There's a writing group in Minneapolis that gathers each Saturday to do timed prompts, drawn from a hat (or bowl, I don't remember). As someone who savors the luxury of having an entire afternoon free for writing whatever I want, I found this exercise challenging for two reasons:
1. I couldn't choose my own topic, but had to make my words match the prompt.
2. I only had 2-5 minutes to write.
Let's be clear: two minutes is NO TIME AT ALL. It took a while for me to get over the nerves and pressures of my thoughts--I've got to be writing, shit, time is running out, oh no, where are the words?!--andto get out of my own way.
But I did, and I thought I'd share my hastily scribbled responses to a few of the writing prompts.
Every day, for the past 57 years, Albert Hancock has brought a brown-bagged lunch—two pastrami and cheese sandwiches, one with mustard and one without, on rye bread, with two apples and a clementine to share—to his wife’s office. The day proceeds like clockwork. He will enter the elevator (or the stairwell, in previous decades) precisely at 11:47 am, to enter her office suite at 11:48 am. Perhaps exchanging small talk with the receptionist, who has changed throughout the years but whose chirpy demeanor and penchant for wearing too much make-up on too young a face has not changed at all, he will wait at the front desk. At 11:58 pm, his wife will rush out from a door down the hall and, upon seeing him, give him her best smile, and scold him.
There was a woman whose bones wanted to dance right out of her skin. Peeling the skin back from her mouth, her lips expanded to accommodate her nose before, with a loud rip, her skull popped through. Shrugging off her shoulder pads, she shimmied and twisted, tendons and nerve endings getting woefully caught in the folds of her skin and the ball-and-socket joints. With bared teeth, she tore the last loose nerves, the sensitive tags scratching, before stepping out of her own soles. A triumphant final stance, preparation for a tango, and with no partner to catch her, she clattered to the linoleum in disarray, embarrassed to be so graceless.
There was a man whose veins ran thick with flies. The perpetual buzzing ensured his solitude, which was a...
There is a place I know, an in-between sort of place, where you are anywhere, anytime. They call it the Crossroads. Have you been there?
On the day you arrive, and you always arrive just when you most need it, the mist rolls in and fog folds over you, blanketing your journey there and closing up behind. A gentle thud suggests your arrival as the boat you’ve been travelling in presses close to a dock. The man at the back, nameless, expressionless, looks on disinterestedly as you gather your bags and awkwardly climb out of the boat, then pulls away from the dock without a word. The mist and fog swallow him up; the dock you have been stranded on looks out onto nothing.
With a long, drawn-out sigh, carrying the suffering of many years of existence...
Yes, I have already written on the subject of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, so why take it as my muse again? I suppose I am entranced with the story that, whether we are a “secular” or “multicultural” society or not, is set so deep in our psyches as a cultural creation story, a story that positions weak-minded, devil-bidden woman as the source of all humanity’s ills. It seems to me that a society cannot honor women as equals if its fundamental cosmology includes this notion that women are either servants of evil or distinctly inferior to men in mental capacity. So here we are.
The sky is angry that night, water pouring from unseen heights, cut through with spears of light and a thunderous drumming that shakes her to the core.
From that moment on, she becomes adept at concealing herself, at stealing away through the trees upon the man’s approach. The snake helps with this, keeping vigil at night while she rests, the full moon looking on. The garden, a dark and treacherous place where each rustle of leaves or snap of a branch seem to portend her discovery and the new pain it would bring, feels foreign, unkind, and she is reminded of the visions she had seen upon eating the forbidden fruit. Time, however, the great healer that it is, works its magic in her tender heart. Her physical wounds heal, the pain only the fain...
Under the light of the full moon looming close in the sky, she takes a single, delicate bite of fruit.
Nothing happens at first. And then everything happens. The garden fades away from sight and in its stead she sees unfathomable flashing lights, images that pop and crackle and mushroom, great flying beasts, nightmares terrifying the skies, a river of blood, bodies, bodies that look like her own, except much smaller, and she can hardly comprehend what monstrosity she is seeing, so she closes her eyes to banish the display. But the sounds continue, the whirring and growling and droning of some strange beasts, cries and screams and moans, and she is falling to the ground, depleted, hands striving to block her ears against the battering assault...
It is warm, and damp, and dark when first she becomes aware, when first she has a self to become aware of. Then pain, burning and stinging, engulfs her awareness. Light, she hears the whisper, and she winces eyes new to sight. Slowly, so slowly, the excruciating brightness fades and she recognizes then the cold. Air, pressing close to her, caressing, sends her to shivering. A figure gradually comes into focus before her. Man, the helpful voice supplies. Mate. The man stoops over, clutching his side, the place she came from. She feels a little perturbed by the strangeness of this, but then acknowledges that all is strange to her now, so she can’t really say.
Turning from the man, she looks around her. Trees, and flowers. Dirt. A garden, s...
She pauses, pen poised above the page, hesitant, dreaming.
Words dance in a tumultuous fury in her mind; images flash like spark off a fire.
Suddenly, with no space for breath, no fully formed thought, the pen jumps forward in her hand.
Ink stains the pristine white page, artistic whorls and curves that combined tell a story. The story. Of the writer, of her mother, of all who touched her and shaped her, of the ones who came before, of the light illuminating these words on the page and the writer in her chair.
But no, there is no writer there. There is no subject, just verb. No doer, just action.