Monday, August 6, 2007

This Week in Writing

The Five Senses
~Dan Wakefield
In Now Write!, Sherry Ellis has compiled a marvelous assortment of writing exercises from published authors, exercises they use in teaching or to stimulate their own creativity. Today, I'm working with this exercise from novelist and journalist Dan Wakefield, who says he uses it as part of his workshops on "Releasing the Creative Spirit."
Our senses are "doorways to our own stories," Wakefield says. Using the "idea" of one of the senses can evoke memories from our past which bring stories to mind. In one workshop, he writes that the "simple suggestion of the taste of bacon to a group of factory workers" inspired one of them to write a moving story that was evoked for him. "The heart of the story was that as a child, when he woke up and smelled bacon frying, he knew it would be a good day in his home; if he woke and didn't smell bacon, it meant his parents had hangovers from drinking too much the night before, and things in the house would not be pleasant."
Wakefield suggests taking some common foods, such as the taste of applesauce; the taste of popcorn; the taste of hot dogs; the taste of coffee; the taste of chocolate, and writing everything you remember about it for the ten minutes. Write as if you were telling a friend what you would remember...don't edit or second guess yourself, just let the story "come forth."
You could also choose sound memories to evoke stories. For instance, the sound of an alarm clock; the sound of a dog barking; the sound of bells ringing; the sound of a far off train whistle.
~grab your notebook, pick a sensation, and start's what I came up with:
Hot Dog Heaven
Call it a reward or call it a bribe, whenever my mother and grandmother went shopping at the big Sears store on Dix Road, I was eager to go along because I knew a hot dog and orange soda would be coming my way.
The snack bar was right inside the door, and conveniently located next to the shoe department so there were places to sit. As soon as we walked in, my eye was drawn to the electric rotisserie case, plump hot dogs turning invitingly on their individual spits. I was always allowed to place my own order- one dog, plain, and a small orange pop. My grandfather, who acted as chauffeur and babysitter on these shopping expeditions, would pay for my food while I settled in a seat. The lady in the shoe department always had a smile for me, and didn't seem to mind that I was using her department as an eating area.
Oddly enough, I barely remember the taste of the hot dog. I'm sure it was good, but the whole ritual was almost more important than the food. Most of the time, I'd probably had a good lunch at home before we came, since our shopping trips usually took place in the early afternoon. Just getting that hot dog, nestled in it's steaming bun, and lying neatly in that white paper boat, was the most exciting part of the day for me.
I remember gobbling it up pretty quickly, because once the hot dog was done, then my grandfather would take me to the next best place in the store for the second part of my reward/bribe~the book department!


Julie said...

Some of the topics you shared would definitely bring memories, but some I would be hard pressed to share much about.

I don't every remember any of our Sears stores having food. Shopping was usually a once a week thing for our family and we hit all the places we needed to go in one day (since we had to drive a long way (20 miles!) to do it, and I don't recall that we usually ate while we were out (it was cheaper to eat at home). For the longest time, the only places I remember going were to Mickey D's in the aforementioned "big city" (back when you stood outside and watched them cook through the window) and the local A&W drive in. Since we didn't eat out often, it was always a real treat.

Deirdre said...

The Sears store in my town had popcorn for kids. My father worked there for a few years and they had movie night in the T.V. department for employee's children. I don't remember hot dogs, but I was pretty young.

This is a great exercise. I'll have to pick an aroma or sound and see where it takes me.

Anonymous said...

Alas, the Sears in my area never had food...I DO remember going to Woolworth's and staring longingly at the pictures of the food available at the lunch counter. My mother never let us eat there because she wasn't very fohd of "American junk food", which of course made it all the more appetizing to me. The ham and cheese sandwich was rendered in a soft-focus glow that gave it a bit of a halo, and you would almost smell the grease glistening on the French fries. And the pictures of the Cokes were in those curvy Coke glasses, the fizz visible above the wide mouth.

Wow, thanks for the memories! I will have to work that into a story somewhere.

Annie said...

Your posts are often helpful to your readers. I enjoy this about your site.

As for Sears... I remember going there when I was a kid but I don't think they sold food. Like Mardougrrl, I remember Woolworth's. My sisters actully worked behind the lunch counter when they were teenagers. I used to sit on one of the stools at the counter and spin around while I waited for my food. There was a small theater next door, and for a quarter I could see a movie. Fun memories. Thanks!