Friday, October 23, 2015

Writing about empty pockets and park benches

As I've mentioned before, my writers' group usually takes time at each of our biweekly meetings to do a freewriting exercise for ten minutes, using a simple prompt for inspiration.  (I've posted some of the results of these exercises before: here, here, and here.)

I find that rather than using these prompts to reflect on my own life -- though I do that sometimes -- I more often use them to explore fiction ideas.  Here are a couple of recent examples (unedited) of what I came up with. Hope you enjoy them!

For this piece, the prompt was "empty pockets."

Every day when dad got home from work, he would empty his pockets. He put his keys, his wallet, and any loose change on the table near the front door. Sometimes I would go and count his change and maybe he would give me a dime or even a quarter to put in my piggy bank.

One day he came home and put his keys and wallet and coins on the table, and also a card with some little holes in it.

"What's this for, Dad?" I picked up the card and held it up to my face so I could see his shirt through the tiny holes.

"That's my time card," he said.

"Why did you bring your time card home?" It was my mom, who was standing in the hallway.

"Because I don't need it anymore," Dad said. "I won't be going back. They let a bunch of men go today, and I'm one of them."

My mom put both hands up to her mouth. I knew something was wrong but I didn't understand my dad's words. "What's let go, Dad? Who let you go where?"

My dad never hid the truth. I knew that when I was six years old and I still do. "I don't have a job anymore, Lucy. I'm going to need to get a new job so I can make money to pay for food and clothes for us. Where's the newspaper, Margery? I need to start looking at the help wanted ads."

My parents went into the kitchen and I could hear the newspaper rattling and my parents' voices -- my dad's quiet and calm, my mom's high-pitched and quick. I carried the time card around all that evening, amazed at how looking through it changed everything I looked at.


For this piece, the prompt was "something left on a park bench."

Dave left the office and walked down the 11 flights of stairs to ground level and outside. Like he did every day, he walked a block to the park and quickly looked to see if his favourite bench -- the one near the maple tree -- was empty. Good, it was. It was always stressful when he saw "his" bench occupied and had to decide which other bench to sit on.

But when he reached it, he saw that it wasn't empty. A Nexus 5 android phone with a glittery purple case was lying there.

Dave looked around. Only a girl would use a phone like that, and he didn't see any girl in the park: just an old lady feeding the squirrels some bread. She shouldn't do that, Dave thought irritably. Making wild creatures dependent on the generosity of humans disrupted the cycle of nature.

Dave sat down and picked up the phone. He touched the screen and the name Angie popped up.

Either "Angie" was one of those stupid airhead girls who didn't secure their phones and used 123456 as their password, OR an emergency or traumatic event had caused her to flee, dropping her phone.


Suddenly it rang. The ringtone was the theme from "Angry Birds." A more annoyingly catchy ditty had never been composed, thought Dave.

He pressed the phone icon and lifted the phone to his ear. "Hello, this isn't Angie," he said.

"Hello Angie, is that you?" said a girl's voice.

Apparently Angie was an airhead, and so were those with whom she communicated, thought Dave.


  1. The second one made me laugh a little. Dave isn't an airhead, but he definitely thinks he's an expert at discerning who IS an airhead!

    In the first story, I was struck by the image of this little girl carrying her father's unneeded time card, looking through the holes and seeing the world differently. That seems like an image that could open a longer-length story (or novel!) from her little girl POV as her father searches for work or the family struggles with their finances or the sudden job loss propels the family into a psychological crisis of faith or love. Just for fun, I held up the roll of scotch tape and looked around my study/office; ordinary objects, when framed by a little hole (in a tape dispenser, a time card) do take on a different appearance. Good job, Jeannie.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts on the story image, Laura. I just might pursue that.

      After I wrote the 2nd one I realized I had probably been influenced by the main character, Don, in The Rosie Project; have you ever read that?

    2. I haven't read that, though I'm familiar with the title and premise. It sounds intriguing. Add that to my to-read list.

  2. Hi Jeannie,
    Your first story reminds me of an event from my Dad's childhood. During the Depression, my Dad and his mother came home from shopping and found my Dad's father sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of the day, unheard of. He had been "let go" just as in your story, and the family had to find new ways to survive those challenging years. My Dad was a very young child at the time, but this moment has stuck with him - he remembers many details of that day. I love how you can create compelling stories like that - it's sure not in my skill set!!!

    1. Oh, I don't know about that, Franceen! But thanks for your comment, and for sharing your story about your dad. It IS very similar, isn't it?

  3. The time card story is one of those that is mundane but captivating because it's seen through the child's eyes. Adults think they know how to understand what's going on but kids show us that there is much more to see and much that goes along without our being able to grasp it entirely.

    1. That's what I thought, too, Tim. It was so interesting how that one came out -- because of the time constraints I was writing quickly about the keys and the wallet and the change in the dad's pocket, and my mind was thinking ahead about what other unusual thing the dad might have in his pocket on a particular day. Somehow the dad was so clear to me: calm, honest, a hero in his daughter's eyes.

  4. You really do tell a compelling story about your dad's time card. Funny how we remember such detail. You're such a good writer, Jeannie! Enjoyed reading about the phone too.

    1. Betsy, both the stories above are fiction, so that wasn't something from my own personal experience -- but when I started writing the whole scenario just unfolded in my mind.


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