“Writing Territories” is a pre-writing activity that my friend Melissa adapted from the writer and teacher Nancie Atwell. I, in turn, stole it from Melissa a while back, and it made a repeat appearance in my classroom today. The basic idea is to generate a list of possible writing topics for yourself based on an expanding series of general categories, or “territories”; after first coming up with a territory list, the goal is to do a consecutive series of short, focused freewrites—once you feel you’ve exhausted one topic, move on to the next and so on. I usually tell my students that the term “freewrite” is entirely that: free. So, they are free to write however they see fit, whether it is in a column list, a paragraph list, sentences, pictures, whatever.
So, here’s what I came up with when I wrote with my students. They may not be incredibly compelling, and it seems like I’m getting lazier and lazier with this “write everyday thing” but this is just another angle into my mind.
Family—Talked to my brother last night, my niece is beautiful and my nephew is so smart and awkward (like his uncle maybe), my mom will be so excited to pick me up from the airport, I imagine her driving there a week early to camp out in her car until I come back, family loves even your ego, how will my family be different after two years away, except getting bigger and getting older, how will my ideas and expectations of family have changed. Separation and growing, apart from each other (though not necessarily “growing apart”), how families expand and contract (but luckily seem to mostly expand), I have had a niece born while I was here away, another niece started school and yet another learned to walk and talk (and dress up like a Ninja Turtle), my nephew is becoming a little man. The back and forth Facebook banter feels like old times though it’s now our main source of communication, it’s fun when all of us are present in the same comment box, and amazing that it’s big enough (and it’s all usually still at the expense of the youngest one, sorry Abby).
Favorite Things—wafli, warm bread + cold butter + hot soup, chocolate and peanut butter, French fries (but only with ketchup), I can tell that I haven’t eaten today, holding a new puppy to my chest, when people understand my Ukrainian the first time around, sneaking a smell of an infant’s head as she sleeps in my arms, college football on a cool fall day, the Big House in mid-November, my mother’s Christmas tree, when my students come up with a particularly creative idea or when they put great words together in an unexpected way, winning five battles in a row, bluffing for a big pot, drawing Jack-Seven suited.
Dreams—to make my family happy and proud, to write a book or two, to be pain free, I don’t remember my dreams usually and when I write them down and then go back to look at them later, it’s like they happened to someone else entirely, it’s like writing a secret letter to myself.
Fears—failing, falling, being powerless, being a vegetable, losing my mind, having a heart attack alone, being undiscovered, not reaching my potential, overreaching and being rejected, complacency, no-win decisions, being faced with life and death.
Music—Switchfoot, no surprise there, silly, stereotyping myself, going only for the obvious, the songs I listen to every night as I go to sleep, Paper Route, Wendell Berry, when to start the Christmas tunes this year, what will be my first concert back in the U.S., will Okean Elzy be my last in Ukraine, or will I get to see Ot Vinta again one more time.
Talking, about growing old, and with your hand, you trace my eyes…