Have you ever attempted the “I Am From” exercise?
I’ll give you some links in the Resources section below to templates and lists you can use to write your own. In her book Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher recommends this “I Am From” exercise as a way to know yourself, to explore identity issues by reflecting on food, places, people in your upbringing. You start to see what shaped you and formed your values and beliefs.
If you use the template, you’ll end up with a list poem. Mine turned out more like a short essay, because I took the liberty of composing more than one sentence in response to the prompts.
Either way, I agree with Pipher that the process of digging up memories and images helped me better understand myself.
This is what I wrote in 2011.
Where I’m From
I am from the persimmon tree, ripe fruit dropping, splitting, squishing soft into the grassy lawn below. I am from sweet-spring lilac and lily-of-the-valley. I am from clover and crown vetch, hollyhocks and honeysuckle, peonies and pansies. I am from soybean and corn fields, hay and straw, and Black Angus cattle grazing in the pond field.
Our 30 acres held barn swallows, snapping turtles, red-winged blackbirds, and the lanky black-and-yellow garden spider poised in the center of a stringy orb made of dewy threads stretching from the flaking boards of the tool shed to the old red gas tank used to fuel the 8N tractor.
I am from Dick and Lynn, editors who carried home the scent of newsprint and ink in their hair and clothes. Their book collection lined the walls of every room in the house, and I am from those classics, mysteries, westerns, and biographies. I am from my brother’s comic book and insect collections, “The Maple Leaf Rag” he played on the chipped keys of our family piano, and his Beatles albums that spun on the stereo console.
Barbies and Breyer Horses, Operation and Life, Pong and Pacman; Scooby-Doo, Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch; I am from board games and early electronics, cartoons and sitcoms. I am from white diaries snapped shut with a metal lock and key; and I am from the library, curled in a corner with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.
About a mile from home sits the tiny brick church with tall windows opened on hot summer Sundays to let the breeze blow across Mr. Bowman’s farm field and onto our sweat-glistened faces and necks. I stood among neighboring farmers holding worn hymnals, singing “In the Garden” and “Trust and Obey.” I am from those dark wooden pews and the coins and bills jangling in the offering plate. I am from the two-digit numbers slid into the display board listing the previous week’s attendance.
Squeezed between my dad and brother on the bench seat of the old red GMC truck, straddling the stick shift mounted to the floor board, I rode to the Belleville diner for giant tenderloin sandwiches, all-you-can-eat catfish, or Beef Manhattan topped with mashed potatoes and gravy. Dad would sing sometimes, songs from his childhood, like “Indian Love Call,” imitating Jeanette MacDonald in a falsetto voice, and “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” encouraging us to join in the chorus.
I am from track meets, softball games, and the woodwind section of the high school band. I am from the bedroom with yellow-flowered wallpaper and two windows overlooking the lilacs where a mockingbird perched to serenade. I am from Dairy Queen Dilly Bars and Dr Pepper chilled in a glass bottle.
I am from simpler, slower times, riding barefoot down the tar and gravel country road to the creek on a banana seat blue Schwinn, wearing ponytails and secondhand T-shirts and shorts. I would wade into the creek and dig for clay to make coil pots that would dry in the sun. I would skip rocks and watch minnows the color of silt or moss slip past my ankles faster than I could catch them.
I am from long summer days.
When the sun sank low, I would pedal home for fresh-sliced tomatoes straight from the garden, still sun-warm, served with crisp, sugar-sweet corn on the cob, slathered with butter and coated with salt.
I encourage you to try this as a creative writing exercise and as a chance to know yourself better.
“All this self-knowledge,” Mary Pipher writes, “allows you to write with your own grand themes, your own passions, even your own flaws, at your service…. Our writing comes from our being. The deeper we explore our souls, the deeper and therefore richer will be our writing” (p. 32).
The more deeply you know yourself, the more you are equipped to say what you alone can say, in a voice that is uniquely yours. You bring your perspective, your point of view, your background, stories, and passions to your work, offering others a window into your corner of the world.
It’s writing to connect.
Whether with one person, or ten, or ten thousand, a writer builds bridges through stories and observations, ideas and interviews. Writers create connections. And connections can bring about change.
When we connect, we help people see, think, and feel something—maybe something they’ve never seen, thought, or felt before. That’s change.
Let’s be writers who create connections, writers who unite people, writers who write with the hope that our words, in some small way, inspire change.
Pipher shared something James Baldwin said:
You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that literature is indispensable to the world…. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even but a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.
Know yourself, create connections, and you can change the world…one millimeter at a time.
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- Writing to Change the World, by Mary Pipher
- Ann’s original 2011 “Where I’m From” composition
- Original “Where I’m From” poem, by George Ella Lyon
- Printable template from SheLoves Magazine
- Similar template and sample poem
* * *
You can subscribe with iTunes, where I’d love to have you subscribe, rate, and leave a review.
The podcast is also available Stitcher, and you should be able to search for and find “Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach” in any podcast player.
Featured image by Ann Kroeker.
Is your writing life all it can be?
Let this book act as your personal coach, to explore the writing life you already have and the writing life you wish for, and close the gap between the two.
“A genial marriage of practice and theory. For writers new and seasoned. This book is a winner.”
—Phil Gulley, author of Front Porch Tales