Where I’m From, A #Writing Exercise

I’m reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott right now. It’s a dreamy writing guide that’s funny and poignant and transparent and true.

And quite honestly, it makes me uncomfortable. Squirmy even.

Because Anne advises writers to write their stories down from the beginning. And that? I don’t necessarily want to do. Too painful? Too inconsequential? Too tedious? Maybe.

But the genius that is Anne says that you must write many, many throwaway pages in order to get to the gems.

“Start with your childhood. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can…Write down all the stuff you swore you’d never tell another soul…And then {one day} the miracle will happen. {You’ll find} the paragraph with all sorts of life in it.”

She calls it mining your memories for details. For sights and sounds and smells and voices and colors and even dialogue that make you say, ever-so-softly, “Hmm.”

In your creative non-fiction, these will become “writing what you know.” And in your fiction? They will give you the glimpse and the courage and the know-how to write what you don’t.

For example, if your character is embarrassed because her husband left her and your husband has never left you so how fortheloveofGod are you going to write about what you DON’T KNOW?

Well, you’ll dig deep.

You’ll mine your memories of that time that you walked across the quad with your skirt tucked into your underwear, or that boy ignored you, or you tripped at graduation.

And you’ll remember the sights and sounds and smells and voices and colors and even the dialogue that you do, in fact, know.

And then suddenly, yes. Yes, you will be able to write about that embarrassment.

Hmm.

So Anne’s suggestion to write from the beginning is magical, necessary genius. And below, is a great way to start the process.

Mama Kat posted this writing exercise earlier this week and my heart went a-flutter, something like this:

I can’t.

I should.

I won’t.

I must.

 

So here I am- Where I’m From.

 

I am from hummus and pita, from the perfect cup of Nescafe and cucumber and tomato salads diced impossibly small by my Saba‘s aged fingers, while my Safta yelled directions at him from the next room- their duet perfected.

I am from the whitest single-story in the cul de sac, on the cobblestone street near the bus stop, with the faded mailbox and the untended garden.

I am from the almonds, olives, and lemons. The dates, pomegranates, and oranges- all grown in the fresh dirt, under the blazing sun, in the tiny backyard.

I am from extravagant travels and short fuses, from Freida and Ada and Sara.

I am from Sunday morning phone calls that rang like clockwork from relatives that lived too far away to weave into our days and nick-nacks and tchotchkes and small gifts, so many small gifts, from those same relatives when weaving was possible.

From “Work hard- always” and “Apologize first- always.

I am from religion without synagogue or structure or prayer. But overflowing, and sometimes overwhelming, with joy and food and family and food and singing and food and tradition and food.

I’m from Israel and Lithuainea and Russia, the warmest of borekhas and the sweetest of shoko.

From the Russian emigre who crossed a border by starlight, illegally, and carrying only a small backpack. The Israeli spitfire who at 4’10 served in the army, carried a gun, and married that emigre. And the two sets of Holocaust survivors who watched that young couple cross yet another ocean and yet another time zone to start yet another life in the United States.

I am from thick albums bound in clunky navy leather lined with delicate gold etching, sorted and filled and labeled by twelve year old me. Sitting cross legged on my Grandparents’s -Saba and Safta- white tile floor in Jerusalem, the mounds and piles and memories surrounding me while their voices breathed life into their stories. Stories archived in my young print to be remembered, and to be told.

And today, I am from smiles and warmth, giggles and hugs.

I’m from the place where loose teeth are prized possessions, and macaroni and cheese and hot chocolate are gourmet treats.

And I’m from fleeting moments a’plenty, meant to be savored.

This is where I’m from today.

All of these thens and nows are treasures, aren’t they? Moments and words and times and places just waiting to be mined. 

I’m absolutely swooning over this exercise- Thank you Mama Kat.

The template, so you too can start at the beginning, can be found right here

Mama’s Losin’ It

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Comments

  1. Great post! I love the description and the image of your grandparents. Beautiful.

  2. Galit, you wordsmith, you!
    I have a confession. I attempted this prompt a few months ago, and failed miserably. Overwhelmed and discouraged, I pressed “delete” and then, vieiwing the Mama Kat prompt for this week, I felt that same bit of turmoil. Should I? Shouldn’t I?
    Well, Galit, your words have inspired me, and so during naptime, I WILL attempt this (Again) today!
    Thank you.

  3. I am reading Bird by Bird right now too…I’m enjoying it so much and I also did my own Where I’m From, I think I will keep doing it, keep digging.

    I loved yours, so real, so vivid, amazing.

    It was so good Galit.

  4. Oh sweet Galit, since you cannot be my neighbor, I will be eternally grateful to the blogosphere for bringing you and your sweet words into my life …

  5. I always smile when I see your blog pop up in the mornings. Then, sometimes I mimimize and come back later with a cup of tea and no distractions. I don’t want to be distracted when I read your words. They are that good.

  6. Just beautiful. Stunningly beautiful. Your words here have woven a wonderful tapestry of your life. Love this exercise, I’m tempted to give it a go :)

  7. First of all, now I really want to read that book! And second, I love how you shared your family’s history. It’s beautiful.

  8. This really is beautiful. I enjoyed this one when TRDC did it a long time ago. Maybe I should give it another shot.

  9. Beautiful, Galit!! I love how at the end you told where you’re from NOW.

  10. Inspiring and empowering. The metaphors and symbols paint a vivid portrait of your journey. Thank you for your courageous disclosure.

  11. Very impressive! I saw this prompt and knew it was so right up your alley. Awesome job with it. :)

  12. Mmmm….this is beautiful, Galit. I’m so enjoying everyone’s take on Mama Kat’s template excercise this week. Each piece is unique and yours offers up li’l treasures o’ you. Thank you for mining and sharing. And thank you for this: “And I’m from fleeting moments a’plenty, meant to be savored.” Yes. Me too. :>

  13. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Every line. I adore this exercise, though I haven’t managed to finish it myself. But reading about my friends and learning where they’re from is amazing.

    I also love Bird by Bird. What a fantastic book!!!

  14. Galit
    This really is magical.
    It took my breath away.
    Really
    I’m speechless.

  15. This post made me feel things that I wasn’t prepared to feel this morning.

    I am in mid-morning craziness. Trying to keep the peace, trying to keep them focused, trying to keep my sanity. This post made me breathe deeply and try to savor all the words so I wouldn’t miss one.

    It took me outside of myself and I loved it. So beautifully written. Thank you for that. You have inspired me to write my own.

  16. I first noticed this when you linked up with Mama Kat (I haven’t looked at my reader yet) and was so hoping you had chosen this prompt. Yay, you did! And you did a stunning job. I love it, especially, that you had to take a deep breath to do it.

    Love you for your soulful self-evaluation and your analytical honesty and your poetic reflections. All of it. xo

  17. Great post. You really give us a sense of who you are and how that has changed, even though it is all still a part of you.

    Ahhh Nescafe! It’s funny how some cultures love their Nescafe! Did you drink it hot or cold?

  18. Beautifully done. And now I want humus.

  19. This is so beautiful! And, I absolutely love you lead in. It was harder then I thought it would be to do this prompt (I say that a lot about her prompts) and you captured sights and smells to tell the story of where you are from. Wonderful!

  20. Gorgeous. I love how everything weaves together and brings right up to the present. You write so beautifully.

    I did this prompt somewhere else in July, and I found it the most enjoyable writing process ever – it’s like journeying through the tiniest of details and finding ourselves in all sorts of hidden places. I’d absolutely urge everyone to try it!

  21. What a wonderful person each of these pieces made!

  22. Yes, this prompt was the swooniest! I adored doing it. The best part is that truly anyone can write it.

    But some people knock it out of the park.

    Galit, dear friend, this was exquisite.

    The food and other things and food and also food? Hilarious. But so much more than that, too.

    What a journey it was to get from where you came from. A long journey for everyone. And now you’re here and your girls, the life you have built – well, that’s just about the swooniest, too.

  23. Angie is going to think I’m stalking now, but I’m visiting via The Little Mumma. Loved your piece – I could taste all that food, and think I’ll now have to seek some out like it. What a great story.

  24. Love this. I love how you weaved the descriptions together, it was great.

    I also have to re-read bird by bird such a great writing book!

  25. I love to KNOW where you are from. And I love that you shared part of “Bird by BIrd” with us. I really need to read it, don’t I?

    I did not know there was a template when I did this almost a year ago (it was floating around blogs back then). I just wrote what came out of my heart, much like you did here.

    This is so gorgeous and I adore how it helps me to know you even better. And now I want some of my parents’ Lebanese neighbor’s homemade hummus! ;-)

  26. I knew it. Absolutely lyrical. I love it.

  27. I read Bird by Bird many moons ago. I love her. She is incredibly inspiring. I am glad you’re reading it now. As you, too, are incredibly inspiring.

    This was beautiful. Loved it. Loved and felt each moment. Thank you for sharing you.

  28. Galit you are seriously perfection. I read Bird by Bird and loved it, I still go back when I need to and reading this post reminded me that I need to again because I have never had the courage to go all the way back to the beginning. You just did so so flawlessly. Beautiful, you and your talent.

  29. I love this, Galit. So expressive and I love how you transitioned to today. Is that in the template? I’m going to check – this is too cool. And a little scary, you’re right.

  30. gorgeous! It is so late and I have so few words, but I am thankful to have found you and your writing. Love bird by bird btw. omg, chills. you have a way with description and capturing a moment in time. that. is writing. love it.

  31. That’s a great book. My mother is always telling me “bird by bird” when I’m stressed over having too much to do.

  32. I always learn something new about you, and you write so beautifully. I felt like I was sitting on the couch criss cross applesauce looking into your photo albums!

  33. Very creative, Gailt. I love this.

  34. I am so glad that you decided to do this exercise. I loved reading your story and getting to know more about you.

  35. I love this. I have read many of these and yours made me teary eyed. As a writer you are, I knew before I clicked on it I will be touched, impressed and inspired.

  36. So beautifully written. The words really flow and illustrate. I loved it!

  37. Loved how you added where you are from today and the picture is just plain adorable! What a great read. Thank you for sharing!

    Lisa
    http://www.insignificantatbest.com

  38. This is beautiful!!! You did such an excellent job depicting where you came from. I feel the urge to do this myself now! Although, after reading your post, I’m afraid mine might seem boring and typical in comparison. :o/ I do love Mama Kat’s writing prompts. They’re challenging and satisfying all at the same time!

  39. First, macaroni and cheese + hot chocolate = gourmet treats for sure!

    Also, I love hearing the stories of immigrant families; I’m from “the clean plate club” because heaven forbid you waste a bite of food.

    And I kind of love that. The legacy of not wasting.

    My grandfather has never complained a day in his life (at least not out loud to the people who look up to him). So I am from gratitude and awe that I get to live today. And hopefully tomorrow.

    I love this, Galit. Thanks for making me think…and smile. And hungry for macaroni and cheese xo

  40. This gave me chills, Galit. So beautiful. Don’t be afraid of all that backstory, especially when all of it is such a wonderful story in itself!

  41. I really enjoyed reading about Where You’re From! I realy enjoyed the exercise too. Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier!

  42. I devoured–but savored–each word in this post. It is beautifully written and descriptive and I was with you in Israel and I pulled up a chair to taste the ripe pomegranates and oranges. Your writing never ceases to amaze me, Galit. Just draws me right in.

    Gorgeous.

  43. Gorgeous! Your grandparents remind me of mine – cooking, telling stories, yelling across the house at each other. This is so full of sensory details – I feel like I’m there. Beautifully written!
    Crystal

  44. I’ve read several of these over the last few years, and this is by far my favorite.

  45. I always want to know about your history. You’ve hinted with details of the places you’ve lived or traveled and I’m always left with a little bit of evocative mystery. I like this prompt so much. You can tell a lot about yourself without having to really divulge a lot. Odd. I thoroughly enjoyed this, though. But then again, I always enjoy what I read here. ;-)

  46. Galit,
    I have always loved this exercise. I have done it for a while with my elementary age students and I have have several classroom books of theirs. I posted mine, inspired by yours. You have such a rich history…loved reading it between these lines, we well as your present. With your poetic language, you truly made this exercise into beauty, as you always do!

  47. I’m all swoony too!

    Loved this!

    After reading a few of these ‘Where I’m froms’ I’m noticing that my own is being constructed in my brain…

  48. Oh, Galit! This is lovely! And ironic…..my post is on the same writing exercise! Interesting how different and yet similar are the place and things we are from. :-)

    Trish
    http://contemplatinghappiness.blogspot.com/2011/09/i-am-from-writing-exercise.html

  49. So beautiful, Galit! Love this exercise. Really seems like my attempt would put people to sleep, but maybe I’ll give it a try one day. The book sounds great! Going to check it out….

  50. This is beautifully done, Galit. I only recently became familiar with Anne Lamott and she really has some wonderful insight. Thank you for sharing a little more of “you” with us.

  51. Of course this is beautifully written. I would expect nothing less from you.

  52. Wow, just wow. Truly beautifully written and a wonderful way to get to know you.

  53. Love this! And I totally agree with the theory of writing pages and pages of worthless gibberish to gain a few pages of worth. My husband is a photographer, and when he first started out, I told him that he’s going to have to take hundreds of photos in order to find one or two worth keeping.

  54. I LOVED this prompt and wanted to tackle it myself but just couldn’t find the words and even if I could they would not be as eloquent as yours. Galit, this is fantastic. It is full of rich description and flows beautifully, which is nothing new with your writing. What I love the most if how it gives me such great insight into who you are and where you come from. Wonderful!

  55. I did this prompt too, but you did it so much better! Where you’re from sounds so interesting, full of history and culture and love. How great for you!

  56. I love this prompt. And you knocked it out of the park. Great, moving, lovely job!

  57. Absolutely beautiful.

Trackbacks

  1. […] found this writing excercise via Galit Breen’s blog, These Little Waves, and she got it from Mama Kat. It’s been on my mind for awhile, but I’ve been […]

  2. […] found this writing excercise via Galit Breen’s blog, These Little Waves, and she got it from Mama Kat. If you’d like to give it a shot, you can find Mama Kat’s […]

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