On Saturday evening, I went for a long-anticipated walk in the city with a dear person and the rules were these: we go straight and turn in the direction of a walk signal when we can’t go straight. No destination, no decisions. See what you see. If the light’s green, you go. Period. It was the best. Our conversation was nearly uninterrupted because we didn’t have to keep stopping in and checking if we were going in an agreeable direction, and we walked down roads we had no business on, wouldn’t have found ourselves on otherwise.
This idea, of going with the green light (or of walking through every open door, which is how I usually phrase it when it comes to my work lives), has led me to a lot of the most important places I’ve arrived at. Professional accomplishments, writing workshops, apartment hunting, friendships I couldn’t have imagined, good and bad love. It’s also led me to dead ends. I dream of one thing and often find another I either gain something or learn something, or both. But the first part, of committing to walking in a direction, is necessary for all of the other opportunities and lessons to present themselves. I am reminded, as I write this, of The Turtle Man from Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost, and the necessity and generosity of asking for help. You can read that post here.
It’s going to be a good week, making art and putting faith in our ideas. We have a Combat Paper/Warrior Writers workshop at Bethesda, and a show at the Mansion at Strathmore on Friday at 7 pm. You should come.
So this week I have an involved, multi-step prompt that I swear is amazingly good–or at least it was for me, and I hope it is for you too.
The featured image is a painting that we studied when we were at the National Gallery of Art last month. We were asked to write about what it seems the woman in the painting wants most in the world. I wrote:
What she wants most in the world: I can’t stop looking at the crisscrossing of her long fingers. What she wants most in the world is this steadiness the web her hands make woven into one another. There is a comfort to this to the hands facing down over her shawl, the crinkle of her dress and petticoat at angles. She wants to sleep without dreaming on a sturdy bed.
Then we held that pose ourselves and thought about what we want most in the world. The poem I started there in that last line became the poem “Letter to My Coffin” which you’ll see soon.
Our poem this week is “All I Ever Wanted” by Katie Ford. It’s a love poem (oh my goodness, what is happening) and it’s so super good. I love this image of the old desires becoming dots in the distance as time passes. So this is the prompt:
-move to a clean sheet of paper
-write “All I Ever Wanted” at the top
-try that reclined pose for a few minutes, thinking about that phrase
(I hit play on this song, then got into position, it gives you two minutes)
-read the poem below
-get your timer ready or check the clock and set up for 8 quick minutes of writing & write
When I thought it was right to name my desires,
what I wanted of life, they seemed to turn
like bleating sheep, not to me, who could have been
a caring, if unskilled, shepherd, but to the boxed-in hills
beyond which the blue mountains sloped down
with poppies orange as crayfish all the way to the Pacific seas
in which the hulls of whales steered them
in search of a mate for whom they bellowed
in a new, highly particular song
we might call the most ardent articulation of love,
the pin at the tip of evolution,
In the middle of my life
it was right to say my desires
but they went away. I couldn’t even make them out,
not even as dots
now in the distance.
Yet I see the small lights
of winter campfires in the hills—
teenagers in love often go there
for their first nights—and each yellow-white glow
tells me what I can know and admit to knowing,
that all I ever wanted
was to sit by a fire with someone
who wanted me in measure the same to my wanting.
To want to make a fire with someone,
This was super helpful for me. I hope it is for you too. Happy Monday. I’ll see you Friday, right?