Writing Tips: Springboarding

We almost always think of the effects of other people on our writing as a "bad" thing – we worry that we are plagiarizing, or we're not original, if we use others' thoughts, opinions, writing. But this is not necessarily so. We don't live inside a vacuum. We are not separate from everything else. You can ride the words of others right into your own art, into your own mind. Here's a great exercise. Pick a poem, any poem. Pick a line from that poem, maybe the first line, maybe the one that most resonates within you. Write it down as a first line in a new poem, or an essay, or just a paragraph that you may or may not use sometime. Let that line take you where you want to go. Here is something I wrote, using a line from a poem by Hildegarde of Bingen: I am the rain coming from the dew that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life./I call forth tears, the aroma of holy work./I am the yearning for good.

Here is what I wrote: I am the yearning for good. I feel this yearning as an ache, like I feel after pulling weeds in a choked and neglected garden. The pain in my back and knees hurts good, it tells me I am virtuous, a savior, and without me the small peppermint sprouts and the baby calendula would not grow to full glory. Without me those olive drab weeds would squeeze them to death and their healing possibilities would be unknown, merely compost in the dark spaces of the underground. I am the yearning for good, the good of belly laughter and the good that you see in a stranger's eyes sometimes — that naked longing for connection and the touch of gentle fingers. I yearn for the good of children painting, covering themselves and the carpet with thick yellow globs and long blue streaks, and even tasting some of it deep inside thier mouths; their tongues are green with the joy of creation. I am yearning to be with those children, to lie beside them on their sleeping mats and close my eyes in peace, knowing that no one will disturb my paint-soaked hair.

Compost: I stand

Here's a strangle little piece I wrote as a warm up exercise using the phrase "I stand" as my first two words. Who knows where these things come from? I have no idea what to do with this; I hope it will fulfill the function of compost and somehow, somewhere, fertilize something.

I stand on a cliff overlooking the sea, foaming green around hidden rocks. My feet are bare and I feel the prickly summer grass, dry and yellow, tickling my toes. Nevertheless I am not safe. I feel the presence of a dark dark bogeyman creeping up behind me to push me off the cliff. He is wearing a black ski mask and has an icepick in place of a heart. He is like a crazed but effective CIA man, and his goal is to rid the world of me, even though he doesn't know, or care, why. He will laugh when he sends me tumbling into the green abyss below, and he hopes that the sharks that frequent this coastline will eat my flesh and even crush my bones into dust.

Well, I'll show him because he doesn't know that I am Gumby Woman. I have elastic limbs and prehensile sticky toes, and when he at last reaches me and shoves — thwack his fist into my back — I fall, yes, but my toes anchor to the cliff and my legs stretch, stretch, stretch, Gumby Woman at her rubbery best. I stretch all the way down to the rocky beach below and pick up a jagged rock, and I spring — boing! — back to the cliff top and the CIA bogeyman, who has taken off his ski mask, and has his mouth hanging wide open in shock. I smash the rock right into his gaping mouth and knock out all his teeth. Hah! the CIA is no match for Gumby Woman.