My friend Lisa shared this writing exercise with me last week. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to do it. You take ten lines from a book, sort of randomly. I chose Flannery O’Connor’s: The Complete Stories. I turned to pages randomly and then found one sentence from each page that I liked:
1.) She allowed herself to be guided by his mother to the car and put in the back seat without seeming to know who the rescuer was.
2.) He reached into his pocket and withdrew his pipe and a sack of tobacco.
3.) She wanted to get up and go to him but she could not move.
4.)Parker, still barefooted, burst silently in on him at a little after three in the afternoon.
5.) She’d stood stiff up and said they lived where they could afford to live and made the best of it.
6.) The umbrella was one his landlady had stopped using fifteen years before (which was the only reason she had lent it to him) and as soon as the rain touched the top of it, it came down with a shriek and stabbed him in the back of the neck.
7.)His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he remained perfectly still.
8.) The old woman clamped her gums together.
9.) There’s about ten million billion more just like them and I know what Mrs. McIntyre said.
10.)She didn’t take anything to eat, forgetting that food is usually taken on a picnic.
Next I picked the best three:
1.) She wanted to get up and go to him but she could not move.
2.)His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he remained perfectly still.
3.) The old woman clamped her gums together.
Next, write a poem or story using those sentences. I used them as an introduction paragraph, but you can do whatever you want. Here’s the story I got:
She wanted to get up and go to him but she could not move. His eyes were as blue and intense as the parrots in his shirt and he remained perfectly still. The old woman clamped her gums together.
She lay in a hospital bed, tied down with tubes. Even if she were free of these restrictions, she would not have had the strength to walk to her grandson. He had come to see her on her deathbed, in the last of her days. How many things she had wanted to tell him over the years. Now she lay in bed, not able to think of one of them. Marcos stood across the room unable to ward off his fears of sickness, hospitals, and death even as he stared those things in the face.
She wanted to go to him, to let him know that it was still her. Regardless of the circumstances, it was her – he didn’t have to be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. They were silent: she constrained by weakness, he constrained by fear.
Suddenly, her nurse Edline walked in the room. “Hey, sweetie. How’re you doing?” she asked, walking to her bedside. She rythmically took her temperature, blood pressure, and checked her I.V. “Are you in any pain?”
“I’m okay,” the older woman grabbed the nurse’s hand. “My grandson Marcos here came to see me.”
“Hi there, Marcos. How’re you doing?” Edline asked.
“Doing good,” he said in a low reserved grumble.
“Well, baby, come on over her and give your grandma a kiss. You can’t hurt her any.”
Marcos hesitated, but walked closer to his grandmother’s bed.
“Now, do me a favor and sit down right here,” Edline motioned to the foot of the hospital bed. “Now take your grandma’s foot and give it a little rub over those sheets there.”
Sitting down, he placed his hand on her foot, but made no other movement.
“We have to keep her muscles as lose as we can. They get stiff laying in this bed all day.”
Edline moved around the older woman’s hospital tray and busied herself tidying up the room. She looked over and saw Marcos massaging his grandmother’s feet.
“Does that hurt?” he asked.
She grimaced, unable to hide the pain. “A little, but I know it’s good for me. You know when you were a little boy, I tried and tried and tried to get you to drink medicine. I explained to you over and over again that even though it was painful at the time, it was going to make you all better.”
“Yeah, I had ear infections all the time,” Marcos answered.
“I want you to remember that,” she paused until he looked at her face. She looked into his blue eyes and said, “Sometimes what is the easiest and feels the best at the moment is the worst thing for you. Sometimes the best thing for you, is the thing that is the hardest to push through and deal with. But, if you just keep taking the medicine – you’ll get better. It’ll get easier. you can’t let the sickness rule your life.”
Silence fell between them.
“Isn’t that what this is now?” he asked, his voice unsteady.
“No, this is just the natural end to a long life. I put in a lot of years fighting through sickness and pain, and pushing through anything that stood in my way to do what was best for me, your mom, and you guys.”
Marcos sighed. “I know, Grandma.”
“No, you don’t know,” she said sternly. He looked up at her abruptness. “You have to fight, you don’t have your whole life to let the demons that rule your life win. You have to fight everyday, one day at a time. And sometimes you’ll lose, but if you keep fighting – you’ll beat those demons.”
All Marcos could do was nod silently.
“I love you. I just want what’s best for you. I won’t be here forever to tell you these things, just promise me you’ll do the best you can.”
“I promise,” a tear slid down his cheek. “I love you, Grandma.”