friday roundup: wandering, branching, and a folk tale

this really has nothing to do with the post except that I saw this when I was wandering one day and - yowzers!

this really has nothing to do with the post except that I saw this when I was wandering one day and – yowzers!

Wow, where did that week go? (Have I said this before?) Anyway, reader, happy Friday. Before any more time slips away on me, let’s go straight to the roundup.

wandering  Do you know the Frances books by Russel Hoban? I love these books. They remind me of the world I grew up in where if you refused to eat anything but bread and jam you were fed bread and jam (and nothing else) until you swore you’d never want bread and jam again. That world of jump rope rhymes and forts under the kitchen table and of imaginary friends and picnics and children playing in the broom closet. And also that world where wandering was part of everyday life.

Remember wandering? Or does your memory need refreshing? According to Frances’ (sometimes) best friend, Albert, wandering goes like this: “I just go around until I get hungry. Then I eat my lunch.”

Does that not sound like bliss?

I was reading Best Friends for Frances (wherein Albert expounds upon wandering) to Youngest Child this week and it made me realize that our modern way of life is far too devoid of wandering. How easy it is to forget the importance of aimlessness! I resolved to wander more — both literally (as in wandering around my neighborhood) and in my writing life (as in embracing the prairie dog at my desk). And here’s a trick that helped me to do that:

branching  I found this idea in Wingbeats which I first wrote about here. In the chapter called “Thesaurus Is Not a Four-Letter Word,” Ellaraine Lockie shares a process she calls branching. Here’s a shortened version of how to do it:

  1. Make a list of “key” words and write them horizontally across the top, right corner of a piece of paper. Key words might be words you love or that interest you, words related to a particular subject you want to write about, words you notice recurring in your (or someone else’s) writing.
  2. Under each word write synonyms for that each word, circling the synonyms that are especially interesting to you. Then repeat the process for the circled words.
  3. Meanwhile, on the left side of the paper write down scraps of language, ideas, phrases, other words, anything that occurs to you as you do your branching.

Here’s what it looks like:

IMG_3885I’ve always done a lot of what I call “word work” in my notebook — definitions, etymology, synonyms and antonyms. But branching extends this practice in way that seems very generative to me. I’m adding branching to my toolkit for both draft preparation and neutral practices. Eariler this week, branching allowed me to write when the writing wasn’t flowing, and to start an interesting collection of phrases, lines, and words when I went back to capture the scraps in the left hand column. I wouldn’t call it a draft, but it’s also not an empty page. For you writers in the readership, I hope branching can be a helpful tool for you. And now, on to

a folk tale  Some of my favorite poems are those that hearken back to an old tale, but unfold in modern times. That mix of the archetypal and the typical is so interesting to me.

Here’s a poem called Folk Tale by Linda Pastan that uses elements of folk tales to examine family life.

Notice the objects, characters, and actions she borrows from the old tales: horses, cows, pigs and ploughs; cuckoos, eggs, roosters and brooms; dwelling, milking, lowing, roosting,gathering. She conjures biblical language (“a multitude of two”) and modern life (the “abandoned aircraft,” the “blue television light”). She mixes associations of the ark and the stable with spelling words, braids, school buses, and piano scales. Pretty amazing if you ask me.

Have a good weekend, Reader. Thanks, as always, for reading.

2 thoughts on “friday roundup: wandering, branching, and a folk tale

    • Hope branching is generative for you! I should’ve said in the post that branching can go on for several pages in one’s notebook — I think I used up 5 pages in about a half-hour, then went back picking up lines and phrases. It really made me feel productive!

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