I used to participate in writing groups. It wasn’t my thing. I mean, it was my thing, but I never connected with the people I met. I want to be part of a writing group, there is a need to connect with others and spend time ruminating the ins and outs of character and plot and storyline and humanity and life and love and…well…the heart of it is that when it comes to writers and their writing groups; finding the perfect group is an exercise in finding your tribe. The place you belong.
I have not found my tribe of writers.
But writing groups. There are variations as to what happens when in a writing group, but the gist is the same. You meet, you have a writing exercise of some sort to wiggle the imagination a bit, then you read some of your writing and discuss the craft and if it’s a small group that meets often, you exchange chapters and talk about what needs work, what is working and the process of it all.
One of the exercise that has come up several times over the years is, for lack of a better name, called Where I’m From.
A poet in Kentucky by the name George Ella Lyon wrote this poem:
Where I’m From
I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.
I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.
I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.
Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.
This poem has since, become an exercise used not only as a writing exercise but in studying ourselves. It has been used as a template to explore our roots. So that we can find ourselves, find where we are going by knowing where we came from. This idea has been tickling in the back of my mind and has become mixed with another one lately.
You see, I read this quote recently:
“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonate with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery-celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from …it’s where you take them to.” – Jim Jarmusch.
I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’ve been inspired by others work before. I’ve been moved to the depths of my soul and those feelings have stayed with me when I sit down to write. I’ve always felt a little awkward at that point, like an artistic voyeur, only able to copy those that came before me, unable to swim about in my own originality.
However, when I think about it, even that quote that rang with a truth and freedom for me isn’t original. I recall one of my history classes where we learned a Chinese philosophy that my addled mind recalls this way: everything has already been done, in order to find something new you have to look to the past.
The feeling of plagiarism still stunts my art at times. I tried to fight the effects with the tired idea that imitation is the highest form of flattery. (And of course I wonder about the flattery of imitation with things like the upcoming movie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What would Jane Austen say if she were here today staring at that movie poster? I mean, I roared with delight and happiness when I first saw it, but has she already done a little roll in her grave?)
The hardest part of inspiration isn’t the writing, the creating, the creation itself. It’s the feeling that comes days later, during the editing, the second look. When doubt creeps in. But something rang true for me as I read that quote. It’s not about where the ideas come from, it’s about where you take them. Look to the forward not the past. There are so many quotes and reminders about that very idea, that perhaps it’s time to take it to hear this year.
Meanwhile, these thoughts of piracy, where I’m from, and finding a writing group whirled about; all the while I’ve been attempting to organize my writing life. Aka, the mountainous files I store on my computer. Every year at some point I try to make the files more efficient which really is ridiculous because I have twenty-some-odd-years of writing on a hard drive (finally backed up by the cloud) and way too many files labeled “Ideas”. I mean, come on Nicole.
Well, I ran across my poor attempt at defining where I’m from and thought I might share my inspired bootleg.
Where I’m From by Nicole Sharp
I am from a screw top bottle of wine shared while everyone else guzzled beer.
I am from red clay and Hee-Haw overalls.
A skipping Roo with bells sewn into the slip of frilly dresses to help keep track. Jingle, sing, jingle, sing. Skip, giggle.
I am Kraft Macaroni and cheese; and sometimes hot dogs.
I am a sharp snap of New York Italian, and a drunken Irish Jig.
A mad mixture of pioneering spirit and Western migration.
I am a rebellious movement toward palm trees, where the coconut oiled air tastes of salt and the rest of the land is ripe with sunglasses and hazy sunshine.
I am an orange grove, holding hands with grandma; looking up at her while she throws stones at threatening crows.
I am the applause at the end of a community theater musical.
I am from ink stained fingers attached to madly scribbled notebooks.
I am from the part of a big sister that stands protective, proud.
I am a float on my back in a mountain lake, body aching from long hikes.
I am a private Idaho sunset, a crashing wave, a gypsy’s journal.
Vengo da una nuova lingua ho imparato.
I am one in a chorus of 5, with equal breath, different tones, and decent harmony.
When I wrote this, we had read the poem and talked about the form of it. Then we were given free rein to make it our own. I have since found that there is a template for this. So perhaps you are interested, bored, trying to waste time at work. Whatever the case, here’s the template.
The WHERE I’M FROM Template
I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.
I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).
I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)
I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).
I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).
From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).
I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.
I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).
From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).
I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).