Writing Prompt: Favorite Food

My husband came home with a miniature food processor one day, which, to me, was way better than a bouquet of roses. We boiled apples in a big stockpot until they were tender, then threw them into the food processor and whizzed them around until they turned to mush.

My mother-in-law prefers a different method, which involves boiling the apples down to a thick sauce, constantly mashing and toiling over her bubbling pot, as though she were mixing a magical potion, only stopping to replenish the water as it evaporates away.

Though both methods make decent applesauce, neither make the right applesauce.

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The only recipe I need is my grandfather’s, but he can’t teach it to me because he’s dead. I rummaged through his drawers and binders of recipes left behind in his empty kitchen and found none for applesauce. I know where his recipe is. It’s in his decaying brain and his quiet heart six feet under.

I find I can’t replicate the precise golden color–more yellow than bronze–with flecks of ground cinnamon and nutmeg. My attempts are too spicy or too sweet. I can’t re-create the cold taste that refreshes my hot mouth and hot breath, the taste that cools and warms all at once with love and comfort.

*What is your favorite food to make, to eat? What foods make you nostalgic? Get out your trusty timer and write about it!*

In the Driver’s Seat

I’ve owned two cars in my life, and I considered them both pieces of junk. I learned early on in my driving career how to fill coolant and check my oil not because I wanted to know but because I had to know. These tasks had to be done before I took any trip over 30 miles.

However, the extent of my car knowledge didn’t expand much past coolant and oil. I made plenty of emergency stops at roadside gas stations in the middle of nowhere to call a parent or a friend to come and rescue me.

And yet road trips were always a love of mine in my early driving years. I had friends throughout the state, and I wouldn’t think twice about visiting Lansing or Detroit on a whim, map in hand and with a vague idea of where I was going.

I used to drive the 2.5-hour-long trip back and forth from college to my mom’s house all the time. It was routine. It was easy. I’d pop in the soundtrack to *Rent, Aida, Ragtime,* belt out the lyrics and bounce up and down in my seat. The minutes, the hours would tick away and I wouldn’t even notice. By intermission, I’d be in Brighton. By the finale, I’d be home.

But college finished and I started dating the man I would eventually marry. And from then on, I had a travelling partner to accompany me on those long rides across the state or anywhere else we wanted to go. He’s always had the more reliable car, and his car maintenance knowledge extended far past coolant and oil.

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Me with my crappy rusty Malibu

It was natural, then, that we got in the habit of taking his car when we went out. I was content allowing him to take the driver seat and for me to climb into the passenger seat. I enjoyed not having the responsibility of driving. I much preferred the freedom of my relaxing post the next seat over. From there, I could watch the world go by outside the window, only changing my glance to look over at my husband and smile. My hands, not needed on the steering wheel, could reach over and rub his shoulders. My feet, with no pedals to press, could be tucked up under my leg. I could make myself comfortable. There is nothing I have to do but ride.

But recently, I had to make a 2.5 hour-long trek up to Traverse City alone for work. I borrowed my husband’s 2010 SUV and let him take my rusty 2002 Malibu for the day. I climbed into the driver’s seat, his seat, and shut the door. I adjusted the mirrors and took a deep breath.

I wasn’t sure I could get myself there in one piece. I was inexplicably nervous. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t have any CDs. My phone wouldn’t get a signal up there. What would I do if I got lost, if I got in an accident? Who would be able to help me?

The driver’s seat wasn’t mine. The passenger seat was where I belonged.

I had grown afraid of the driver’s seat. I was used to depending on my husband to safely transport me places. I somewhere lost confidence in my ability to get myself anywhere on my own. When I had to drive somewhere, even if I had a good idea of where I was going, I still put the address into my GPS and followed it obediently thought it may take me a way I wouldn’t normally go. I had completely lost faith in myself.

The thing is, as much as I tell myself I can’t drive, I know that I can. I know that I must.

Of course I got myself to Traverse City and back, though there was snow and ice and darkness and deer jumping across the highway. My knuckles may have been white from grasping the wheel too hard, but my tight grip helped me stay on the road. I hadn’t forgotten how to drive. I just had to believe in my ability to do it.

Last weekend, I bought a new car. It’s reliable. It’s good on gas. It’s the car we’ll take across the state to visit family or up north for vacation or anywhere else we want to go. “I’ll drive,” I’ll say, and climb into the driver’s seat unafraid.

I know what I’m doing. I know where I’m going.

Writing Prompt: Childhood Vacation

My rich uncle owned a condo in Myrtle Beach, and he let my family stay there a few times. I don’t have a clear picture of it in my mind, but all vacation condos I’ve ever been in are the same. Light pink and light blue Polynesian floral patterns cover the soft surfaces: the walls, the cushions, the bedspreads. All hard surfaces are white: white cabinets, white wicker furniture, white tile on the floor. Condos are luxurious and cold at the same time. People are always coming and going, living and creating memories and then disappearing into oblivion. The decorations lack any sort of personality; they must fit everyone’s taste and also provide an easy way to quickly wipe away any sort of living that went on there. The condo waits, sterile and empty, for another family to come along.

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It is the time we spent outside of the condo that made the trip memorable. This trip to Myrtle Beach will always stand out in my memory because of the amount of alligators we saw. We saw them on our bike ride sunning themselves, on the grass by the river, the river where we fished from a small wooden dock. My father, forever afraid of worms (he and I have that in common), used hot dogs as bait, which attracted all the alligators in a five mile radius. He hurried to take my fishing line out of the water as a large dark shadow paddled closer and closer. Hot dogs safely back in the cooler, we decided that was enough fishing for one day.

Bare It All

A tall English woman in a black track suit was assigned to show us around the health club. My husband and I followed her through the complex and nodded as she pointed out the different areas. When it came to the locker room entrance, my husband went left into the men’s alone and I went to the right with the staff person into the women’s. I was immediately confronted with bare boobs and bodies of all shapes and sizes.

The staff woman told me about the towel service and the sauna, but I couldn’t hear her over all the nakedness. No one seemed to notice that I was standing there completely dressed from head to toe. They moved around before me, talking and laughing and trying to get ready, not paying any mind to their own nudity or each other’s. I felt as if I were a spectator at a zoo, watching strange creatures behind glass. It’s as if they didn’t realize they were indeed naked.

And then I felt a little offended. I can understand if these women are comfortable exposing themselves to each other—they’re all part of the same gym and this is normal for them—but shouldn’t they cover up when “company” comes by? Shouldn’t they be a little embarrassed that they’ve been caught? Shouldn’t they feel a little ashamed?

Because that’s how I would feel if some stranger walked in on me naked.

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Until then, I hadn’t seen a lot of naked women’s bodies. Even in college, when I lived with three women and shared a room with one of them, changing was always done in the bathroom. I might go to the gym with a friend, but we kept our backs to each other while changing into sports bras. It was the polite thing to do.

I suppose I learned these “manners” in my Catholic household, where talking about one’s body was never encouraged, not that I even bothered. I was embarrassed to talk about my body, probably because I was always a little embarrassed OF my body. It was never all that skinny or tight or shiny like the bodies I saw on the covers of magazines.

That might sound cliché, blaming magazines for poor body image, but when I didn’t have anything else to compare my body to, whom or what else could I blame?

Even with all the “rude” naked women in the locker room, we still signed up for a membership. And since then there’s been a gradual change in my locker room attitude and decorum. I started off changing in a bathroom stall. Eventually, I grew comfortable changing in the main area, but continued to turn my boobs towards the lockers when putting on my sports bra.

Now I whip all my clothes off without giving a damn who sees me.

They say that the best way to learn a language is to completely immerse yourself in it. Once I surrounded myself with naked female bodies, I actually started to understand that my body was nothing to be ashamed of. What I saw when I peeked sideways at ladies next to me or glanced in the mirror at ladies behind me is that the female body is practically the same on every woman.

There are shoulders and breasts and tummies and thighs, and yes, they may vary in size, but I never really think anyone’s anything is better than the others. In fact, I find them all equally beautiful. No body is shameful. They are all as they should be. And then I think that maybe my body is beautiful, too.

I see little girls and teenagers walk through the locker room, and sometimes I wait to undress or cover up until they walk by, because I don’t want to traumatize them or teach them something about the female body that perhaps their mother didn’t want them to know. But they never seem shocked to be surrounded by flesh. They barely even notice. And I wonder what their body image is like, if they are more comfortable with themselves because they see so many normal women comfortable with themselves, comfortable enough to walk through a crowded room with no clothes on. When I cover up, aren’t I just teaching them the shame and embarrassment I had to overcome?

Perhaps if I had been exposed to the female form more in my youth, maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long to learn how to love my own body.

Now when I’m in the locker room and I see a clothed stranger getting a tour of the place, I let it all fly free. Because she might as well get used to it now. She’ll be happier for it in the long run.

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Writing Prompt: Pet Memory

Frisky, our cat, had a thirst for open spaces, though he was always a house cat and had no claws (thanks to us) to climb trees or hunt mice. Confined to the limits of the brick walls, his only reprieve was the chance that someone heading out onto the deck took their time closing the screen door behind them, giving him the opportunity to slide past a leg and taste fresh air. Of course, once he was outside, he immediately regretted the decision, and chances are he slid out so fast that door opener didn’t notice and closed the door behind them. A domestic cat stranded outside. Panic insued. What to do? Where to go?

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Alarmed by his fast-approaching owners, he galloped across the boards, his tiny paws thumping on the wood; he jumped past the steps and shimmied underneath the deck. There he sat, far out of our reach, probably to avoid retribution, or perhaps he worked so hard to get outside, he may as well buy himself a few minutes there. And we’d grow tired of calling his name gently and patting the ground, so we’d toss gravel in his direction or shoot him with a water gun until he moved close enough to the side that one of us could reach under and grab him. We’d pick him up and bring him back inside. We’d close the door securely. And by the door he remained for his next chance at escape.

*What’s a memory you have of a beloved pet? Leave your story in the comments.*

Detroit Native

My husband and I were lucky enough to find ourselves in Detroit on Sunday with tickets to a Red Wings game in our hands. It was still morning and the day was sunny and brisk. We stuffed our hands in our jeans pockets and kept our heads down against the wind as we rushed through Monroe Avenue. The smell of smoked meats from [Red Smoke](http://www.redsmoke.net/) mingled with the smell of sulfur wafting up through the sidewalk grates. The streets were empty except for a man sitting on the ground; he asked us for change, but we didn’t have any. The automatic doors at Greektown Casino opened before us, and we shook off the cold as we moved through the brick building and up the escalator to the [People Mover](http://www.thepeoplemover.com/WE-LL-TAKE-YOU-THERE!.id.2.htm). The rickety train thundered into the station within minutes, and we boarded with a few other people in Red Wings apparel. The train rocked us back and forth as it gave us a bird’s-eye view of this beautiful and wounded city.

I love Detroit. It’s a love that a lot of people in West Michigan don’t understand. Whenever I tell a friend I’m going to Detroit, I unfailingly get the advice: “Don’t get mugged!”

It’s a common enough response for people who live over two hours away from the city, who have probably never been to the city, or if they have, never been there longer than the length of a baseball game or a concert. Drive in, enjoy an event, and drive home like a bat out of hell. There’s been hardly any good news coming out of Detroit for the past two decades, so people who rely on the news for truth about this mysterious city assume that it’s better left alone.

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I grew up on the east side, though, a mere 45 minutes south from “D-town,” as we affectionately call it. No one knows where Ida Township is. It doesn’t clear anything up when I say it’s in Monroe County. But Detroit—ahh, they know that name. Once, when I was in Italy, on a date with a waiter from our hotel who didn’t speak a lot of English, I told him I was from Michigan. He scrunched his brow at this, clearly not understanding. I held up my right hand to show the recognizable shape of my state—still nothing. I did not understand a lot that he said, but I did understand that he liked the rapper Eminem. “EMINEM!” I gasped with elation. Of course! Eminem is from Detroit! I am also from Detroit!

Only I’m not.

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True, I’ve been to Detroit far more than my West Michigan counterparts. My family made the drive up I-75 multiple times a year for plays, musicals, and, yes, concerts and baseball games. A fond childhood memory of mine is spotting landmarks that prove we’re almost there—the fireball at the oil refinery in the industrial River Rouge, the haunting 21-story train station with all of its windows missing, the tall white walls of the old Tiger Stadium, and finally the iconic Renaissance Center, its glass towers sticking out like sore thumbs amongst the brick skyline of downtown. Many of my fondest childhood memories begin with this journey.

Yet I have no idea what it means to be a Detroiter. I don’t know the hardship or the fear. I don’t know what it’s like to see my city collapse from the inside out. And sometimes I feel like an imposter, the way I love the city so much.

But I do love the city, and it is my city, too. I have made a wish on the fountain in [Fishbones](http://www.fishbonesusa.com/). I have ridden the elevator in the [Ren Cen](http://www.gmrencen.com/home.axis) all the way to the top. I have walked the length of the [Riverwalk](http://www.detroitriverfront.org/). My husband swam in the Detroit River. We picnicked on [Belle Isle](http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10365_67024—,00.html).

I know where the fuck [Bob-Lo Island](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boblo_Island_Amusement_Park) is.

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I have walked the streets at night and not been afraid.

Detroit is my home. And like my family home, it’s always been a little dysfunctional. It’s never been perfect. But it’s working on making things right. I believe in it and its ability to be whatever it wants to be. Most importantly, I am proud of it.

We emptied off the crowded train full of red-and-white dressed strangers high on adrenaline from an overtime victory. Back on Monroe Avenue, the streets were full of activity. Musicians were playing upbeat melodies. Friends were congratulating each other on an excellent win. We thought for a moment about staying in the city for a while and celebrating, but a sea of red jerseys was visible through the windows of [Astoria Pastry Shop](http://astoriapastryshop.com/) and [Pegasus Taverna](http://pegasustavernas.com/). Rather than battle the crowds of out-of-towners, we decided to just get to the car and go home. We’re no strangers to the city. We’ll be back soon.

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**Photography by [Acronym Creative Studio](https://www.facebook.com/acronymcreativestudio).
Apparel by [Blonde.](http://theblondecollective.com/)
Please check out the work of these two great Detroit companies who are proud of their city.**

*Do you have a city that feels like home to you, even though you don’t live there? Or are you trying to make a new city your home? Share your story in the comments.*

Writing Prompt: Car Trip

I point my video camera at my cousin who’s driving, her eyes on the road but her smile seems to come from the side of her mouth for the benefit of my filming. She’s singing along to the mixed tape that plays over the car stereo and she moves her shoulders back and forth to the beat with three fingers on the bottom of the steering wheel. With a sudden jerk, I focus the camera on my best friend in the backseat who wears heart-shaped sunglasses and a t-shirt with a strawberry on it. She smiles an awkward smile and waves when I tell her to say something. I hit the red button with my thumb, believing that I’ve turned the camera off, but actually I turned it on. Later when I’m watching the video, this is where the television goes dark to varying degrees as the lens bops back and forth again the cotton seat. As we come into heavy traffic in an unfamiliar city, the volume changes from friendly voices and a humming engine to shrieks and swear words of scared little girls. “Watch out!” “Oh, shit!” “Turn here!” And then the traffic thins and I pick up the camera. You see my face for a moment, enough to catch me sighing some relief, and then just as I take a breath to talk, blackness.

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*What’s a memorable car trip you’ve taken? Who were you with? Where did you go? Share your story in the comments.*

Time to Wake Up

We had a 60-degree day last week, which was an abnormally warm day for March. So abnormal that piles of snow still loitered in parking lots and front yards while people walked their dogs without coats on.

There is a park not far from my office, and during the summer, I eat my lunch on a bench and then walk around the ball diamond for exercise. Since it seemed so warm, I drove to the park on my lunch, only the air was too cold to sit outside and my walking path was still blocked with residual snow.

I never used to like springtime. I prefer fall. I never feel more alive than when everything around me is dying. The voices of the world disappear and all I can hear is my own.

Springtime, to me, was just more winter–dark and gloomy and cold. There wasn’t any grand transition there.

It was T.S. Eliot who wrote “April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land.” The lilacs are sleeping, Mother Earth, and so are we. Why must you disturb us? No one likes to be woken up before the sun comes out.

I have since been converted. I now stand with the rest of the Michiganders and welcome springtime with open arms. The winters are harsh and long, and they only seem to be getting harsher and longer as the years go by. So when it gets above freezing, we break out the flip-flops and go play outside.

Later on that warm day, I found myself near my college alma mater with a few minutes to spare, so I turned in the main drive and drove through the campus. I passed the soccer fields. The snow on the faux turf had been scraped to the side so the bright green “grass” was enclosed by an ice wall. Students in shorts kicked the ball to and fro.

I went by the golf course. The women’s team was out on the driving range in skirts, their uncovered legs disappearing behind snow banks, their golf balls forever lost among the leftover white. Through my rolled-down car window, I laughed out loud at the absurdity.

I realized that Michiganders aren’t like T.S. Eliot’s lilacs at all. We aren’t annoyed that we’ve been awakened from our hibernation. We embrace it. We don’t care that the time is not right–the calendar says it is yet winter–but we act as though it is the middle of July. We stand on the dead land as conscious and breathing beings. We want it to be summer, dammit, so we make it so.

As I sat in my car, the sun’s warmth tanning my left arm, and the dark shade cooling my face, I appreciated the transition that I was forcing on nature. The earth may not be ready to wake up, but I am.

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Writing Prompt Wednesday

They don’t tell you much when you start adjunct teaching. They don’t tell you how to write a syllabus or structure a class. They don’t tell you what methods work and what methods don’t.

Fortunately, no one had to tell me to start my class period off with a writing prompt. As a longtime student of literature, I simply know that the only way to start a class is with a writing prompt.

From a teacher’s perspective, it’s a device that works wonders. First, it kills time during your class—that’s a whole ten or fifteen minutes you don’t have to be teaching, which trust me, is always a relief. Teaching is a non-stop sport that doesn’t allow for many breathers, so you take them when you can get them.

Second, it warms up the students’ minds and fingers, gets them thinking about words and ideas, helps them focus their thoughts so they might become comfortable with their own opinions. It’s astounding how scared college freshman are of their own opinions.

But there’s another wonderful benefit to writing prompts that I enjoy not just as a teacher but as a writer: writing for the sake of stringing beautiful words together.

With a blog or an essay or a story, there always has to be a point. You must give the reader what we in the biz call “universal meaning.” If your reader can’t relate to your writing, you can’t get an A.

With a writing prompt, you have ten minutes to write and you’re not allowed to stop writing. You don’t have time to worry about universal meaning. You don’t have time to think about the reader. You don’t have time to be critical or editorial.

You simply write. You create. And you see what comes of it.

Allow me to demonstrate.

Pick a subject: the broader, the better. Let’s do “St. Patrick’s Day” since it was yesterday. Set the timer and begin.

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*The bagpipes whine mournfully over the bright green hills. The drums are soft and subdued and yet I can’t help tap my toe and bounce my knee to the rhythm. The screech of the violin strings. The fast moving feet of the step-dancers. Their skirts flap back and forth as they kick their feet high in front of them. I learned to step-dance in England when I visited with my high school band. The daughter of my host family showed me on the back patio. Step, step, step, step, kick, ball change. We hopped back and forth across the length of the in-laid bricks, our hands at our side, our hair swinging from side to side across our shoulders.*

DING! Time’s up.

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Is it great writing? Not yet it’s not. As soon as the timer dings, I can begin to craft it into great writing.

But what does it mean? Does it have to mean anything? To me, what’s important is: does it spark something in your memory? You’re probably now thinking about St. Patrick’s Day yourself—what you do, what you remember, what you think about it. You might be thinking about YOUR trip to England or the time you learned a dance move. Set the timer. Write it down.

This is such an important part of writing, in my opinion. It’s casual and relaxed. It helps you generate material. It helps you find ideas you may not have thought of otherwise. Is it publishable writing? Not usually. It’s writing for the sake of writing. It’s writing that leads to better writing. It’s the starting point for what may be a great blog, a great essay, a great novel.

It’s practice. And every writer needs practice, no matter how long they’ve been writing.

And so I hereby declare the instatement of Writing Prompt Wednesday.

If you are a writer, or if you like to write (one and the same, if you ask me), won’t you join me? Let’s take a little breather from teaching the world how to think, how to feel, how to love. Instead, let’s sit in the quiet, the *ticktickticktick* from the timer the only sound, and string beautiful words together.

**“He wanted to cry quietly but not for himself: for the words, so beautiful and sad, like music.” – James Joyce**

*What are some topics that would make good writing prompts? Leave me some suggestions below! Or write for ten minutes about St. Patrick’s Day and post your writing prompt results in the comments!*

Write it in ink

One of my all-time favorite movies is David Fincher’s 2010 “The Social Network,” the story of how Facebook started. It’s a brilliant film with exceptional acting and mesmerizing dialogue, among other attributes worthy of praise.

But it has a sentimental factor for me as well. It transports me immediately back to college. Mark Zuckerberg is the same age I am, was at Harvard the same time I was at my not-so-prestigious state school. And shortly after the film opens, we see Mark enter his dorm suite (one much more lavish and roomy than I ever had) and turn on his computer, where the familiar white-and-blue branding of the Livejournal homepage shines bright.

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I, too, sat at my desk, tapping the keyboard at all hours of the night, multiple times a day, chronicling my undergraduate life for the whole world to read. Really, it wasn’t the whole world—it was ten friends who went to the same school I did. I filled my entries with inside jokes and complaints about homework and whatever shenanigans we college kids engaged in.

I was able to enjoy life twice: first, actually experiencing it and second, afterwards, on the internet, reading my friend’s different versions of what happened. We wrote about our lives with exaggeration and extravagance and often without discretion. “As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever, it would be a crime for it not to be shared,” explains Fincher’s fictional Erica Albright.

We shared. We sometimes shared too much.

Now a decade later, it’s quite unnerving to know that my Livejournal rantings are still floating out there in cyberspace. It’s like a time capsule waiting for someone to stumble upon it, unearth it, and get a glimpse of what life was like in West Michigan for one strange college student. But it stays up there (for now) so I can live my life twice, no matter how novice the writing or how embarrassing the stories.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why I did that, why I bothered putting my life on the internet, why I continue to do so through social networking sites. Why does anyone? But Fincher is a sneaky bastard. The answer is in the title.

To network socially. To connect to each other.

“The internet isn’t written in pencil, Mark. It’s written in ink,” snarky Erica enlightens us.

I have published a portion of my life online. My interactions with others are written in the ink of the internet. Bodies are mortal but words live on forever. Words let us live again.

And so I keep writing. I get to live life twice, three times, twelve times—as many times as I care to read about it.