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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 #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 #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 #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

Boot Camp Day 6: Things That Stood in the Way of My Writing 1,000 Words Today

The first thing I had to do this morning—after brewing a pot of coffee, of course—was to soak in the bathtub for a while. See, I overdid it yesterday in a couple of different departments. I walked 6-1/2 miles in the stifling heat and humidity of mid-day because I had received an invitation to a party that would conflict with the usual timing of my walk. Then I went to the party in question and drank four beers, which is about four more beers than my normal daily consumption of late. So when I rolled out of bed at the crack of 10:15 this morning, my first rudimentary (dehydrated, hungover) thought after “must have coffee” was “must soak in tub long time.”

Coffee mug in hand, I crawled into the tub with the latest issue of Granta, my favorite “literary magazine.” I had read most of the issue, so this morning’s soak was focused on finding every scrap of text …more

50/50 Exercise #48: Indispensable

The car bumps and shudders over broken pavement and rutted dirt. It makes a lot of turns. I try for a while to track our route, but I lose count after only a few minutes. I have no idea how long I was unconscious.

As I’m trying to piece together some kind of pattern in the few available clues, we make a turn uphill and onto a smoother road. The car picks up speed. Unless I was out for more than an hour, it seems likely that we’re on the Via Nacional, which means …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 #31: Taking a Leap

Marie was sure he never said a word about a motorcycle. He said, “I meet you at Piazza Bologna metro. We eat dinner, we drink a cup of coffee, we see what happens.”

Then her laptop battery died. She stuffed the computer back in her bag and left the Internet café. She walked the four blocks to her hotel wondering if she would be able to figure out how to make a telephone call. From the room, she dialed “0” for the reception desk.

“Can you help me make a local phone call, please?”

The voice on the other end …more

50/50 Exercise #28: Stillness and Motion

Spring out of bed at the first squawk of the alarm.

Stumble to the shower.

Lean under the strong stream of hot water, the last good shower for a while, but only for the 10 minutes you have allotted.

Hurry to dress in the clothes you laid out last night.

Load up the car.

Pause in the doorway to review the checklist once more: passport, wallet, spare contact lenses.

Drive to the airport, exceeding the speed limit …more