Writing on Demand

I’ve often used prompts to get me going,  whether in writing groups with friends or students or while doing the Poem a Day Challenge or even for inspiration for this blog, but today, I am stumped by the prompt.  

I decided to take a writing course online. (Should I be concerned that auto correct made that a worrying vise?) It is a MOOC offered by the International Writer’s Workshop of the University of Iowa Writer’s Program.  Two nights ago, I watched the first class’s video,  read the short story,  and checked out the prompt. And now,  I’m stuck. 

I am supposed to write from the point of view of a child,  something I rarely do and have never done in fiction.  Yes,  the point of taking a class is to stretch oneself and try new things,  but to be so stumped on the first assignment is disconcerting.  The funny thing is that when I’m stuck,  what I usually do is go to a prompt and start free associating. But today it is the prompt that has me grounded. 

But, I have time.  I won’t sweat it.  Or so I tell myself.  Class 2 was posted this morning. I will move on with class 2, watch the video,  do the reading,  examine the prompt, and do the writing.  Maybe this will loosen me up for the first assignment.  Excellent.  I have a plan. 

I came home tonight and sat down at the computer, opened the email, pressed play.  All is good.  Interesting class on point of view and desire. I’m taking notes and ruminating on what the prompt may be–until the computer disconnects from the Internet at 33 minutes into a 47 minute class. Now I’m wondering,  “Is this an omen? How should I take this?”

So,  instead of writing my story,  I’m writing to you,  my readers. Help me out here. What do you do when you are stuck? If you’ve had to write on demand and found it a challenge,  how did you handle it? 


Tonight I had dinner and drinks with friends and acquaintances from college (and their children), some of whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Wow. How great that was!

 We’d grown,  we’d lived, we’d loved, we’d lost. But what I learned tonight was manifold:

 1. There is an essential spirit in each of us.  Among like spirited people,  it is easily manifested. 

2. For some of us,  when we were young adults,  the confidence to take advantage of all our youth had to offer was sometimes lacking. 

3. While we can know this as adults,  we cannot rue it. Who we are now,  the life we love now would not exist without the past we have already lived. 

4. Better than reliving the past is living the present.

5. And living it with people with whom  you have shared experiences in the past can be wonderful if you focus on the present and the future instead of the past. 

6. The desire to create,  to build a better world, to share our experiences is born out of our lives, our involvement with those around us–our care. 

7. This desire is a good thing.  Whether it be a full time career or a part time hobby, we should take that path,  even when the blog posts tend towards long form in a  short form world. 

Keep living my friends,  life to the fullest with eyes and hearts turned towards all avenues of creativity. Small or large does not matter. Genuineness does.  Be real. Be innovative. Be visionary. And most importantly,  be friends.  


On August 28th, 2001, I brought Leo home from the ASPCA on 91st St in NYC. He was a year and four months old.  I carried him in a cardboard pet carrier supplied by the shelter.  In layman’s terms,  it was a box with handles. We traveled by subway. The poor thing must have been terrified.  When I finally set the box down in the living room and opened the top,  Leo took one look,  jumped out,  and ran.  He very quickly found his way under the bed and took up residence there.

Over the next couple of weeks,  he would venture out for food and the litter box–Leo was never one to miss a meal–but little else.  Sometimes he would poke his head around the corner, but the slightest unexpected motion or loud sound sent him scurrying back to his lair under the bed. I’m sure he must have explored the rest of his domain while I was out, but when I was home, he either kept his eye on me,  perhaps wondering if I were real, or nestled in the safety of the shadows. In the dictionary,  under the definition of scaredy-cat, there was a picture of Leo.

Two weeks later was September 11th. I was teaching in Manhattan,  but far from the site.  No one had smart phones back then,  at least not Catholic school teachers. Access to the Internet was not as ubiquitous as it is today. There were no working TVs in our classrooms.  Information came in dribs and drabs. I heard that a plane flew into the World Trade Center, and I thought it was a  Cessna. This was not that long after JFK Jr’s crash. Then I went to teach,  or rather to test. That day, the second full day of the school year, was the day for the summer reading test.  I was in my classroom for the next three hours. Only when I went down for lunch did I hear about the second plane and the towers falling.

Soon enough an announcement was made for everyone to go home. For some of us that meant staying until all the students had figured out how to get home.  One girl,  a ninth grader on her second full day of high school,  didn’t know what to do,  but luckily she lived not too far from me and one of the guidance counselors. We walked with her over the Queensborough Bridge to where her father was waiting.  He then drove the two of us home also.

I don’t know what time I got home.  I think it was around 6pm. I hadn’t talked to anyone in my family yet. I had not yet seen any footage. My mind knew the information,  but I could not process it. It was out of the realm of my existence and imagination.  I came home,  sat down on the couch, and turned on the TV. As the first images of the horror of that day filtered through my eyes,  Leo jumped into my lap, laid down, and started purring. He stayed there all night. I have a large family, but at that time, I lived alone. Or, I should say with no other humans. Leo made sure I was not alone. I am sure that Leo was God’s gift to me, making sure I had a true companion that night.

For the rest of his life,  Leo was my baby, purring like a Harley,  claiming my lap as his personal space, and just offering his unconditional love.  And he’s been my inspiration for poetry, photography, and drawing. In the near future he may become the subject of a painting.  I lost my Leo to cancer on August 19th, just 9 days short of his 15th Gotcha Day,  but he will always live in my heart.

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