Years ago when the world and I were still young, I took a course in NYC from called "The Slightly Amazing Writer's Therapy Group." It really was slightly (perhaps more than slightly) amazing. One of the things the Jane Allison, the woman who led it did was to give us a bunch of random words and phrases to make into a SHORT paragraph. It's great fun and a good challenge for your creativity.
I thought what I'd do here is post a couple of samples of the exercises I did all those years back - and then paste some new words. Anyone who wants to do so can work on them and share their results if they wish. I'll have to figure out the logistics for offering up one of these shared things and am open to advice from anyone of my three or four readers who wants to give it. Meanwhile, here's the sample exercise. This was one of my favorites.
WORDS: Napoleon, Zeus, underpants, Madonna, cellulite, 47 flavors, Arnold Schwartzennager, Barbara Walters, "Don't come near me or I'll call the police," power
Strange dream. Being interviewed by Barbara Walters, dressed only in a bra and underpants, the cellulite rippling over my whole body in hideous, rolling waves of flesh, shame and humiliation numbing, but I had to be brave, to not show my embarrassment. That would be worse. She was interviewing three of us at once: Me, Napoleon Bonepart, and Zeus. Why I had to be with them, I don't know. Just to make my insecurity even deeper, I guess. Anyway, Barbara asks each of us to name someone we admire and tell why. Napoleon picks Arnold Schwartzenagger because he's strong, relentless and determined. Zeus says Madonna because she reminds him of Artemis only she's really sexy. I pick (I don't want to be predictable) LynnAndrews because she consistently manages to be simultaneously dim-witted and profound. Then she got personal and we each had a tearful catharsis just before the commercial break. The sponsor was Baskin Robbins so we each had to name our favorite of the 47 flavors. I picked Chocolate Chip, Zeus liked peach, Napoleon said Rocky Road, and Barbara said Strawberries 'N Cream. It was all so odd. Outside, a woman's voice shouted, "Don't come near me or I'll call the police," but we were taping, so instead of checking on her, they just closed the window. I started to protest but Barbara had asked her next question, her voice redolent with its profundity: "I'm curious, given your respective lives, how would each of you define power?" Zeus said it was control and authority and manipulating events. Napoleon thought it was military superiority. I said I thought those were illusions of power, that real power came from trusting and loving yourself, because then no one could threaten your inner peace. Needing to control others was just a response to the belief that otherwise they would control you. Power wasn't about control, it was about being. Napoleon just snorted when I said that and said I was a jerk. Zeus threw a thunderbolt and left the room. Barbara Walters said, "How interesting," in a nervous voice which made it clear that she felt she had lost control and didn't know how to get it back. Then inspiration struck: "Tell me, do you always do interviews on national TV in just your underwear?" Outside, the woman's screams grew louder.
Years after I took the course from Jane Allison, I introduced this technique to another writer's group. We did them on the spot in about 15- 2o minutes time. I was really good at it and it used to annoy my friend Paul, who one week challenged me to make a paragraph using the following words. It's a good example of what to do if you don't know what a word means. You can always use a stumper word to name a pet or something like that. Or just say that you don't know what it means like I did here.
Don't take the exercise too seriously. It's a game for exercising your writing muscles. That's all.
WORDS: Brawn, bratwurst, kishke, beret, chutzpah, sweat lodge, bikini-wax, bangles, zoot suit, Zen, caterpillar, Cajun
"Kishke? What the hell is kishke? Would you please speak English for a change, Louie? I mean, I wouldn't mind the Yiddish so much if a) I understood it and b) you were Jewish, but Louie, you're not. You're not ethnic, dear and you just look and sound foolish when you try. You weren't black during your zoot-suit, honkey motha-f*cka phase. You weren't Cajun no matter how much Creole food you ate. The sweat lodge and totem pole in the back yard do not make you one of "the People," anymore than the beret and calling everyone "Cherie," made you French. You're ordinary, Louie. Wonderful, but ordinary. You don't need a gimmick. It just detracts from your natural sweetness and charm. I didn't fall in love with you for your brawn or your machismo. You see yourself as bratwurst, but I see you as caviar. You see yourself as a caterpillar in need of transformation, but to me you are already a magnificent butterfly. I know, to use your current idiom, that I've got plenty of chutzpah giving you this particular lecture, since I've spent so much of my life and your money trying to change myself into something "more," with plastic surgery and bikini waxes and bangles and jewels and fancy clothes - all that frantic effort to keep you from discovering just what a loser I thought I really was. But I was wrong, Louie, and so are you. I wish you'd come to my meditation class with me. The Zen masters create such a sense of peace and love. They've helped me start to like myself, Louie. Really. And I think they could help you, too. You know, I think you're wonderful, even when you're pretending to be whatever phase you're in, but I think you're most wonderful when you're just plain old glorious you. So mazeltov, you big jerk. And Namaste. That means "the god in me greets the god in you." I love you.
SO... for anyone who wants to take the challenge, here are words for next Saturday. Have fun.
Ostrich, conga line, lucite, garish, pumpkin seeds, persimmon, autograph, naked truth, false teeth and merry-go-round.