Writing Prompt: The Daisy Chain

I’ve always been fascinated by how seemingly unrelated things can link together and form a chain of events that change people’s lives. Heavy for a writing prompt, huh?

Here’s a “for instance”…

I moved to a new town two years ago. I knew no one and so, I thought I’d start a book club to try to make some new friends. I announced the club on Meetup and put out a book to read and a date to meet. On the first day, no one showed up. I was disappointed, but no surprised. I sat comfortably with my book and a glass of red wine for an hour, then went home.

I tried again. I gave myself a month, pick a book I knew well and was comfortable talking about and by the time the date of the meetup came around, there were enough people signed up to the group to warrant hope that one or two might attend. I was rewarded for my persistence with the arrival of three attendees. We talked about the book, had a drink and a laugh and I went home, pleased with the evening.

Months went by and the attendee figures rose. A year later, and I now have 98 members and a consistent set of 12-14 attendees each month and a waiting list usually 6-10 people deep. Was my mission accomplished? You could say that. As a result of over a year of meetings and countless glasses of wine and a shared love of books, friendships have been forged not only within the book club, but outside of it. I’ve met wonderful people I’m proud to call friends.  Why did all this happen? Because I didn’t want to be the isolated new girl in the neighbourhood.

Another example of a chain of events leading to things is how I got into my career. Many many many years ago, when I first moved to London from the US, I was working as an administrator in a recruitment company. To say that is was a soul destroying glimpse of humanity is an understatement, but that’s a story for another time. So, there I sat, depressed, playing countless hours of Tekken on my Playstation and solo-drinking gin and tonics into the night.

What happens when you’ve been drinking gin and tonics alone at night and the only people you know who are awake are in a different time zone? You drunk-dial your brother, of course!

So, there I sat, sobbing into the receiver about my career options or lack thereof. My brother, who remains my career saviour to this day, said, “You love people and you can sell anything. You should be in PR or Marketing.” Hmmm…Marketing, I thought. I liked the sound of it.

A few weeks later, I found a job in a TV buying house in London, quit the recruitment agency, worked for one of the most terrifying bosses ever (good person, bad manager) and I was on my way.  Over a decade later and I’m still in Media and still loving it. I work with beautiful, talented people, so that helps.

From the examples above, it’s funny how big events can spring from small things. In my case it was a nearly-abandoned attempt at a book club and and gin, tonic and Tekken binge.

For this writing prompt, think of something significant in your life and work your way backwards. What are the links of the daisy chain that led you to that key event?

Have fun.

 

Memoir: Mom and Grace

 

It started at around 2am. I had already been asleep for several hours when she came into my room to wake me. Tugging gently at my warm wool blanket, she bounced lightly on the bed while I struggled to understand what she was saying. No matter how often it happened, I was always startled. My eyes, heavy with sleep, could see flickering light coming from the living room and an anxious expression on her face.“Mom, what is it?” I said.

“The Swan. It’s about to start,” she said, and then helped me into my terrycloth robe, the pink one with the little hole in the right sleeve.

“Which one is that?” I asked.

“The one about the princess and the tutor. You know, Grace Kelly and Louis Jordan. Oh…and Alec Guinness is the prince.”

“Who?”

“Obiwan Kenobie.”

“Can’t we tape it?” I asked.

She shook her head. “That would be cheating.” We never taped the late night classics. The idea that we could miss something crucial kept us glued to the T.V., soaking in every word of dialogue, every screen kiss.

I yawned and slid my feet into my slippers as I got out of bed, thinking of the cold ceramic tile that lay between my room and the couch.

Within minutes, I was tucked in with a comforter around my legs, surrounded by pillows on the couch in front of the T.V.

Mom went to the kitchen and threw a bag of popcorn into the microwave and brewed a pot of tea. She joined me as the film began. Grace Kelly’s lovely face filled the screen and the opulence of the palace made me forget our cold living room. Soon after, there were only the actors on the screen and the enormous red Tupperware bowl of popcorn on my lap.

Mom sipped tea while she sat in the deep cushioned chair with a serape from Tijuana wrapped around her shoulders. Her pleasure and excitement by the action on the screen and my obvious enjoyment showed in her dark eyes. I think she liked it when I asked her about the actors, the story and the other films she enjoyed. This was our tradition, our means of communication. Every week when the TV Guide turned up at the house with the address label curled at the edges, she would sit and flip through its pages seeking out old friends; Garbo, Bacall, Dean, Stewart, Bogart and Monroe. When their names appeared, she circled the entry with a thin black marker and made a note in the calendar, indifferent to whether or not it was a school night. As I passed, I would gauge how much sleep I could expect to get that week.

Even now, many years later and thousands of miles away, I search the cable guide for mutual friends, each one a link to those lost late nights. I found Monroe and Curtis the other day and I promised to send her their regards next time we meet.

– Eliza Dashwood (originally posted in 2010)

Writing Prompt: Sibling Rivalry

My brother is the benchmark. I’ve been fortunate enough throughout my life to know what it is to love someone unconditionally and have a tiny green demon in my heart at the same time.

He’s one of those rare people who has always known what he wanted to do. Every step pulled him closer and closer to the film-making career that would become his profession.

He was 11 years old, and ready to lead the neighbourhood play. It was “Alice and Wonderland”.  He assigned the cast, gave me a bit part, persuaded the neighbourhood to get people in, contribute baked goods, to get the kids kitted out and ready to play.  That was, that is his gift.

Last week I nearly lost him to an arsehole driver who ran a red light and could have killed him. I would not have been there. I’ve been here. In the UK, away from my childhood protector and source of so much influence.

It’s funny how people can have such a powerful influence over your life and never even know it. Since we were kids, if he did something, I had to do it too, and tried to do it better. When we were in High School, there was one year where we overlapped. He was a Senior, I, a Freshman. In that time, he was a photographer for the High School Annual (that’s Yearbook to some folks) and the School paper. So, the minute he graduated, I had to become the Editor, I did it for three years. When he was going off to film school and partying in LA, not wishing to be left out, I would sneak over to Melrose to tag along. We kept some of my excursions from our parents.

Along with being proud of him and his accomplishments, there was always something in me I felt I had to live up to. Throughout the years, with every success or failure, I wondered, what would big brother make of this? The funny thing is, I doubt he ever knew how much his good opinion meant to me.

When I think back, it goes beyond High School, beyond having teachers telling me that they “expected great things” from me. I was, after all, his sister. No, it’s way past the neighbourhood play, beyond curling up on the edge of his bed in the hospital when he had meningitis as an eight-year-old. It started on the kitchen step.

My earliest memory of him was a cool autumn day when he was heading off to school. I sat on the step, tears running down my dirty cheeks. I was being left behind. My playmate was going away to make new friends, to learn things I couldn’t know, to see new things. I sat there, flower-print dress around my knees with his arm around me. His wisdom at that age astounds me now, even though I was too young to appreciate it.

“When you’re my age, you’ll wish you could stay at home and watch TV and play. You’ll see.” He was seven.

I rubbed my eyes, wiped the grimy tears from my face and made him promise me to teach me everything. Bless him, he tried. As the years passed, he brought home everything from Algebra homework to the latest John Hughes film I was too young for. He brought me presents in form of knowledge every day.

It wasn’t until much, much later in my adult life that I realised that I didn’t need to compete. I wasn’t the four year old on the step anymore. I wasn’t being left behind and the choices I made were no less valuable for being my own. Poor guy, he never knew how much he’s had to answer for.

When Mom told me about the accident – my heart began to pound, I could hear light ringing in my ears and I felt sick, the way you feel when you realise you forgot to do something critical. I wanted to drop the phone and catch the first plane home, but I waited, listening for a moment to her voice telling me he was fine. Some bruised ribs and a totalled Audi, but fine. I felt relieved, but it wasn’t going to be enough until I heard from him myself, so I called him and shouted down the phone at his voicemail. How dare he not tell me about it, not tell me he was ok. From his point of view, he probably figured that since everything was fine and I was so far away, there was no need to worry me. Worry me, I thought.

Upon receiving my rant, he sent me an email, gave me the details. He was broadsided on the driver’s side – the car did its job and sacrificed itself, crumbling into a protective cocoon of torn leather and metal.

I sent back a simple reply. “For my next car I’m buying an Audi.” After all, it was good enough for him….

Writing Prompt: Write about a brother, sister or just someone you admire. How has their presence in your life made an impact. Do they know how they’ve made a difference?

NOTE: Originally posted in 2009, but thought it would be nice to repost. 🙂

Writing Prompt: The Secret to Swimming

The chlorine stung my eyes. As soon as we walked into the indoor pool area, I was nervous. Mom lead me by the hand to the water’s edge where other children had already gathered and were easing their way into the water. The swimming instructor was tall, lean with dark hair. He couldn’t have ben more than 20 years old, but to me he seemed much older. He approached my mother and assured her I’d be fine. She went to the far end of the pool room and sat on a metal folding chair.

I remember his name, even after all this time. It was Mike. Mike, the swimming instructor. As we all waded in, I felt the shock and shiver of the water hitting my back. Although the pool was heated, it was still a surprise. He handed us floatation boards and got us to hold on and start kicking. By the time the exercise was finished, all 20 minutes of it, I was exhausted. I looked up and there was Mom, smiling at me. I had been distracted by my efforts, but it occurred to me that she had not taken her protective eyes off me for even a second.

Mike swam to me and taking hold of my waist, encouraged me to try to float. My arms flailed around and I kept sinking, but still he persevered, until I found floating on my back unaided comfortable.

When the lesson was over, my mother called out to me and shook her car keys at me. “Get my keys!” She shouted, then threw them into the middle of the pool. I wanted to find them for her, but I was afraid, never liking the feeling of water on my face. Even then, my eyesight wasn’t great, so to be blinded by chlorine was unappealing.

I slowly edged my way to where the keys had produced a splash, confident that I’d be able to feel around for them. From where she sat, my mother couldn’t see all of me, just my head, so I ducked closed to the surface of the water and with my toes, felt for the keys until the metal scraped the bottom of my foot. I lifted my head to be sure she couldn’t really see me, then with my toes, I gathered up the keys and passed them to my hand. Triumphant, I popped my head up and dangled the keys before her. “Well done!” She called out and came to me to fetch back her keys.

This went on for a while until something changed in her expression. At the precise moment, she had spotted me gathering up the keys with my toes and with a little laugh that was like a hiccup, she shook her head at me. “That’s cheating!”. I dropped my head liked the scolded child I was and promised to do it properly. It was horrid. The chlorine stung my eyes and although I managed to get the keys, I coughed and sputtered and tried to clear the water from my nose. This was before I learned how to blow out from my nose to keep it from going up.

Over the following weeks of lessons, with my mother at the side and Mike aiding my technique, I finally learned to swim. It’s funny, some people to learn to swim when their babies, others, much later in life, but for everyone, it’s such an important skill to have, something you can carry with you, dormant until you need it. It allows you to exercise, see another world in the water, or even save a life. Yet most of us take it for granted. Most of us never think about how we learned to swim, but it usually involves the help of others. In my case, it Mom and Mike, at the age of nine in the local YMCA pool.

Do you remember how you learned to swim? If you can’t what’s stopping you?

Writing Prompt: B is for Banishment

When I was young, at the age when every action and word of your peers has the weight and importance more damaging than the shifting of continents, I had a friend who passed me over. For the two years prior to my banishment, we had been inseparable. Although we were in different classes throughout the day, at lunch and after school, we found ways to be together, hanging out at the pizza parlour banned to students during the day, but inviting and welcoming with outstretched arms when the bell rang at three.

It was not a sudden disagreement. It was a slow and sinister turning of the back when one fine Spring day, a childhood friend that has moved away, returned to my friend’s life. So, rather than treat the return as a opporunity to become a happy trio, they chose to become a reunited duo and I , I became superfluous. It started with whispers and giggles behind my back, but close enough for me to see. Then, slowly, the signs that I was not wanted became less subtle. I remember the day when all became clear.

I wandered into the school parking lot, heading towards my friend’s car, when I saw the two girls get in and close the door. Panic would have set in when we met each other’s eyes and the cruel recognition of what was happening hit me like so much ice water. The hint of cruelty around the curve of her mouth was unmistakable. I was being dismissed and her eyes watch me with curious glee to see what I would do, as though I was a captured fly with a set of fingers caressing the wing it is about to pull. What would the response be?

Suddenly, a honking horn came to my rescue. A group of fellow classmates were heading out and someone shouted, “Eliza, are you coming with us?!” I turned on my heel and my defeat turned into a victory as I scrambled into the back of the yellow pickup truck with the others, a merry party destined for pizza. As I settled in, I looked toward the far end of the parking lot as the Datsun sped away and with it, my two-year friendship. We didn’t speak again for the next three years, but as much as I tried to grant forgiveness and managed to say, “It’s ok” when she asked me to all those years later, the memory of the behaviour is still with me. It reminds me never to exclude.

So, have you ever felt like you’ve been banished, from a friendship, a conversation, a room, a city, a social circle, job or anything?

Writing Prompt: Music and Lyrics

Sometimes I listen to random music and it takes me back to specific moments in my life. I can still remember my first single. “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol. I was playing tether ball in the play ground at school when someone mentioned him and I went off to find out who he was and what the fuss was about. I was always a little late to pick up new music and to keep up with the other kids.

The first tape my mother bought me was Madonna’s first album. I must have played “Borderline” a hundred times. The Cutting Crew came soon after. What was I thinking?

As the year have gone by there have been specific songs that have made an impact. My first gig in Los Angeles was Crowded House at the Wiltern Theater. I had a mad crush on Neil Finn.

My first real boyfriend gave me my first Cure album and introduced me to “A Night Like This”.

R.E.M. was frequently on my play list and drove my friends crazy. Not rock and roll enough.

Some songs just stick with me because they remind me of people, events or feelings.

“Don’t You Forget About Me” – Simple Minds reminds me of my brother.

“A Question of Time” – Depeche Mode is Paul, my friend’s older brother who was seven years older than me and sent me my first flower arrangement after we met at a party. We were both gutted when we discovered we were the wrong age for each other. Sure, seven years is no big deal when you’re adult, but when you’re 14, it’s not only devastating, it’s illegal. (no nothing happened). Of course, in one of life’s little ironies, we met again when I was 21 years old and he was married with a 2 year old…alas…

“Swollen” – Bent is my favourite song and seems to follow me around. If you want to get to me, tell me you like that song. We’ll be talking music all day.

“Black” – Pearl Jam is Jeff, a friend who died rock climbing with friends on the 4th of July 1994. He was just 24 years old and had just finished his training to become a paramedic. During he training, which often saw him up before dawn, he would often come over and sit in my kitchen where I made him coffee to get him ready for the day. On one occasion, he even visited me with his team and an ambulance to show me the life-saving gadgets within. I still have a made up medical report he did for me at the time. He once told me that the lyric “I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life…” in that song made him sad.

“Noah’s Dove” – 10,000 Maniacs reminds me of sitting in the car park at university waiting for class to start. A history lecturer came out to me from one of the classrooms to tell me that I had the music too loud in my car. Oops.

“Honey Honey” reminds me both of my mother because she was a big ABBA fan and because we used to dance around the livingroom to it and it reminds me of a drive home after helping a friend paint his flat. My arms were sore from the paint roller, I was covered with grey paint, making my dungarees unwearable for anything else and I felt like I was going to fall asleep at the wheel. As I put on some music to chum me home, that song came on. I can’t listen to it without thinking of how much fun we had getting the job done. I hear that song and think of him.

“Come As You Are” by Nirvana reminds me of the last glimpses I got of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city as I left San Francisco to move to London in 1997.  It was on the local radio station as I crossed the Bay Bridge.

“Sea Change” and “Long Distance” remind me the most fun I’ve had at a gig in a while.

I could go on and on, but the point is that music unlocks memories. Lyrics can say something in your head that you can’t express yourself.

Think about how music has influenced memories. We all have our own personal soundtrack. Think about yours and write about what music has meant to you.

Writing Prompt: The Sea

I lifted the phone from the receiver and dialled. I pulled the phone under the duvet with me to muffle the sound as I heard it ring at the other end. I listened for other sounds in the house and heard nothing.

After a moment, I could hear my friend’s voice. “Hello?”

“Richard, it’s me. You up for a little adventure? I can’t sleep.”

“I never sleep. I’m just up working as usual. It’s a new piece. Mainly reds this time. I made a chicken curry for dinner, there’s a new Filipino market where I can get chilli paste, I think “I Love Lucy” is on in a minute. What time are you coming over?”

I stifled a laugh. He always spoke like this, random thoughts spilling in one after the other, but always returning to the main point of the conversation.

“I’ll be there in about 30 minutes. Mom and Dad are asleep. I just need to throw on some jeans and get the car out. Be ready. We won’t have much time.”

I hung up and found some clothes that I had thrown in the corner of the room and got ready. Within a few minutes I was creeping towards the livingroom and out the front door. My car sat at the edge of driveway, left there, a little off from the house by design. Coming home from college earlier that day, I had dreamt up my little midnight trip.

I slithered into the bucket seat and released the break, rolling the car from  the driveway until I thought is was safe to turn the engine. Twenty minutes later I was pulling up to Richard’s studio flat in Redlands. It was a comfortable room with a futon, small kitchen and bathroom.  The walls were covered with art of every genre and easels took up what little space remained once he moved his futon and sofa into place. There were stacks of his work leaning against the walls and his latest work sat on his largest easel with a cover over it. The kitchen was forever producing foods and smells and teas that were strange to me. Where I was a product of fast food and Mexican cooking, he experimented with tastes from around the world I was never brave enough to sample.

I knock on the door and he shouted for me to enter. He had his jacket in hand and wore his signature black tee-shirt and trousers. I don’t believe he owned a single garment of colour. It was as though he reserved all colour for the canvas.

“Let’s go.” I said

“Where to?”

“Donut run.”

“Really? All this fuss for Dunken Donuts?”

“These are really good donuts. You’ll see.”

We chattered away for the next hour until we reached the pier at Newport Beach. There was life all around despite the late hour. Nearly 2am and people were wandering along the waterfront. Some were couples drinking from concealed bottles on the beach, others were fishermen making their way to the end of the pier to cast their lines.

We made our way to the donut shop and came way with two glazed bars and coffees. We hardly spoke, but munched on our treats until we stood at the end of the pier. At that moment, I could have been alone with nothing but the moon and the sound of the sea. I closed my eye and listen to the Ocean. The waves broke against the pillars that held the pier and the structures on it. Seagulls screamed and flew close, unafraid for the fishermen’s bait.

Cold wind and mist brushed my skin and all at once, I felt at peace. If Richard spoke, I didn’t hear it. I might have made some noise or mumbled some response to his comments, but my mind was on autopilot.

When we judged it was time to go, for me to get back and sneak to my bed before my parents awoke, we left and made the hour journey back.

At Richard’s front door, we parted company with a promise to do that more often and I made my way home.

Since those early days I’ve tried to be close to the sea. I chose my home in San Francisco a block away from the pier, so I could hear the sounds of the sea lions barking at night. In London I strolled along the Thames and stood on Westminster bridge watching the light of Parliament reflect on the surface of the river, sometimes venturing south to the coast where I could smell the salt air of Brighton and Eastbourne.

Sadly, in recent years, I’ve neglected that thing I could always rely upon to give me peace. The Lochs of  Scotland, have been overlooked as have the chances to venture up to the sea. I’ve forgotten what it was like to stand at the edge of land on uneven ground of mixed-coloured pebbles watching the mist on the water.

I’ve decided something. This week I’ll take the car and drive until  I find a stretch of water with a donut or pastry shop.  I’ll stand at the edge of water and take it all in, wash away the stresses of the day and try to find a little piece of what I’ve been missing these years.

Different people have different connections to water  – some have never seen the ocean and I pity them.

Write about what you think of the sea…

Writing Prompt: Moonglow

“I’ve never liked full moons; it gives people an excuse to act foolish,”  – Maya Angelou

As I walked up the path to the house, I glanced up and saw the whole wide moon staring down at me. A clear sky surrounded the moon and its magnificence lit the garden.

I thought back to some of the full moon nights I had witnessed in my life. I’ve been fortunate enough to always be surprised at the impression it gives and the places I’ve seen it. I’ve watched the moon rise slowly over the Thames from the deck of a river boat, from the edge of a pier on the Pacific Ocean, peeking through my bedsit window when I was a student and once, quite recently, as I waited for a train at Haymarket station.

Each time I see a full moon I’m struck through by its simple beauty and the way it gives everything it lights up a special little glow. I find myself disappointed when I spot a full moon when I’m alone, as though I should be pointing it out to someone.

There are different types of full moon. Sometimes it’s small, like a football suspended it mid air, just beyond your reach. Other times, its huge, overpowering, lighting up the whole night sky and making you feel tiny and suddenly you are aware of your place in the world. I can almost picture myself the size of a needle’s eye, peeking out from a giant pin cushion. Then there are those rare times, usually in the summer, when the sun is beginning to set and for a brief while, the sunset and the moonrise share the same sky.

The thing about moonlight, for me anyway, is that whenever I spot it, I feel like I should be doing something mischievous, like breaking into a park at night, or sneaking into someone else’s swimming pool. I know it’s silly, but a full moon brings out the adventurer in me.

Try this, write a scene set on the night of a full moon. How does the light at night influence what your characters do?

Writing Prompt: Moonglow

Writing Prompt: Other People’s Stories

Stories are all around us. We tell each other about our weekend adventures in the coffee room at work, our parents and grandparents tell us about their lives, our friends swap stories every time we meet.

There is treasure of life experiences we all share all around us. Anecdotes are a great source of inspiration. Think about some of the tales you’ve heard throughout your life. Pick one that stands out. Is there a story your gran told you that you like to hear over and over again? What about stories your parents told you?

start by jotting down the stories as you remember them, then fictionalise them, adding your own twists and characters. You might be surprised at what you end up with.

Have fun.

Writing Prompt: Other People’s Stories

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