The Canterbury Laureate stuff is just getting going: tomorrow morning I’m doing a preliminary visit with a group of young mothers, just to see if they are interested in doing some writing. As the theme for this year’s Laureateship (heavens!) is ‘identity’, I’ve found myself for this group thinking about returning to an exercise I’ve used frequently over the years — one indeed I think I was introduced to as an undergraduate (when dinosaurs roamed the earth…).

The exercise is ‘I am the person who…’ Write for 15 minutes without stopping. Any form. If you get stuck, re-write the last few words and see if that spurs you.

It’s remarkable how productive this exercise is. I’ll use it again in two days perhaps, when I meet my second year undergraduate students for the first time. The module is Narratives from Life — you can see why it might work! Inevitably makes you square up.
I do most writing exercises alongside my groups, and read back when they do too. This one in particular. It focuses the mind. If I’d had any idea that I would do it so many times, I might have started a book of my responses. Because over the years they’ve changed, shifted: from looking at where I’m from, to looking at where I am, to looking where I might be going. I remember one year all I wrote about was getting up at night to look after the children. I am the person who gets up in the night, stands over your cot, watches you sleep. One year I seem to remember it being all about writing. And one year about grief.

***

That exercise always reminds me of something I saw on a toilet wall when I was in high school: We are the people our parents warned us about.

I don’t know how — or even if — they relate. But there’s a tension there I quite like being in the middle of….

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