The prompt that generated the writing below was another list prompt. For a detailed explanation of how a list prompt works, see Golden, a post from March 2011.
These prompts are always in three parts. First, writers divide their page in half, and they generate two lists. I encourage everyone to generate as many words, images, or phrases as they can for each list (in about five minutes): a quick free write. Then I ask everyone to choose three from each list they feel comfortable reading out loud, so we can let the images or words of the other writers sink in. Then we choose at least one phrase or image and write for 20 minutes.
This time around, they titled the two lists, “Things that are fragile, or break easily,” and “Things that are strong or durable.”
These are the words and phrases I wrote from the read around: rivers, suspension bridges, big dogs, sunflowers, staplers, airplanes, old bones, toes, hips, china cups, promises, vows
Here’s what I wrote:
Here’s my advice on the days you feel fragile, when you’re certain that the whole world is going to implode: think of cast iron pans and suspension bridges, the thick, swinging tails of labradors, their heavy tongues, the bark signaling an intruder.
Don’t think of your favorite cup that shattered in the sink this morning, think of the sink itself: porcelain-clad iron, and that dependable drain. Think of titanium rods and steel cables, clunky old staplers, tugboats, and fire engines. Think of the ladders on fire engines, opening higher and higher. Think of firefighters climbing those ladders with strong legs and thick biceps, covered in fireproof suits.
Don’t imagine broken bones—toes, clavicles, hips—or the way coffee beans crack and whirl in the grinder. Think of coffee—black—those thick white cafe mugs, the espresso machine, heavy on the counter. Think of granite and sandstone and the concrete foundation of towers. Think of towers, holding 1000’s of people, or the heavy metal desks your teachers sat behind in junior high school. Think of wading boots and bomber jackets, and the roll bars on Jeeps, crossing rivers on big tires. Think of rivers.
On the days you feel haunted by what has been broken: promises, dreams, hopes, that little muscle you call your heart—oh! think of your heart!—never resting, always working, circulating the blood miles and miles through your body every day. Think of the tireless heart, and the hands that hold children or chop wood, or pull great nets of fish from the sea. Don’t think of the fish in the light, gasping for oxygen—don’t be the fish—be the twine of those nets, be the forearms pulling those nets up from the water, tan and ashy with salt.
You may fall, you may crack, you may split open like a wound, but you are not those shards of glass from the fallen champagne flute, or the airplane when it hits the ground without landing gear. Some days you may feel like every movement is a crash landing, but think of the planes that land safely every day. Hundreds and hundreds of them all over the planet, tons of steel hitting the tarmac on great rubber wheels. Think of the wheels, holding the plane. Think of the wheels, rolling the plane safely to the gate. The gate, that accordion walkway of metal and vinyl, stretching open, elongating, welcoming you home.