Sunday, January 20, 2008

Create a written photo

A long time ago Andrea Schulz, my editor at Harcourt, suggested I post chapters or sections that didn't make it into Pen on Fire. I've been meaning to. So let this be the premiere entry!


The kitchen clock, with the watercolor painting of a blue-eyed sun and his full dark lips, ticks loudly. The green wicker chair on which I sit creaks as I shift my position. Clean dinner dishes crowd the red dish drainer.

The retro high chair with chrome arms and legs and duct-taped vinyl is pulled close to our small round kitchen table. Brian and I painted it with acrylics and lacquer. Its sides go down. And hanging from a white cabinet knob is a vintage red fabric heart that my student Robin gave me for Christmas that first year she took my class. January 1998.

Does the past exist if you neglect to record it?

A year later I wrote this:

It is nine o’clock on a balmy June night. Travis, almost four, took a late nap and is still sleeping. Knowing him, he will wake at midnight, kick up his heels, and be ready to party.

The front door is open, and Leao, our Portuguese water dog who has webbed feet but hates going in the water, lies on the carpet midway between the open door and me. The houses in this beach town sit so close to one another I occasionally hear the shake and shimmy of a neighbor’s washing machine.

Strains of jazz from somebody’s stereo drift across the fence along with the rumble of voices, and the computer I work on which is usually rather quiet now sounds loud. Someone's phone rings, a car whishes by, and someone else parks and slams the car door. I’m sitting in a direct line with the front door, and it’s dark out, getting late, so I get up and ease it shut.

Before I do, I look outside. Across the street, the Rampalski’s porch light is on, and in the corner house Jordan’s room throbs and changes colors from the TV.

When I sit back down, the refrigerator motor kicks in. The noise distracts me but Brian likes it. For him, a quiet fridge when he returns from a gig in the wee small hours of the night makes for a too-quiet house. For me, the fridge, plus the hum of the laptop, makes the room a prime source of noise pollution.

On a day last week when my nerves felt particularly jangled, Travis was yelling, and I said, “You’re creating some real noise pollution, honey.” In his low key style, Brian said he wasn’t sure, but I may have just committed verbal abuse.

Of course the past exists if you don't record it. But its details drift away. You strain to remember.

Writing down the details can evoke a scene more than a photograph can. And I've been a photographer for a lot of my life!

Set the timer (an exercise)

Record a scene with words (instead of, or in addition to, taking a picture). Note the details--what it sounds like, smells like, looks like. Include snippets of dialogue.


Anonymous said...

Oh NOOOOOOOOO.... The dreaded timer. But seriously, I can't wait to do this exercise. What a great idea!


Deirdre said...

I need a prompt right now to get the writing going again. Thank you for sharing this written photo. It's so full of color and I could even feel the air temperature change around me.