Published as part of the Guelph Shebang, 2015.
This chapbook began with the question—how can I apply the principles of dance improvisation to writing? While considering this, I stumbled upon a fifties psych text called Put Your Mother on the Ceiling, and picked six sentences to use as prompts.
To mirror the work we were doing in The Shebang, I set myself the following limitations: I had two hours to get through all the prompts, and none of the responses could be more than 150 words.
Over three sittings, I repeated the process, using one consistent character voice each time. I wanted the act of reading to be improvisatory too, which is why the text is cut into a flip book. By choosing to read sequentially or jump around, and by determining how many story segments to consume at a time, the reader tests the flexibility of narrative.
She couldn’t tell anyone how disappointed she was that those bonsai kittens weren’t real. It would mean admitting that she’d looked past their immediate suffering. It was terrible, of course, no animal deserved to be shoehorned into Tupperware. She hadn’t found the pictures all that cute. But the bonsai cats offered a kind of permanence that was hard to find. Sometimes the onward process of growing was exhausting. Always stretching your arms towards the sky. Lately she found herself struggling against the current of positivity churned up by her friends and coworkers. There was too much pressure to compost all of life’s experience into something fertile. Wouldn’t it be nice, she thought, to be kept fed and petted in a thick-walled jar? Indefinitely small, enclosed. The only thing you are required to do is nothing.
His son had asked for a balloon. A foil baseball bat with a softball lobbed onto the end. Eric felt foolish carrying it back from the store, its phallus poking against the sky. He didn’t like the waste. They had what, two weeks, before the garbage truck would tip it into its jaws? Every spring, along with coerced grad students, Eric volunteered to clean up the river. Just for fun, he’d dissected a dead, netted gull. The stomach, stuffed with cigarette filters, bloomed open like a milkweed pod. That was the natural conclusion of his son’s request. But the kid had asked, so earnest,his Earth Rangers pin stabbing his ballcap. There were other lessons beyond self-righteousness.
Mrs. Singh was walking us over the bridge towards the rainbow when Bruce’s sock ended up in my ear. His toe brushed my right lobe back and forth while I lay there, trying not to interrupt relaxation circle. His sock smelled like something my grandfather would pull out of a jar. Mrs. Singh caught me wiggling away and I slid my hand into an arrow aimed at Bruce’s foot. “Settle down,” she said. “Focus on the stillness in your body. Climb up the yellow beam and slide into the warm pool.” This time, when Bruce’s cheese curd toes started poking, I slid my palm along my mouth, picking up a trail of spit. I clamped my hand onto his ankle. The rest of the class floated through purple waves while I stayed glued to Bruce, fierce as a leech.