8:00.

The appetizer selection varied beautifully in spite of it not being "pre-arranged."

Amelia brought tiny asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and some kind of cheese. (Was it cream cheese?) She also had little sandwich square ryes, with a cream cheese and green olive filling. Yum.

Courtney and Wilkes brought some delicious marinated shrimp, that were totally messy, but totally worth the mess.

E-Ching and David brought two varieties of hummus, with some pita slices. Delish.



Dancing was okay tonight. Tony graced us with his presence. Let's see, who else was there: Carl, Bill, Michael, Alan (and Joey), and Van and Adam, of course. Shawn and Josh were there, but I think Shawn only did one — if any — with us.

In addition to the line dances, I did a shadow dance with Alan, and a waltz with Walter. The waltz was a little faster than we both would have preferred, but we got through it.

It was "Bear Pool Party Night," tonight, and to that end, they had an inflatable pool, probably six-to-eight feet in diameter, and about one foot deep, set out, and filled with water, in that area in front of the mirror and the railing separating the "dance floor."

Fortunately, no one got in the pool the entire time I was there. It would have only taken one...



It was a full, full day.

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