KonMari Objects

Part of Charlotte Lit’s “Keeping Pen to Paper” Series.

Stuck at home for the unforeseeable future, many of us are holding our spring cleaning up to painstakingly high standards, and what better way to do that than harness the cultural phenom Marie Kondo? Perhaps you’ve unearthed an object in your attic or a sweater in the way-way back of your closet that once sparked such joy for you, it almost felt like a friend? Or maybe you’ve come to realize in the face of this existential threat to mankind that perhaps you don’t need quite that many books? (Yes we do, Marie; don’t touch our books!)

In this vein, please take a few minutes to choose one character (fiction), persona (poem), or person (memoir/nonfiction), and imagine one object in each of Marie’s categories that would “spark joy” for him or her and one that would not.

1. Clothes
2. Books
3. Papers
4. Misc. stuff (read: crap)
5. Sentimental items

Now, choose one of these objects and do the following:

1. Describe it in great physical detail. Consider giving it anthropomorphic qualities that help us feel what the owner feels about it.
2. Tell the story of how that object came into his or her life. (This might be particularly interesting if it something that no longer sparks joy but once did, showing a transformation.)
3. Use this object in an emotionally-charged scene. How might the object itself, and his or her feelings toward it, raise the stakes or tension?

Write for at least 40 minutes, if you can.

Using the Sense of Smell

Part of Charlotte Lit’s “Keeping Pen to Paper” Series.

Writers paint a picture for our readers. We want them to see what we see, or what we’ve imagined. So it makes sense that the most of our writing focuses on what we see—that is, uses the sense of sight. But if you want to paint a more vivid picture for your readers, be sure to sprinkle in the other senses: smell, taste, hearing, and touch.

In today’s mini lesson and prompt, we’ll focus on the sense of smell. Here are some examples of writing using the sense of smell.

“The room smelled like stale smoke and Italian salad dressing.” (Michael Connelly, “The Poet”) Here, Connelly uses the odors of a place in a fairly basic way, describing what he actually observes, and his description puts us there in the room. Here’s another:

“Wearing dry-cleaned jeans and a white T-shirt under a red bolero jacket, she gingerly wandered about, lightly touching things, her perfume, that vanilla musk, laying down a heavy sweetish track wherever she went.” (Richard Price, “Samaritan”) Here, Price goes a bit further, using a scent to tell us something about one of the characters. Here’s Anne Lamott, in nonfiction:

“After a while, I stretched out on one of the benches and closed my eyes…. My bones were cold. I could isolate the icy scent of pine trees that sneaked through the walls. Sometimes grace is a ribbon of mountain air that gets in through the cracks.” (Anne Lamott, “Grace (Eventually)”) Lamott elevates this a bit more, endowing the odor with meaning. Finally, here’s Price again, taking the odor of the woman and making it meaningful for the narrator:

“As they left the apartment, heading for a restaurant, Ray became aware that Danielle’s perfume would still be in the air a few hours from now when he returned, just hanging there like an unmitigated longing, and there would be nothing he could do about it.” (Richard Price, “Samaritan”)

Your prompt for today has two parts. First, add the scent/order/smell to an existing scene in a basic way, just as an additional descriptor for the setting. Then, take a scene—either this same one, a different one, or a new one—and add scent/odor/smell in a more complex way, to tell us something about a character, or use it metaphorically.

Making Connections

Part of Charlotte Lit’s “Keeping Pen to Paper” Series.

Let’s face it. Life in the outer world is typically so busy, most of us hurry through our days with little awareness of what’s going on inside us. We awaken each morning with to-do lists so long and loud, our nighttime dreams evaporate before we even open our eyes. And, we climb into bed at night so dog-tired we’re lucky to read ten minutes before our eyes slam shut again.

If you’re like me, you have a towering stack of books on your bedside table. And, as frightening as these days are for all of us, for the next few weeks (maybe months), we’ve been given the gift of time. Time to read. Time to write. Time to reconnect with our unique creative genius.

Social isolation doesn’t have to feel isolating when you have a bookshelf full of friends. I’m not suggesting you read for mere entertainment or as a way of distracting yourself. Rather, I suggest keeping a pen and a notebook nearby so that you can begin making real connections between the words you read and the life you live. Whether you scribble in the margins of your book, keep a list of the beautiful sentences you find, or find yourself inspired to riff on one of its themes, reading with a pen or pencil in hand is an essential form of conversation—with the author, with the book’s characters, with the world, and, most importantly, with yourself.

Starting a conversation with a book (or any other form of writing) is one of the best ways I know to bridge the gap between life in the outer world, which has suddenly gotten much smaller, and the interior world, which is infinitely large. These conversations build psychic bridges between our egos (the conscious part of the personality that manages practical, day-to-day life) and the unconscious world of forms and energies from which imagination arises. Every time you cross that bridge you strengthen your connection to the inner world and, with it, access to creative ideas.

So, your assignment this week, is to begin (or continue) the inner journey by building this bridge. There are lots of ways to do this. Here are three suggestions:

1) Open that fat book—you know, the one you’ve been saving for the day you have enough time to really dig in—and read it slowly. Underline or place sticky notes on the sections that inspire you, make you wonder, or make you mad. After 30 minutes, stop reading, select a passage to respond to, and write for 15-30 minutes. The form doesn’t matter––essay, poetry, fiction, love letter, cartoon strip. Just start a conversation that deepens your experience of the book by taking you deeper into your own experience.

2) Write for 15-30 minutes (from your point of view or the point of view of someone else—real or fictional), beginning with one of the following questions:

  • What stands between you and someone you love?
  • What stands between you and something you really desire?
  • What stands between you and the person you once were or the person you want to become?

Then, continue your writing by wondering how you might bridge the distance.

3). Write about one or more bridges you’ve burned. Describe the bridge and the things, people, or places it connected. How did the fire start? Did you watch it burn or turn your back? When you think back, is it with regret or remorse? Or is with certainty? Where did the burning of that bridge lead you?