The Art and Practice of Flanerie

The Art and Practice of Flanerie

I am in the midst of preparing my course materials for a writing class I will teach in Scotland next summer through the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad (CCSA). The focus of the class will be the art and practice of flanerie.

I believe this is an ideal framework for a group of writers who will explore the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as the Scottish Highlands, because I know that a study abroad experience teaches as much (or more) about yourself as it does about the places you visit. I also want to design an experience where we study what happened in those places, who lived in those places, and what those places mean — and in the process we can better understand our own places, our own identities, and our own meanings. That is what flanerie means to me — the simple art of wondering and wandering and writing about both.

For me, this marriage of wandering, wondering, and writing, is a wonderful tool that should be applied not just to special occasions such as a class or writing retreat, but also to everyday life. As George Ritzer notes in the Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology,” flanerie is “a way of seeing the world and being in the world.” Too often we do not spend enough time simply seeing and being and active engagement in flanerie is a way to do more of this. We all need more writing and reflecting about our world and our place in it.

Artistic reflection as well as the collection, and curation, of social artifacts is a central part of flanerie, as described by Aimee Boutin in Rethinking the Flâneur: Flânerie and the Senses. Flanerie is more than a simple travelogue or diary because the experience of the urban (or rural) landscape is unique to each flaneuse. In The Death of the Cyberflâneur Evgeny Morozov explains that the flaneur surveys “both his private self and the world at large.” In The Return of the Flâneur, Walter Benjamin says that through flanerie we combine both our own history and the history of the place we wander which leads to “the immense drama of flânerie.” I love this idea of unique and immense drama that flanerie makes possible. We all need more wondering in our lives.

It is also the very lack of specific direction and planning that appeals to me, because our world does its best to discourage such behavior. We must travel fast (by automation) and with a specific destination in mind, but flanerie is best done by foot with frequent stops and as Franz Hessel observes in Spazieren in Berlin, “In order to engage in flânerie, one must not have anything too definite in mind.” We all need more wandering, without purpose or plan, in our lives.

Read more about the art and practice of flanerie:

And related articles:

I fervently believe we all need more flanerie — wandering, wondering, and writing — to help us make sense of our world and our place within it. Do you agree? What are your thoughts about flanerie and when did you last engage in it?

Artwork is Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877, Gustave CaillebotteArt Institute of Chicago

Thinking About the Hinge

Thinking About the Hinge

This morning I read A Better Life by Randall Mann and I am still thinking about this poem. I have already written in my journal this morning and I expect I will return to this idea again which is why I wanted to share this poem as a writing prompt. Mann notes: “I wrote this poem on the cusp of my forty-fifth birthday; in what is likely the middle of my life” and, in fact, in the poem refers to this event as the “hinge” of his life. 

That one phrase made me think about the hinges of my life — the turning points — the times when our lives pivoted in some essential way. I love that idea of “hinges” because it can be a door or a gate opening or closing or swinging in the breeze. So my charge to you is to write about the hinges of your life — a time when it is useful to your growth to reflect on what came before and after that pivot point in your life. It does not need to be a poem although it might well turn into one.

And as always, share your reflections (or poetry!) using the #JustWrite hashtag.

Artwork by Marcu Ioachim

A Poem A Day

A Poem A Day

I’ve written before that signing up for the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day was one of the best things I could do for myself as someone still working their way to a place where she might be able to call herself a poet (still not there!). The poems themselves are such an eclectic selection of older works and newer poems that I am constantly exposed to new poetry and reminded of poetry that I once experienced but had slipped out of memory. Not only are these poems wonderful experiences by themselves they also inspire me to write poetry — they are often terrific writing prompts.

In fact, sometimes the poem is the inspiration, making me think about something from my life or think about something in a new way, but often I also find inspiration in the “About this poem” section in which the poet shares their inspiration and/or the story behind the work.

I recommend subscribing to the Poem-A-Day service even if you are not interested in poetry, because the poems and stories can inspire writers on many levels. If you are worried about email clutter (which I understand completely) then simply stop by and visit upon occasion when you are looking for inspiration. You will not be sorry.

Capture A Moment

I wrote a poem this morning that made me cry (see Saucijsjes) because it reminded me so sharply of my grandmother. I love her dearly and miss her terribly, but she is hardly the sort of person people write poetry about. She was just a home cooking, gardening, canning, church going sort of grandmother who loved her family and her friends. But two prompts from The Poet’s Companion led me to my poem.

The first prompt was a simple one. Write a poem instructing someone how to do something. The second was more complex and challenging until I linked it up with the first. Capture an essential image or story that represents the essential spirit or character of a member of your family. So many of my memories of my grandmother are tied up in the kitchen and food that it seemed natural to write about making a meal that is quintessential to my family.

Make A List

It is true. Your grocery list can be a poem. Anything you write can be a poem.

List poems are both the simplest poetry form and the most challenging because writing lists asks the question when does an assembly of words become a poem. I don’t honestly know the answer to that question, but I have never felt that my grocery lists were poetry. And if my to-do lists were a genre it is more likely to be horror. However, today I sat down to write a poem (because LexPoMo) and I ended up writing a list poem (see For Camp). Sometimes this type of poems are called inventory poems.

Some lists are very simple lists (as mine is) but sometimes they offer a bit more. See Shel Silverstein’s Sick for example. I love this idea because it offers so many types of list poems that you could write (just think of all the excuses you dream up to escape loathesome situations). Dorothy Parker also wrote a wonderful Inventory poem which could be adapted to suit your current situation.

This form can also be adapted to study processes or make simple observations such as Christopher Smart’s For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry. Surely this is a form we could all attempt!

A list poem organizes an inventory of people, places, things, or ideas in a particular way for a specific effect. It does not need to include rhythm or rhyme, but as you play with your words and ideas either may emerge. I will leave you with one final inspiration about a list poem from Anne Waldman, Things That Go Away & Come Back Again.

Give your own list or inventory poem a try and remember to share it using the #JustWrite hashtag.

 

 

Writing Walkabout

Writing Walkabout

Australian Aborigines embark on a Walkabout that is a spiritual journey and/or rite of passage – a journey of self-discovery and transformation. In the National Writing Project we treat the walkabout in much the same way. Writing walkabouts are a regular part of our events in an effort to free our inner writer. The walkabout makes a wonderful writing prompt because it is so easy to execute and yet can offer tremendous reward. 

Wandering and wondering, the aborigines sing songlines to guide them over the landscape. These songlines connect people to places and history. Your landscape can be rural, suburban, or urban. It can even be nautical if you have access to a watercraft, bridge, or pier (Note: I’m already thinking about a waterproof pouch I can use to transport my notebook when I swim at the lake). You can even mix up your locations during one writing walkabout or between walkabouts. The idea is simply just to shake things up and write in a new location while offering up new inspiration for your muse.

Richard Louth who was the director of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project started them within the National Writing Project, but I don’t know if they existed outside NWP before than.  He used Hemingway’s Moveable Feast as an inspiration, the idea that going out into the world to write instead of writing in a study or library was a very Parisian practice, and Hemingway could either write about what was in front of him or travel through his writing back to his childhood in Michigan.  

There are no rules except to write about whatever inspires you in the moment. Sometimes some appeal to your senses will send you on a trip down memory lane and sometimes something you see or hear will cause you to wonder and sometimes you simply create a study of the scene. There is no wrong way as long as you are filling your notebook with words or other methods of recording (such as drawings or maps). I have traced the names on monuments and drawn rough maps and listed sensory details. I have made lists of street signs and book titles and graffiti. Again. There is no wrong way. #JustWrite

The point is to change your space and location (physically, mentally, emotionally) by walking from one location to another over a pre-determined time period. Think, observe, reflect as you walk. Then stop and write.

If you are struggling with your writing or simply need a fresh inspiration then a writing walkabout is a sovereign cure. Sometimes all you need to generate writing is a change in location and sometimes you do not even need to go very far — simply take a few steps out your front door or a short drive from home. The best places to write offer some place to sit and an excuse (such as a cup of coffee) or opportunity (such as a bench) to linger and something interesting to study and write about. These places can be on Main Street or in the woods. These places can be found in second-hand stores or art galleries. I have perched on street curbs and garbage cans and loading docks and fallen trees. I have braced my notebook against walls and fences and boulders. There are no rules about the location of a writing walkabout. Sometimes I have deliberately chosen a place because I have to drive there and sometimes I have simply wandered around a neighborhood until I spotted a likely spot. There are no rules about the time you spend writing as long as you write. When I have been part of a structure writing walkabout with other writers we generally write for 10-15 minutes per location, but when I am on my own I simply move on as the mood strikes me.

So embark on your own writing walkabout and don’t forget to share using the #JustWrite hashtag!

Solve for X

Solve for X

This prompt is inspired by Oliver de la Paz poem “Solve for X” which has inspired a great deal of thought and writing for me of late.

de la Paz notes:

‘Solve for X’ is part of a sequence of poems about my son who’s on the autistic spectrum. I’ve been attempting to understand the way he perceives the world and I’ve been using cause and effect models as poetic templates. Word problems requiring the mathematician to solve for an unknown, thus, have become a metaphor for how we negotiate our relationship as father and son.

I love this line:

A spasm of radio and the accident of understanding
what it means to be X

We all have unknowns in our life that we are struggling to solve, to understand, and that is an incredibly important writing prompt to explore and some very meaningful writing can come in response to our search. Spend some time writing in response to the idea of solving for X where X can represent any part of your life that you want or need to know more about whether it is your past, present, or future andwhether it is a person, place, or thing. Personally I’m working through my hopes and goals for the future while coming to terms with my present. Let us know if you find this prompt inspiring!

Artwork by Flickr

Fresh Earth

Study this picture and then write about whatever comes to mind. When I encountered this newly plowed field this morning I was struck by all the possible responses evoked by the sight. What potential do you see here?

Now look at this close up. Study the tractor’s tire tracks…the overturned earth…the chopped sections of grass. What ideas and emotions does this evoke? Can you find you or your life represented here?

If you #JustWrite don’t forget to share!

Where Is Your Writing From?

Monday when rock star teacher Brandie Trent led the Morehead Writing Project‘s Spring 2017 Teen Writers Day Out I was inspired by a prompt that she threw out to us. She asked us to consider where our writing is from. This prompt was an alternative to those of us who have already written about our origins many times and weren’t interested in pursuing that idea at the moment. I do love writing about my origin story, but that day I wasn’t in the mood for it, But to think about where my writing comes from…now that intrigued me. 

One of my table partners and I chose to write very visceral pieces about the well-spring of our writing full of sensory and descriptive detail. Turns out we both were writing from pretty dark places at the moment. Perhaps we were influencing each other, but it had to be some sort of telepathy as we didn’t share our ideas before we wrote.

Sometimes the air is thick and heavy like a thunderstorm is about to unravel. Tall, dark trees overarch the fetid swamp while drapes of moss trail through dark pools of unknown depth. Unseen monsters lurk beneath ready pull the unwary down to drown, rot, and turn to carrion.

I told you it was dark, but then my writing is in a pretty dark place right now. I’m writing things out a lot just to help me cope. I’ve attended some pretty interesting writing events recently and hope to share some of those prompts with you soon, but for now I thought you might enjoy exploring the source of your writing.

And this prompt offers a great deal of potential for other forms of exploration. For example, if you are also in a dark place perhaps you should explore the origins of that darkness — in a more metaphorical sense. I’m thinking about doing that too. Let me know, using the #JustWrite hashtag, if you explore any of your origin stories in this way whether they lead you to poetry, prose, or some remediated form.

Self-Healing With Writing Therapy

Self-Healing With Writing Therapy

Life is hard and sometimes it really knocks us down. Hard. So hard we can’t get up. We can’t crawl. All we can do is curl into the fetal position and cry. Sometimes we are so exhausted and beaten we can’t even cry. For some people it is one big thing, one traumatic event or loss or illness, that has struck the blow and for others it an endless pummeling of small and medium blows that just keep on coming until we can no longer protect ourselves from the pain and devastation.

However, we do not need to fight this battle alone. Therapy and support groups are available for major traumas and often one really good friend can make the difference for those of us who don’t quite fall into a support group category. Don’t be afraid to reach out and get help. You don’t need to go it alone. There are many resources available when you just can’t cope anymore. There are also steps you can take to self-heal – one proven strategy is writing therapy.

Writing has helped many people cope with stress, trauma, and both physical and mental challenges. Studies have shown that writing can help with mental trauma and suffering and abate physical symptoms for some long-term illnesses such as HIV/AIDS, asthma and arthritis. Suppressing negative emotions, stress, and trauma can actually be harmful to our physical as well as mental well-being by suppressing our immune function. However, writing can help us release our fears and anxieties. Even more important, writing can help us understand our pain and offers a way to learn from and move past the suffering.

James W. Pennebaker is the founder of this movement which is now extensively used for therapy throughout the world. He offers this simple strategy for beginning your journey with healing through writing:

  • Develop the habit: Set aside time every day for several days to write for about 15 minutes
  • Find a safe place: Write somewhere private where you will be undisturbed and you can cry without judgement
  • Write for yourself: Simply freewrite. Do not worry about the rules of grammar, spelling, or punctuation, and do not fret over the right word or a specific detail. Just write continuously and let the words fall as they may
  • Determine the fate of your words: Some people like to save this writing or gradually develop those words into something meaningful, but these are your words and your challenges so you can do with them as you like. If it makes you feel better to burn them, cross them out, erase them, shred them, or tear them into little pieces and toss them to the wind. It is up to you to decide what action is most beneficial for you and your healing journey

What to Write About:

  • Something that you are thinking or worrying about too much
  • Something that you are dreaming about
  • Something that you feel is affecting your life in an unhealthy way
  • Something that you have been avoiding for days, weeks, or years

Pennebaker offers the following instructions:

Over the next four days, I want you to write about your deepest emotions and thoughts about the most upsetting experience in your life. Really let go and explore your feelings and thoughts about it. In your writing, you might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now, or even your career. How is this experience related to who you would like to become, who you have been in the past, or who you are now?

 

Many people have not had a single traumatic experience but all of us have had major conflicts or stressors in our lives and you can write about them as well. You can write about the same issue every day or a series of different issues. Whatever you choose to write about, however, it is critical that you really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts.

And also this warning: Many people report that after writing, they sometimes feel somewhat sad or depressed. Like seeing a sad movie, this typically goes away in a couple of hours. If you find that you are getting extremely upset about a writing topic, simply stop writing or change topics.

I know that writing it out has helped me cope with life. Whether you are suffering from a major traumatic experience or a series of stressors, #JustWrite it out to help the healing begin.

Artwork by Steve Snodgrass