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Exercise #18: Food That Defines a Place

Note: I wrote the following exercise at the end of a long day when I didn’t have much energy or imagination left for writing. I’m only posting it on my blog because I don’t want to upset my loyal readers by leaving a gap at Exercise #18 in the series of exercises on which I’ve been chipping away. I don’t usually inflict the raw, unfiltered stream-of-consciousness emanations of my tortured brain on anyone else—except my friend Jo. So unless you’re reeeeally bored—or one of the aforementioned loyal readers—I’d skip this one if I were you. (No, really.)

It’s very late, and I’ve had a long day. I was up early without very much sleep, and I had a mountain of work to get done before …more

Exercise #14: Lead Line: “I cannot help noticing all the things that…”

I cannot help noticing all the things that I let get in the way of writing. I came in here more than an hour ago, and my agenda was clear: to write for another half hour, including coming up with something in response to this prompt, and then to get my ass to bed at a reasonable hour. But no. I had to have a quick look at Facebook. And then I had to see what was going on over at two or three other “social networking” sites (read: places to meet guys). Nothing was going on, but I didn’t let that stop me from distracting myself there for a while. Then back to Facebook, because I was thinking about what I’d said to my young cousin, Michelle, about maybe setting up a fan page for the Gumnick family. But then I determined that they don’t really accommodate family sites in the “fan page” model, so I had to figure out where to go to set up a group, and then I had to nose around to figure out which category a family group gets filed into. And then I had to figure out a name and description for the group. And then I had to find jussssst the right photo for the group page. And then I had to tweak some of the wording a little. And send an invitation to all of the family members who are on Facebook. And then remember a few in-laws I’d forgotten. Then I had to go back to one of those other sites to reply to a couple of messages that had come in while I was tinkering on Facebook.

And mixed in with all of that, there was a fair amount of staring blankly at the screen and thinking, “I should stop messing around and get to writing, or I’m going to be up half the night. But first, let me see what this thing over here is.” [Sound of mouse click.]

But now I’m here, and I’m writing. So get off my back already.

Note: The title of this assignment is self-explanatory, I think. It didn’t inspire any flashes of creative brilliance (or even dull glows thereof), but I’m sticking to a “warts and all” policy of posting everything I write in this workshop.

© 2009 Edward F. Gumnick

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.

Well said

“The role of the social architect recognizes that acting on what matters for one person will happen in concert with those around that person. Individual effort will not be enough. If we do not encourage others to find their own meaning, their own voice, we will never be able to sustain our own.”

—Peter Block, from The Answer to
How Is Yes: Acting on What Matters

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 #6: “We never ask for the things we need the most…”

Five False Starts

“We never ask for the things we need the most.” I don’t know if I agree with that statement, so what am I going to do with it? If we’re in touch with who we are, we do ask for the things we need the most. But I guess a lot of people go through life without asking. Who is this “we”?

“We never ask for the things we need the most,” she said to me.

“What do you mean by that?” I said.

“I mean, we say we want independence, but what we want is financial security. We say we want justice, but we’d …more

Cleanliness is just a good idea

If I’m going to poke fun at goofy signs, it’s only fair that I applaud the ones I like:


Everyone should wash their hands

Employees must


I found this nugget of wisdom on an unassuming, hand-lettered wooden plaque in the restroom at Antidote Coffee (729 Studewood St, Houston). It’s a refreshing change from the standard-issue health department signs that you see all over the place. I like the reasonable tone, the gentle admonishment that could be spoken by your grandmother, or maybe a patient nursery-school teacher.

“We want you to wash your hands because we care about you,” it seems to say. “Oh, and if you work in the kitchen, we really must insist. Thanks for being so understanding. Have a great day!”

Great News!

Although God had clearly outlined His plans to kill 500,000 people in southwestern California yesterday, He must have changed His mind at the last minute.

I hope the FBI is keeping an eye on the fellow who writes the web site to which I’ve linked above, because he makes the Unabomber sound quite sensible. I also hope the FBI is keeping an eye on God, just in case the other guy is right about all the terrorist threats in the Bible.

From the department of “Stuff I Not Only Don’t Wanna Do, But Shouldn’t Even Hafta”

July 7, 2008

Red Light Camera Enforcement Program
P.O. Box 4996
Houston, Texas 77210-4996

Re: Notice of Violation #0100800975xxx

To Whom It May Concern:

I wish to contest the above-mentioned Notice of Violation on the grounds that the vehicle shown in the recorded images of the violation is not my car.

As you can see from the enclosed Photo A (from your web site), the car in violation is a beige Toyota Camry. My car, shown in Photo C, is a dark blue-gray Nissan Maxima. Note the contours of the trunk, taillight features, etc.

I believe that a careful examination of Photo B, the offending vehicle’s license plate, will reveal that the vehicle’s license number is xxx xxT. My license plate, as shown in Photo D, is xxx xxY.

Thank you for your assistance in this matter. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need further information.
Yours truly, etc., etc., etc.
Hearing Request Form
Copy of Notice of Violation
Photos A, B, C, and D

[Heavy sigh.] The things with which we have to put up if we want to live in a civilized society.

Boot Camp Day 5(a): Coffee, Rain, and Conversation

There is one thing that stays the same she said and I said What’s that? and she said We always end up talking about Peru and I asked her Do you want another coffee and she said No, I’m fine, but go ahead if you want and so I was gone for a minute and when I came back the conversation turned to other subjects like how hot it gets in Dallas in the summer and how the grass turns brown for what seems like six solid months and all you can think of is Will it ever rain again? and how we don’t know why we stay here but we guess we’ll stay put for a while and then she told me that she liked to think of herself as a poet and I said I can see that in you so why don’t you go back to writing poetry? and she said It hasn’t been the same since he left, but maybe I will.

Note: The prompt for this piece was the lead line, “There is one thing that stays the same…,” which is taken from the work of Abigail Thomas, and the inspiration was a real conversation to which I’ve added a few imaginary elements in order to protect the innocent.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick