the shore of a stone sea
the heart of a bonsai grove
or these two old ladies like exotic finches in their turquoise and black pants suits, lips painted red, white hair coiffeured and lacquered: their tiny bones weighed down with two many bright feathers. They cling to each other as they totter on each step towards the Museum’s doors, then rest at the top to look behind them, at the lake with its reflections of sky and trees. If I clapped my hands suddenly, they might take flight, across the water, rising over the umbrella pines and bamboo grove, their wings stretching in the warm air as if they’d never feared falling, never doubted that earthbound was just a passing phase.
There is always more to know about myself. Like how I can feel simultaneously ecstatic and discomforted. Sitting alone in the Japanese restaurant, overlooking the lake at the Morikami Museum & Gardens in South Florida, there’s the joy of being exactly where I want to be and choosing whatever I want to eat and in whatever order I want to eat it. There’s no-one to express astonishment or disagree, or suggest something else. If I want to start with dessert I can. But every other table in the café is lively with chatter and chopsticks which seems to exaggerate the silence and emptiness at mine. I have left the museum guide open on the table next to my napkin, a notebook and a pen beside it, and while I’d like to put them away, to be uncluttered, I'd feel too exposed if I did. They fill some of the space around me, like laying down a blanket on the grass in a park, defining my boundaries, creating a small known world for me to occupy.
I order chilled tofu with soy-garlic sauce, finely sliced spring onions and pink leaves of pickled ginger, Chef Fu's crab cakes and bang-bang shrimp, a bowl of edamame beans.
While I didn’t laugh at loud I did smile and chuckle quietly to myself. Though it wasn’t so long ago when a similar gaffe would have had me squirming with embarrassment. Perhaps age has helped me take myself less seriously, made it easier to laugh at myself. Or perhaps I’ve made a complete fool of myself so many times now that I’ve begun to enjoy it.
During a workshop a few years ago I invited the group to contribute a verb, a noun, an emotion, a time, and an adjective for a 10 minute spontaneous writing exercise… dreaming, a house, regret, late afternoon and… fluffy. Fluffy? But spontaneous means running with whatever's suggested so we all began to write.
I like this kind of writing exercise, how it reveals the different worlds we all create with much the same material and so it’s great when students are happy to share their free-writing afterwards.
‘I’m afraid I haven’t used ‘house’,’ one student apologised before she read. ‘But I do have my character looking out of a bedroom window.’
‘That’s fine,’ I said. ‘You have an implied house.’ And, in a rather more enthusiastic manner than I intended, ‘I actually have an implied fluffy.’
Hungry Writing Prompts:
- Go to a park, museum or café and watch someone or a group of people. If they were animals, which animals would they be? And why?
- Write about being alone.
- Write about someone who can’t or won't laugh.