Write Your Origin Story

Write Your Origin Story

Some of the richest and most powerful writing I see come out of Morehead Writing Project events are pieces generated by the past in which the writer explores the places, people, and events that shaped them into who they are today. These pieces are powerful to read, but are also important for the writer. We all need to understand how our past informs our present and we all have things in our past that we need to reconcile in order to move forward and make the most of our future. These explorations can be celebrations, remembrances, or cautionary tales — or you can revisit the past time and again to attempt all three types of memoir writing. Who we are is written in our DNA.

I am going to share three of my favorite ways to explore where, who, and what you come from:

George Ella Lyon‘s “Where I’m From” poem continues to touch me decades after I first heard her share this piece of writing. I am fortunate to have met her several times and spent many hours writing with her at various workshops and events. I know there are many templates out there created by well-meaning teachers, but I would argue against following such a model. Simply read about her creation process and tips for creating your own “Where I’m From” poem and start writing. If you would like a bit more guidance there is a lesson plan linked from the bottom of the page. Check out my “I Am From” poem as well.

Kelly Norman Ellis’ “I Was Raised By Women” is another powerful piece that can inspire powerful origin stories. I know these women even if they did not raise me and I can see their work in her words and presence. Thinking about the people who raised us can be both painful and wonderful at the same time. I invite you to study the lines of her poem and to look at the categories or ideas represented by the women who raised her. Before you begin writing brainstorm a list of people who were influential in your life and determine if you can organize these people into categories. Then further brainstorm a list of metaphors and other descriptive words employing sensory details (sight, sound, scent, touch, taste) to build your own piece. You can also take a page from George Ella Lyon’s advice and remember that this does not have to be a poem.

I’d like to conclude with a more playful and inventive form of identity writing inspired by my experiences with the 2015 CLMOOC. Our first two make cycles focused on issues of identity, first asking us to Unmake an Introduction. The idea was to do more than simply introduce ourselves, but to explore and challenge the idea of identity and how context influences the ways we identify ourselves. Check out my initial attempts to unmake my introduction as well as how others (re)mediated identity as well. The second make cycle invited us to (re)mediate and so I continued to play with these ideas of identity and others (re)mediated as well.

I would be remiss if I didn’t share an idea introduced to me by Crystal Wilkinson (an amazing writer and teacher). During one workshop, she invited us to write poems interweaving the ideas introduced by both Lyons and Ellis which resulted in some pretty interesting pieces. You could take any of these pieces to the next level with some remediation.

What places, people, and events in your past are influencing who you are and what you do today? What do you see in your rearview mirror? Now go forth and write your own origin story! Don’t forget to share them using the #JustWrite hashtag.

Rearview mirror image by Massimiliano Calamelli on Flickr.

 

Slam Poetry

Slam Poetry

Writing is therapeutic and perhaps Slam Poetry is the best therapy of all. We incorporate Slam Poetry into many of our Morehead Writing Project events and it is always a hit. I also like to use Slam Poetry in my classes to help my students uncover their deepest thoughts and fears as well as relieve stress. But ultimately, the beautiful thing about Slam Poetry is that it is poetry for writers who are afraid of poetry. There is no rhyme and the rhythm is only that of your own heartbeat, because there are no rules in Slam Poetry as long as it is true and real.

The Urban Dictionary defines Slam Poetry as:

A type of poetry expressing a persons personal story and/or struggle usually in an intensely emotional style. Very powerful, sincere, and moving.

Slam Poetry is meant to be read out loud and performed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write it alone as a way to exorcise your fears and let your anger rampage. Bottom line is that Slam Poetry comes from your heart and your mind and your gut. It is the passions and thoughts always seething just beneath the surface. It might be better for you to experience Slam Poetry as I first did by hearing a slam poem delivered by the man who first taught me about this form: Taylor Mali with I’ll Fight You For The Library.

I created a Slam Poetry playlist to help you become a slam poet. The playlist includes two brief tutorials to help you get started with slam poetry, but our usual method is simple.

1.Think about what makes you hot as in angry, excited, thrilled; what weighs heavily on your mind, heart, or soul today; make a list of these things

2. Spend a few moments contemplating your list and pick the one thing that really matters right now and write about it — just let it all out on the page and don’t stop until we tell you

Yes, it really can be that simple. Give your emotions free rein. Clearly, you can craft and shape your message more tightly for performance or sharing purposes, but at its essence, slam poetry is a pressure valve. You can use it for this purpose alone or create something to share. Your choice.

Watch the slams I shared on my Playlist, cruise through Youtube to find still more slams, and then write your own. You can check out some of my rants on my other blog and I hope to have some slams to share here soon.

Now go forth and write your own slam poems! Don’t forget to share them using the #JustWrite hashtag.

Artwork by Martinak15 on Flickr

Praise Poetry

Praise Poetry

A praise poem is a tribute. Praise poetry holds a special place in southern African literature.

In Zulu, praise poetry is called izibongo. It refers to poetic expression that not only defines but names an individual. Praise poetry is written with bold imagery, expressed in the most distinct or carefully selected language. Writing a praise poem is to write about your life and the events or sacrifices that have brought you to the moment you are in today.

Praise poetry is often a celebration of heritage, family, and place – a celebration of who we are and where we come from. As such, Praise Poetry can be intensely personal. Sometimes praise poems are written about places, events, or animals. Praise poems can be a celebration of something much larger than ourselves, such as national identity, but they can also be intensely personal and focus on a specific person or relationship.

I have created a Praise Poetry playlist to help you on your journey to create your own praise poetry. It begins by sharing some examples that have touched me. I truly adore Lucille Clifton’s Won’t You Celebrate With Me — especially her closing line:

wont.you.celebrate.with.me

I also love Alice Lovelace’s Praise Poem for Jikki. You can also read another praise poem she wrote in tribute to a fellow writer: Praise to the Writer. In addition, I chose to include Annika Izora as her powerful poem is a wonderful example of praise sandwiched around an epic slam poem.

I love teaching, writing, and sharing praise poetry because it is such a celebratory and life-affirming activity. Some examples of my praise poetry include, Praise to the Teacher Writer and Won’t You Celebrate With Me. I often encourage my students and fellow teachers to write praise poetry to combat stress and guide them through difficult times, but I urge you to write about whatever sparks your passion. What has made you who you are? Who has had a dramatic impact on your life? Where do you come from? Those are all ideal praise poem prompts.

Now go forth and write your own praise poems! Don’t forget to share them using the #JustWrite hashtag.

The featured image for this post is the mythical African bird the Sankofa. The Sankofa inspires us to look at the past, lest we forget it. The Sankofa is an ideal visual representative of praise poetry as in these poems, we are to look at our personal and collective histories to make connections to the present and our future.

Meme All The Things

Meme All The Things

I love memes (see playlist and this infographic if you want to know more about memes). I know that isn’t a very original thing to say. After all, memes owe their existence to our universal enjoyment. But I don’t mean that I love simply to view them. I do, I’m not a robot after all, but I really really love making them (see my Meme gallery). This love is similar to my six-word story addiction, but some days I feel like creating something more visual more interactive — and that’s where memes come in! Exhibit A (created to celebrate my love of six-word stories using The Most Interesting Man In The World meme – Create Your Own here):

6words

Meme making is something creative and fun and is a wonderful escape. You can spend just a few minutes creating a meme capturing your mood or thought of the moment or you can spend hours. I must warn you that meme making can be a black hole that can swallow hours if not a whole day. Much like potato chips, I can rarely stop with just one meme. That is why I chose the the X All The Y meme (create your own here) to illustrate this post.

I often meme to blow off some steam:

conflate-grammar-writing-meme

dead-week

Futurama FryCreate Your Own

education-cuts

Annoyed Picard – Create Your Own

p-16-education-cuts

Condescending WonkaCreate Your Own

teach-not-test-creativity

PhilosoraptorCreate Your Own

testing-time

You can learn about memes on the Know Your Meme web site and the world is the limit for creating your own although I have included links to a number of templates just to get you started.

Now go forth and create your own memes! Don’t forget to share them using the #JustWrite hashtag (and #memes too).

My Meme Collection

Write Your Way Into Your Day

Write Your Way Into Your Day

I have been trying to practice what I preach. I try to write every day. I strive to find a few moments in the hurly burly morning rush and reach for my journal and pen rather than my smart phone. I scratch words on the page rather than update my Facebook and Twitter feeds. It isn’t always easy and sometimes I only manage a few scribbled sentences before life rushes in and carries me away on the tide of the day.

The simple truth is that my day, my mind, and my heart, are the better for this practice. I can vent my frustration and scream my rage onto the page without fear of frightening animals and small children or simply bursting my vocal chords. I have a lot of rage. I really need to vent it on a regular basis or I picture something hot and destructive pouring out of me to burn and bury everything in my path.

On a good day I have a few extra minutes to take the indiscriminate gibberish I have poured forth to shape into something fun, something creative, something inspiring. Sometimes this is as simple as a six-word story. Sometimes my thoughts inspire a meme. But often, I find myself shaping these ideas into a poem. This creativity is balm on my wounds and soothes my battered soul and inspires me to meet the day.

It is not that I am a wonderful poet, but creating something constructive and positive out of my struggle and pain is a way to make meaning from it. Playing with my words helps me understand what is going on in my life. Shaping those words, those ideas, those hopes, those fears, into a form gives me power over the words, the ideas, the hopes, the fears. This shaping, this control, allows me to set them aside with a lighter heart, because, at least for the moment, I am in charge.  I have bent them to my will. I own those words.

There is something about creating something, even if it is not entirely from scratch (after all a meme can never really be original), that makes me feel as if I have done something of worth, something meaningful, something inspirational. I send my creation out into the ether in hopes that it will make someone smile or laugh, pause and reflect, or simply nod in sympathy and understanding. My simple act creates a connection between hearts and minds and souls, and that is never a little thing and there are much worse ways to begin the day.

Words have power. Never forget that you can harness that power for good or for evil. Have you ever tried writing each day to harness your rage and inspire your life? What is your simple plan for using writing to cope with the challenges of life?

Now go forth and write your way into or out of your day! Don’t forget to share your writing using the #JustWrite hashtag.

Artwork by Kevin.Sebold (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I Wish You Knew

I Wish You Knew

As I note in my post “7 Reasons To Write For Yourself,” writing is feeling. I have a lot of feelings (and yes, as the image above implies a lot of rage). I have to release these feelings or risk serious consequences to my health (not to mention my personal and professional relationships) in a safe way.

I have discovered a wonderful release valve with a prompt inspired by Kyle Schwartz. I think the prompt “I wish you knew…” might be the most awesome prompt ever. It is helping me work on my cure for rage face one word, one blog post, at a time. This “I wish you knew” post captures some of my fear and frustration about teaching today. Directed at my administration and state leaders, I wish I could make them understand the real human toll their actions wreak.

Expect more responses soon! What about you? Is there something you wish others knew or understood?

Buy this t-shirt and support this site!

What does the world need?

What does the world need?

As I note in my post “7 Reasons To Write For Yourself,” writing is thinking. I use writing to help me sort out all the gibberish going on in my head. Currently I am worried about the future. My own future and the future of the world (have you seen the news?). I thought I had my career all sorted, but I fear I might need to rethink everything. But where do you begin when you already have a pretty great job that will just disintegrate? And so I decided to dedicate my recent writing to the question of exploring my life purpose. This question was one that I found productive for me to write about and to help me think about my place in the larger world:

What does the world need?

I wrote a great deal in my journal about this question and ended up with this poem: A Wish. However, thinking about this question is also helping me think about my future in less desperate and more productive ways.

I invite you to write about this question and tell me what you learn in the process.

Artwork by onemicGfx on DeviantArt.

Apocalypse now

Apocalypse now

This prompt is about exploring what is troubling you. You don’t have to be a Walking Dead fan to know that zombies are really in right now. However, if you start to dig into the topic you will discover just why we see so many of the monstrous shambling hordes. Zombies are a stand in for many of our deepest fears. For this writing prompt, spend some time exploring this idea. Specifically consider how your life resembles a zombie apocalypse. You should consider both superficial ideas (such as fighting your way against the crowd when classes change at your high school) and more thoughtful notions such as when you see our leaders mindlessly responding to loud noises while destroying everything in their path. What do you think zombies represent?

Slide2

 

 

3 Reasons To Play In #6words

3 Reasons To Play In #6words

I love six word stories. I love to play with them and I use them all the time in my classroom. I especially like creating six word story posters by combining words and images (such as those found on Six Word Story Every Day).

If you haven’t falled in love with six word play then I want to share three reasons why you should play in six words. First, they are an easy way to enjoy some creative word play. You simply come up with one focused concept and shape six words (sometimes getting a bit creative with punctuation and symbols) into a story.

Second, they can help you focus. When you have too many thoughts and ideas and worries rolling around in your brain. Sometimes just sitting down to craft some six word stories helps you find a bit of clarity.

Finally, six word stories can serve as a story starter or writing prompt for a larger project. I often find that creating a six word story inspires me to write more about that topic.Creating the six word story jumpstarts my thought process.

Learn more about six word stories and memoirs

There is a story that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in just six words. He wrote: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn” and won the bet. Fast-forward to November 2006 and Smith Magazine debuted its six word memoir project and suddenly people could not get enough of the six word form. Now we can find people creating not just six word memoirs but six word stories about many different subjects. Wired Magazine also created its own six word challenge. Pete Berg created Six Word Stories as one venue to celebrate this brief form of writing. Also, Anne Ulku and Van Horgen created Six Word Story Every Day, a daily storytelling exploration through language and typography.

The rules for creating a six word story are simple – use only six words! In addition to these online collections, you can find more stories using the #6Words hashtag on Twitter as well as many video collections of six word stories to inspire writers of any age and interest on YouTube:

Take your work to the next level by creating a six word story poster that combines your words with an image or experiment with different ways to share your six words (such as those found on Six Word Story Every Day). Go even further and create a video collections such as those shared above. #JustWrite and share your #6words.

Some of my six word stories.

Muse Game

Muse Game

There are days when I just don’t know what to write. I want to write. I want to play, but there does not seem to be a particular poem, story, or essay demanding to be written. So I have created the Muse Game to help me jumpstart my creativity.

The game is simple: Spin and Create!

Spin the wheel (available at this link — or you could even roll your own dice) and then write in reponse to the prompt matching the color selected by the spinner:

Do you ever have days when you just don’t know what to write? Play the Muse Game to find your daily writing inspiration.

Help support this site and buy this nifty journal:

love-journal