Lately, I have been reading many books on writing, in particular, writing in memoir. A great book I just read and has now become a great reference book for writing prompts is Old Friend From Far Away, by Natalie Goldberg. Her writing is intense with descriptive words and the lessons she uses to promote ten-minute writing prompts to awaken the creative juices in a flash are so motivating.
One of Goldberg’s first prompts is, “I am looking at …”. She writes, “You have ten minutes to write, go!” I have been using this exercise a lot lately. Since reading her book, sometimes while I’m not writing, I find myself doing something around the house and my attention may be drawn to a mundane object and I begin creating stories in my head about them.
This little story came to me while I was doing a load of laundry. When I took a load out of the dryer, I placed it into my old faithful, pink laundry basket. Many times when I look at that basket, I chuckle when I think about how old that basket is and where it came from. I began with “I am looking at this pink laundry basket” and my memory took over.
The basket has been around my homes for well over half a century! When I moved away from home as a teen, I took it with me as my mother prepared to toss it out while we packed up our family home. Everyone was moving. My parents were finally divorcing and my dad sold our beautiful home with the circular driveway.
My father had already moved out. My mother was taking my younger siblings to a smaller home and I was eager to find peace and start life on my own at eighteen. I was young and starting from scratch so I inherited some furniture from our home and I knew I would be needing a laundry basket, and whatever I didn’t have to buy was good enough for me.
I never really gave much thought to the basket other than its usefulness. Through the years I have moved a lot and that basket came everywhere with me. But as the decades passed, it had become very symbolic. With its once bright pink color, it had become faded to a lightened shade of peach. The years had left many marks on it but it is still in perfect condition and sturdier than the flimsy baskets made today.
When I was four years old, I loved to play with that basket. This is certainly quite an odd object for a child to want to play with, but for me it became a kind of safe-haven. I grew up living in much discord and I feared my mother’s temper. When I was very young, I used to imagine I was a princess who would one day be famous and free. Quite a combination for a young child to think about, and the famous part especially was interesting because I didn’t know what I wanted to be famous for. I would jump in my bed and I would put that basket over my head—like a cage, as though I were in solitude. Nobody could find me (I thought) and I was safe from the noise of my mother’s rants.
Once inside my own private world, my imagination took over and I would go into my princess land and I felt safe and content.
Goldberg’s book opens up the imagination. You begin with being prompted such as: “I am looking at,” which starts the writing and your thoughts will drive you to the story from what you are looking at. You don’t stop to think or revise. You follow your thoughts from the initial object you began writing about, and the writing begins to take on a new life about the subject as you continue to write. There are many writing prompts in Old Friend From Far Away which awaken our memories and can be used over and over using different subject matters.