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Exercise #20: Paper That Changed Your Life

Mental Note #7639471

Larry M. was my roommate for the semester we spent at the University of Dallas Rome Campus. He was one of the gang that traveled to London together before the start of the semester for a week and then took the train to Rome by way of Paris. He was my companion on several weekend trips out of Rome, too, including Florence, Munich, Salzberg, and the ill-fated attempt to get to Malta for Easter, which was aborted in Siracusa, Siciliy, when we found that the boats were all booked up, and then turned semi-tragic when we were robbed at gunpoint in a pizzeria in Messina on the night before Easter.

Larry used to carry a tiny notebook everywhere he went, into which he would write notes about photos he’d taken, places to visit and sights to see, addresses, hours of operation, Italian phrases, and so on. …more

Exercise #19: Lead line: “Every morning I sit across from you…”

Every morning I sit across from you, and you stare back at me with a blank screen. I’ve configured you so that the WriteRoom word processor’s solid-black window hides everything else on the screen—the other applications, the desktop, the menus, the dock. I chose these settings so it would be just you and me when I sit down to write every day for the first of two 25-minute periods. The top line of the blank page is dark gray, and an insertion point in antique white blinks impatiently at me.

Some days, I feel as if you’re taunting me. “So you think you’re a writer, do you?” On better days, you are …more

Exercise #15: Carrying Something Heavy

The week before school started in my freshman year of college at the University of Dallas, I was hanging around with some new friends in the University Center when someone—I no longer remember who—came looking for strong boys to help with something. As the biggest and tallest in the group, I could think of no face-saving way to beg off, so I volunteered, along with three or four others. We followed our taskmaster out the north side doors of the UC, across the patio, down the hill and through the woods to the Art Center. There, in one of the workshops, we saw the object for which our help was needed: a huge three-sided bar built of plywood and particle-board covered with …more

Exercise #11: Favorite Thing to Do in Your Favorite City

I’ve decided to return to the online workshop on which I was working when Hurricane Ike arrived last September. Had some trouble with the first prompt, though. My first attempt turned into unpublishable erotica. Here’s my second attempt:

Fragment #2

I want all of my life to be like these moments:

  • The day that Continental canceled our flight out of Rome, so we spent the day exploring Ostia. We surprised ourselves with how much fun we could cram into one unexpected extra day of vacation.
  • The day you led me through rush-hour traffic to Griffith Park, then showed me where the trail began. I was energized by your kindness.
  • The day the cold front blew through the city, and then you took me to your soccer practice. It was too cold for me to spend two hours waiting on a bench, so I wandered the unfamiliar neighborhood until I found a coffee shop open. Then I came back and climbed up and down the pedestrian staircase to to the road high on the hill above the soccer field to keep warm. While I walked the stairs, I had a heart-to-heart talk directed at a silent God. I told him that I thought he was irrelevant, and that I’d listened to his people and their bad ideas for long enough.

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #7: Lineage story

I don’t know a whole lot about my lineage. It seems safe to say that my family didn’t come over on the Mayflower, or I would probably have heard about it, right? From the little information we have, it’s more likely that most of my ancestors came to the New World much more recently, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On an encouraging note, that means my family is probably off the hook for ever having owned any African slaves. I’m told that my niece and nephew, however, are related by way of my brother-in-law’s family to Jefferson Davis. But that’s their karmic burden to work out. As for us Gumnicks, it’s more probable that our ancestors were somebody else’s slaves—or “serfs,” as they were called back when European white people owned …more

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #3: Like a Brother

The Fisherman’s Brother

One Christmas season I drew my
big brother’s name out of the pot.
He was a fisherman; he decorated
his half of the room we shared
in eclectic Field & Stream motif.
Naturally, I shopped a sporting goods
store in search of the perfect gift.

My knowledge of fish and my interest
in fishing began and ended with threading
half of a squirming earthworm onto
a rusty hook and dangling it in the water
weighed down by a soft clump of lead
under a red and white plastic bobber.
(I thought of myself as a purist.)

I knew in the abstract that one could
angle for largemouth bass or smallmouth
bass or brook trout or rainbow trout or
any desired species in creek or lake
or stream, but I had no patience for the art
and science of attracting and catching
anything without a taste for worms.

So I selected a jar of fluorescent
orange roe. I imagined the plump,
squishy balls looked delicious to fish.
I also picked a gorgeous lure, an oval
of convex stainless steel painted in faux
fishy stripes and spots of red enamel,
a beauty to win a fish’s heart.

Note: The prompt for today was to describe someone who was “as close as a blood relative,” though not related. I decided to go in another direction.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick

50/50 Fall 2008, Exercise #1: Storm Story

Water, Water Everywhere

My family was baptized into life in Houston on June 15, 1976—the only time in history that a game at the Astrodome was ever rained out. In the early afternoon, a storm dropped almost 13 inches of water on the city in about three hours. Flooding and traffic were so bad that the players couldn’t make it to the legendary domed stadium, much less the fans. We didn’t know that factoid until much later. The news the next day focused, of course, on the eight lives lost and on the damage to the Texas Medical Center and several of the city’s art museums.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. My story starts earlier in the day, on the last leg of a four-day trip from our previous home in the suburbs of Philadelphia. We’d spent a night each …more

Whitewash and Boredom

Sheldon Avenue in Baltimore was where my maternal grandparents lived, the home where my mother grew up, the place my brother and sisters and I dreaded visiting. Or at least I dreaded visiting. It was an orderly street of row houses and sycamore trees, with long concrete staircases at the lower end, shorter staircases at the top end where the street intersected with Belair Road. Belair Road was the limit they’d placed on our wanderings; we were not to cross the six busy lanes of asphalt under any circumstances.

Their house was the fourth from the bottom of the row—fourth on the right as you climbed the street in the front, fourth from the left as you climbed …more

50/50 Exercise #43: Identity and Place

“This is my city, and I am as much a Roman as anyone here.”

—Words that I will put in the mouth of a fictional character one of these days

The prompt is to describe a place—a location “that is meaningful and powerful for you,” and then to write about who you are in that place. I’m thrilled and terrified by this assignment. No one who knows me will be surprised at my choice. It’s the place that I return again and again—Rome.

I’m excited by the task because I’m always happy to think about Rome. I can talk about it for hours and hours. I’m scared because …more

50/50 Exercise #22: Questions

Who was the man whose life ended last night beside the running trail? Was he a regular at the park? How often had I passed him going the opposite way? How many times did he lap me jogging as I walked the three-mile loop? Did we ever nod at one another, give some sign of recognition as fellow members of the community of park denizens? Would I have recognized his face were it not for the abrasions and the pallor of his skin? Will I recall him by some process of elimination as I scan faces in the coming weeks?

Did he feel any warning signs of the cardiac event or cerebral accident, or was he enjoying his run until the moment he was struck down?

What good Samaritan …more