Holiday Wordplay

by Mary Quattlebaum

The lights on the artfully decorated tree are winking, the scent of sugar cookies is wafting, and the kiddies are writing precious notes to Santa about a wooden puzzle or little red wagon.

Is this the holiday season at your house? If so, may I visit? ‘Cause my home … well, let’s just say that the winking, wafting, and writing are all “in process,” as in “about to happen” or “tomorrow” or “after this.”

Especially my writing.

Coe Booth blogged recently on committing to The Chair and showing up for writing on a regular basis. Oh, yes! I applauded from the chair in front of my computer. Wise words, Coe!

Except this time of year, well, I can pop up from my chair with all the misplaced zeal of an oil-sizzled kernel. To-do list. Pop! Unexpected company. Pop! Dog scratching at tree skirt. Pop!

So a few years ago, I gave myself a two-week gift: To show up at The Chair to … play.

This actually can be more complicated than it sounds. It can mean winding up (or not taking on) big ongoing writing projects for a couple of weeks in December; it can mean trying not to feel guilty; it can mean not squandering wordplay time on the to-do list; and it can mean eschewing The Chair for other possible writing spots (bed, kitchen, local coffee shop).

And it means playing. With words. As if they were mud. (What happens if I stick three random words together? What starts to form?) Or as if they were stones, placed in different places on a white field (paper). (What connects them?) Or as if they were tiny, lively beings wanting to leap or stroll, march or roll or curl up in a quiet corner. (How can you help them to move? What will the sentences look and sound like?) Write goofy, write silly, write slowly and with beautiful penmanship. Try writing with tools you’ve not explored in the past or with your least dominant hand.

A wonderful wordplay companion is “The Aspiring Poet’s Journal” by Bernard Friot. Each page includes a writing prompt, abstract illustration by Herve Tullet, and short quote and/or poem. Odd and inspiring, these prompts can jumpstart the muse for both poets and prose writers. Surprise yourself. Choose one at random and write as much or as little as you wish.

Here’s my randomly chosen prompt–a gift for you to play with. For #66, Friot suggests that we choose one of the following five titles and explore it in writing:
The Lockless Door
There’s a Certain Slant of Light
Parting at Dawn
What Are Years?
When I Think About Myself

And the quote Friot shares, which we might take back to The Chair and into the New Year: “The urge to write is driven by the curiosity of what we might find.”–Alain.


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4 responses to “Holiday Wordplay

  1. Louise Hawes

    SOOOO love this, Mary! How important it is to give ourselves “permission to play.” Even at the level of single letters. My small workshop and I experimented last residency with a synesthetic approach to letters: what color is a T? What is the sound of a silent E? We drew our favorites, decorated, colored, and gave them histories, personalities, stories. Coming back to word level after that was rich, rich, rich!

  2. terrypierce

    As one of Louise’s students in that workshop, I’ll testify that it was one of the best writing experiences of my life. Louise didn’t just give us permission to play, she took us to the playground and left us there overnight! Mary, thank you for posting this–I think the Poet’s Journal will be a perfect gift for me, from me. I’m struggling with writing daily (creative writing) as other writing-related activities have taken over my life. The journal, Coe’s inspiration and the start of a new year (and new habits) sound like just the nudge I need.

  3. Uma Krishnaswami

    Mary, I love that list of titles because they’re all indirect and complicated. I think that’s the key, to find small prompts that run counter to logic. If I can get my managerial mind away from thinking too hard, my writing mind can feel its way to the wild path the work needs.

  4. Sarah Ellis

    Mary, I fell for one of the prompts: Insomnia.          When I think about myself, at three in the morning, I see a brain in a landrover, driving around some desert landscape, Biblical or possibly just cowboyland.  Over dunes, around arroyos until  . . .            sitting there, large as life, in the sand –                             something to fret about.           My brain is so pleased.  My brain loves fretting.  Things done or left undone.  Hurts meted and received.  Memories, plans, resolutions, unread, unfiled.  The what ifs and the what ifn’ts.          The self that is not my brain tries to assert control.  Bargains.  Pleads. And resorts to a lullaby: Cauliflower in a jeep Cauliflower in a jeep Cauliflower in a jeep Go to sleep, go to sleep.

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