Category Archives: writing exercises

Right, Left…or Mirror?

Basic cursive writing worksheet

 

August 13 is Left Handers’ Day, a time for South Paws to celebrate their talents.  Left-handedness is more common in twins than in singles, and overall left-handed people are also usually more physically balanced.  Although lefties were once believed to be cursed and have direct links to evil, now it’s obvious that they have an advantage in sports like basketball, tennis, fencing and boxing.

Studies have also shown that even temporary “practice” activities that make lefties use their right hands and righties use their left hands is a good challenge and also encourages creativity and clearer thinking.  For a real challenge, also try “Mirror Writing,” which is reversed writing that resembles ordinary writing reflected in a mirror.   Emergency vehicles like ambulances often have their identification also written in mirror writing so drivers can look in their rear-view mirrors and read it clearly.

Ambulance in mirror writing

In the movie (and the book) THE SHINING, Danny writes REDRUM, which is murder in mirror writing, and in MEMENTO “facts” are tattooed on Leonard’s chest so he can read them in reflection.   Episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Scooby-Doo” have used it, too.

I was printing words and coloring ambidextrously when I started first grade.  The teacher hit my hand with a ruler and said I had to choose which hand I would use…and my choice had to be right-handed because the world was set up for right-handed use.  (This teacher retired at the end of that year.)

So at school I became only right handed, and it seemed to be working out fine…until at home and on the sly I began mirror writing.  I’m still grateful that my mom did not make a big deal of this or tell me I had to stop. Instead, she got me chalk to write in mirror writing on the sidewalk, and she also asked me to write stories in mirror writing so she could learn to read it.   After awhile I decided I was happy using it as a game and I went on to other things.

August 16 is National Tell A Joke Day.   I’m including this special day because of the comments made on last week’s blog post about the time I took my mother to her senior exercise class where the favorite activity was doing the Hokey Pokey.

UK blogger Jenny Pellet wrote that “Here we call it ‘Hokey Cokey,’” which still has me smiling.  And Colorado writer Nancy Parker Brummett shared this: “When the inventor of the Hokey Pokey died, they had trouble getting him in the coffin. They put his right foot in but then his left foot came out!”  She had me taking this seriously until the final line of the joke!  Thank you, Jenny and Nancy, for sharing these with us. On August 16 we should all tell a joke to make others laugh. The world definitely needs more good laughter.

try your hand at mirror writing

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, making a difference, Special days in July and August, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

What’s Your Title?

books for writing

 

FDR in wheelchair

 

Van Gogh's chair

One of the “thinking activities” I used before my mother’s dementia worsened was to take her out for a ride in the sunshine and play the TITLE GAME.  We’d choose objects or something we saw along the way—as an example here, I’m using pictures of chairs—and we’d take turns creating a title for a poem or story that might be written about it.

For instance, the picture above of FDR in a wheelchair might inspire a title for a children’s story, while the picture of Van Gogh’s chair might end up with a title about the person who had sat there posing for a painting.  If Mom was reluctant, I would ask questions like  “But what if–?” and soon she was laughing and creating all kinds of titles…to earn her the prize of an ice cream cone at the Dairy Queen. (Bribery was an honorable technique if it inspired her  to participate.)

I once read a journaling prompt about the importance of “thinking in titles” as an exercise in discovering what you really think or feel about something.   Supposedly, if you keep a diary or a journal, when you write a TITLE  about that day’s entry before you begin writing, it will direct the details and give the entry a focus and insight you might otherwise overlook.

Think about books that began with one title but after revisions and rethinking, the final copy ended up with a very different title.  For instance, Jacqueline Susann’s book THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS began as THEY DON’T BUILD STATUES TO BUSINESSMEN.   John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN was first titled SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED.   1984 by George Orwell was originally titled THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE, and William Faulkner’s THE SOUND AND THE FURY began as TWILIGHT (and it didn’t even have vampires and werewolves).

Imagine you have one minute to create a title for a book or story about your life, or a novel about the year something unusual or life-changing happened. One minute is all it takes, and you’ll win a Dairy Queen ice cream cone…or something you really want. What would your title be?

chair tee-shirt simplify

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Filed under art, Books and book titles, Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, life questions, making a difference, writing exercises

THE ICE INITIATIVE

Play Your Strong Suit

 

typewriter w: 4 hands

 

 

Picture this: the day after school lets out for the summer, a twelve-year-old daughter whines and complains she has nothing to do. The mother takes an envelope out of her purse. It’s filled with clippings from newspapers and magazines, and handwritten notes on scraps of papers. “Here it is,” she says, waving a piece of newsprint. “We’ll do this!”

The “this” is a contest looking for the best original Helpful Hint; the postmarked deadline is that very day, and the first prize is $50. She smoothes the rumpled newsprint on the kitchen table and says, “I’ll enter if you will.” And then as her daughter sits there moaning, the mother pours them glasses of tea and opens a tray of ice from the freezer. As she adds ice to the glasses, one cube falls onto the table.

The daughter looks at the cube and sighs. “I’ll try doing it, but only until that ice cube melts. And then I’ll quit and do something else.”

By the middle of the afternoon the ice cube has long been water on the table, and the girl and her mother are laughing and taking turns at the typewriter. The mother’s entry is about keeping an envelope full of contest opportunities so that whenever she needs something fun or different to try, the envelope holds the answer.

The daughter’s entry is called “Before The Ice Melts,” and it’s a simple timer. Before an ice cube melts, any boring, must-do responsibility or chore must be accomplished. Or if a babysitter wants to keep rowdy kids in line, all they have to do is sit at a table with an ice cube on a napkin in the center and do their homework or read a book or work on something without talking…but only until it melts.

The mother and daughter are both excited and telling jokes as they finish typing their entries (the daughter can only two-finger hunt-and-peck type, so it takes awhile), and then they fold their entries and put them in envelopes. They have twenty minutes to get to the post office, so while the daughter gets the stamps, the mother goes to get the entry information and address.

The rumpled square from the newspaper is gone! They search everywhere—the kitchen counters and drawers, under the table, in the typewriter room and even the bathroom—as the clock ticks.   The post office closes, and they still haven’t found it.

“Thanks, Mom,” the daughter thinks more than fifty years later, “for losing the address and ruining my chance to write the Great Ice Cube Initiative and become famous.”

But she smiles as she thinks this, wishing her wonderful, idea-rich mother had somehow sidestepped dementia and could laugh with her now as they watch ice cubes melt and talk about all the fun ideas they created together.

what deadline

ice cube on plate

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, Things to be thankful for, writing, writing exercises

A Word To Tackle: TOSKA

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

Even the outside of the Old Colorado City Library inspires you to read.

 

 

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

Local knitters keep the library trees colorful, creative and warm.

For Mother’s Day one year, I gave Mom a deck of cards for writers.  52 cards, not for playing poker or bridge or any card game, but for picking a writing prompt.  The idea was to “play your best hand” and write without stopping for fifteen minutes.

Mom laughed at the first prompt card she drew from the deck.  It said to write for fifteen minutes about where a lost child might be found.  “That’s too easy,” she said. “My first place to look for Marylin would be the library.”

I love libraries, especially very old, small libraries that smell of floor wax and have wide, tall windows and comfortable chairs scattered around the stacks of books. One of my favorite quotes about a library comes from Albert Einstein: “The only thing you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.”   I first saw this quote boldly printed on a map of the town of Chautauqua, New York.   The map was posted on the bulletin board of the Smith Memorial Library, and someone had used a marker to make an X where the library was: “You are here. Make the Most of It.”

Library bulletin boards are fascinating sources of information. Last week when I returned some library books, there were coupons for the nearby coffee shop, note cards with job opportunities, and contact numbers for poets looking to start a group. There was also one yellow card thumb-tacked to the board, with the word TOSKA printed in large letters.

Below the word TOSKA, in smaller printing was this message: “Among other things, Toska means melancholy, anguish, boredom, nostalgia, homesickness, sorrow, loneliness. If you know someone who suffers from one or more of these maladies, you can help heal them with a visit, a kind word, the touch of your hand on theirs as you listen to them talk about themselves and something they once treasured.”

I read this message again, almost feeling my mother’s presence.   If it weren’t for her dementia—and even though I doubted she had ever heard the word Toska—I knew she had helped many others by sitting beside them, holding their hands and listening.  Take that, Toska!       

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Before the dementia, Grace and Gannon often enjoyed being read to by their great-grandmother.

Make the Most of itMG_5559

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, experiments, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, making a difference, memories for great-grandchildren, special quotations, writing exercises

What A Woman’s Shoes Say About Her

high heels

 

cork heeled sandal

flats shoes

 

Several weeks ago, I drove from Colorado to Kansas to be with my mother while she was treated for pneumonia.   Mom remained in her apartment taking antibiotics, receiving nebulizer breathing treatments, and being cared for round the clock.   I was the non-essential personnel, the daughter who brought in favorite foods, encouraged her to drink more fluids, and read aloud all her favorite children’s poems and prayers at night before she went to sleep.

Staying busy is not the same thing as accomplishing important goals, but thanks to a local Kiwanis “shoes for everyone” program, I spent one day doing both.   Armed with lots of coffee to drink, damp and dry cloths to clean shoes that had sat unworn for years, and boxes and bags to fill, I tackled the main closet that had held my parents’ clothing and shoes since they moved into assisted living.

At the end of the day I had collected, cleaned and bagged sixteen pairs of dress shoes, summer sandals, pumps and flats that Mom would never wear again.  Each pair brought back memories of her active, busy, productive days before dementia claimed her life.

Imelda Marcos once haughtily proclaimed, “I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes. I had one thousand sixty.”  To which I would proudly now reply, “Well, my mother had a pair of dress shoes that would amaze even you, Imelda.”

In the back corner of Mom’s closet, behind a purse and under a pair of slippers, was a pair of brown leather, sling-back dress heels.  I didn’t remember her ever wearing these shoes, and when I studied them I realized something else, too.   They both were for the left foot!  The expression “two left feet” certainly never applied to my mother.

The writer in me said there had to be a great story in this somewhere, and I laughed at the possibilities: mystery? romance? suspense?

The daughter in me felt sad because the woman who was once an intelligent, happy, helpful, fun-loving woman, would have said, “Let’s figure this out together,” and we would have had a great time coming up with a story.   Now, because of dementia, she didn’t even know exactly who or where she was; shoes, clothing and jewelry no longer meant anything.

I took the two left shoes with me back to the hotel that night.   No great story ideas replaced the sad feelings, and the next morning I threw them away. Driving back to Mom’s apartment, I got a coffee for me and a warm Danish for her, hoping a little morning sweetness might make her smile. I   knew she would be resting in her recliner, wearing warm casual clothes, fluffy socks…and slippers instead of shoes.                                                                                            duck galosshes

bare feet

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, special quotations, writing, writing exercises

FACING FEAR

Dentophobia (fear of dentists)

Dentophobia (fear of dentists)

Cyclophobia, fear of bicycles.

Cyclophobia  (fear of bicycles)  (all pictures by Marylin Warner)

Before her dementia, my mother loved to try the writing exercises I created for my students. Here is one of our favorites.

There are hundreds of phobias. Some are very familiar: Aerophobia (the fear of flying); Claustrophobia (the fear of being in tightly enclosed spaces); and one of the most common ~ Glossophobia (the fear of speaking in public).

For my classes, the assignment was to understand fears and incorporate them in the personalities of characters. I wrote out dozens of phobias (and their meanings) on slips of paper. Students drew a slip, and in one page they were to create a character suffering from that fear…and also create the event that made the character afraid.   My mom loved this activity because it didn’t stop with the WHAT, but also attempted to understand the WHY.   She was the kind of mother, teacher, friend, CASA volunteer and ally of children who believed that if people could identify both the WHAT and the WHY of their problems and worries, they had a very good chance of also finding a solution.

My mom was an avid learner who enjoyed new facts and ideas, and the phobias I selected were uncommon.   Here are some examples: Achluophobia (fear of darkness); Chorophobia (fear of dancing); Aulophobia (fear of flutes), Allodoxaphobia (fear of opinions); Arachibutyrophobia (fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth); and with apologies to my friends across the ocean, Anglophobia (fear of England and/or English culture).   Other phobias are illustrated on the pictures above and below.

Since Mom is deep in dementia now, I share these phobias with all of you. Have some fun with them, creating a possible WHAT and WHY for one… and maybe a solution as well.    March 26th is “Make Up Your Own Holiday,” and you never know:  you might create a Freedom from A Phobia Holiday.  Don’t be afraid to give it a try!

Achluophobia  (fear of darkness)

Achluophobia (fear of darkness)

Ophidiophobia  (fear of snakes)

Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes)

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, importance of doing good things, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, lessons for great-grandchildren, Special Days in March, writing, writing exercises

Innie or Outie?

 

old school picture

setting sun outside Ft Scott

Is There Life After HS?

Are you an innie or an outie?   The question has nothing to do with navels.

Recently, as the cashier rang up my groceries in the checkout line, I overheard the chatter between the young man bagging my groceries and a younger grocery bagger for the next line. “First, you have to admit if you’re an innie or an outie,” he said to her.

The cashier and I exchanged looks of surprise.

As it turned out, the young man, home from college and working over the weekend, was describing a psychology course that compared high school perceptions with future expectations and achievements.   The course included Ralph Keyes’ 1979 book, IS THERE LIFE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL?  “Innies” in high school were basically popular insiders: “outies” were outsiders who had less popular or well known friends and less public activities.  Briefly, the young man assured the high school girl that ongoing studies revealed that many outies often did better in the long run than innies, but students in the middle of the two were most likely to rise up and achieve multiple successes.   He concluded by winking at the girl and saying, “Be proud if you’re an outie. Think of all the really successful people who didn’t bloom until after high school.”

For 30 years I taught high school students, and while the bagger’s summary was incomplete, he did capture some of the main points. Ralph Keyes’ closing for his book is called “101 Ways To Get High School Off Your Back,” and the examples are a mix of funny, exaggerated, and thought-provoking suggestions.   For both students and teachers, high school is, at best, a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly for “innies” and “outies” and everyone in the middle.

But here’s some good news: the most embarrassing, off-the-wall, funny experiences you had in high school might become winning entries in The Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Contest. There is NO entry fee, but $2,500 in prizes, and First Place receives $1,000. It’s an open contest, the deadline is April 1, and if you don’t want to write about high school humor, write about any topic that makes you smile, blush, or laugh out loud.

Your poem can be long, short, rhyming or not. Even if you don’t write poetry, use the link below to click on previous winners.  You can have a lot of fun and might be inspired to jump in and give it a try!   https://winningwriters.com/our-contests/wergle-flomp-humor-poetry-contest-free

 

One of my favorite greeting cards.  Could be a prompt for a poem about working out, high school angst, or awkward efforts in general.

One of my favorite greeting cards could be a prompt for a poem about working out, high school angst, or awkward efforts in general.

 

 

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Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, just doing the best we can, lessons about life, paying writing opportunities, writing contest with cash prizes, writing exercises