Home, Sweet Someone Else's Home: Writing Exercises Inspired By The Living Spaces Of Others
I’m currently visiting the apartment of a good friend. I’ve visited her before; this isn’t the first time I’ve surveyed her living space. As always, I find myself drawn to photo frames and the postcards from her travels on display. I’m also fond of petting her small almost completely white dog who thinks I must exist to give her belly rubs. Her living space differs from mine in many ways. She lives in a much greener part of the country; consequently, I remain amazed by the abundance of trees visible from her dining table. In addition, she owns more cooking books and magazines than I do. These easily discernible differences make me wonder what kind of writing exercises could be prompted by being in someone else’s home.
The first writing exercise is describing any pets in the home you are visiting. As I already mentioned, she has an almost white dog. This dog is a mixed breed with delightful pointy ears and soft white fur which is interspersed with small patches of tan fur. If I had to use adjectives to describe this canine, they would be: Exuberant, sprightly, playful, fiercely loyal, concentrated energy and excitement, and the color of snow which fell thirty hours earlier. It’s also useful to describe what this pet isn’t. In this case, I would describe this canine as: Rotund, sullen, mammoth, apathetic, and the color of tar.
The next writing exercise involves grabbing fifteen random DVDs and recording their titles. You next use this list to write a poem. You cannot add any words or chop up the words in the titles. This poem isn’t likely to make sense, but that’s okay. Writing this poem is more an exercise is using specific words in order to stretch your mind and writing ability.
The DVDs I have chosen are:
- (500) Days of Summer
- The Holiday
- The Family Man
- Leap Year
- The Wizard of Oz
- Never Been Kissed
- The Truth About Cats And Dogs
- Fried Green Tomatoes
- The Outsiders
- Wish I Was Here
- Garden State
- Yes Man
- Silver Linings Playbook
Here’s the poem:
Anywhere But Elizabethtown
The Truth About
Cats And Dogs, (500) Days
Elizabethtown Garden State
Leap Year Wild
The Wizard Of Oz: Wish I Was Here
The Family Man: Never Been Kissed?
Fried Green Tomatoes Silver
The next exercise involves walking around the visited living space and pretending you are in a stranger’s home. Notice which items—whether framed pictures, an overall sense of orderliness or otherwise, and beyond—capture your attention. Focus on one or two main details and write about these for five minutes in a speculative manner. For instance, my friend owns numerous cooking magazines. If I were writing about this detail speculatively, I would write things such as, “She will make a man fall in love with her by the second course” or “If anyone would know what ingredients are needed to make homemade blue cheese dressing, it would be her.” If five minutes isn’t long enough to write about this, give yourself more time. It’s advisable, however, not to leave the time option open-ended. After all, you can always write more than one timed writing based on this particular detail.
Another diverting writing exercise is to name various items in the home you are visiting. One reason for this exercise is to think more whimsically. While it may seem foolish under normal circumstances to name a brown leather couch Peder Erickson, this exercise can help you think outside the box regarding the vitality, or life force, of the items around you. Indeed, imaging chairs and bookcases with names and personality may inspire you to eventually write an imaginative poem, story, or novel about chairs which converse while their owners sit on them during a game of Scrabble. If I were to give names to certain items in this apartment, I would name her bright red overchair Penelope Steinman—a name which conveys potential sophistication and snobbery to me—and I would name the four chairs around her dining room table Gus, Ambrose, Jackson, and Tim. I’m sitting on Tim as I write this, and he isn’t pleased with this arrangement. He’d rather I lounge on Penelope Steinman, but I don’t think I would be as productive if I did.
What do you notice most when you first enter someone's home?
Speaking of furniture, another helpful writing exercise would be to imagine certain pieces of furniture in vastly different environments. For instance, I could envision the dining room table in the middle of a desert. Once you decide which item to focus on and what unexpected place you want to envision them in, write about this image for ten minutes. Whether you focus on prosaic details or venture into more off-color territory is up to you. You can also combine the exercise about naming furniture with this exercise. I could, in other worse, talk about how Gus the chair hates sand and wishes he would burst into flames instead of continuing to exist in such an environment. If this seems too “out there” for you, you can instead focus on details such as, “The table keep sinking into the sand; soon it will be covered completely.”
The final exercise would involve writing for ten or fifteen minutes about what your life would be like if you lived in the space you are visiting. However, this means you live in this environment as it is and not with all of your belongings in this space. What part of living in this space you decide to focus on is entirely up to you. For instance, I would likely write about the fact that I would ignore the cooking magazines if I lived here and instead subsist on dry cereal and fresh fruit. Or else I would comment about the hours I would spend on the balcony reading thick novels while dreaming of exotic locations across the globe. You do not have to limit your speculations to how you would live inside the actual apartment or home; you can always comment about what it would be like to live in a different city, or out in the countryside, or even on a different continent thousands of miles away from your nearest and dearest.
These exercises are intended to help you think about the spaces in which those in your life inhabit, and, by extension, to think more creatively about your living space. Curiosity is essential in order to dig beyond the surface and ask questions such as, “When did my friend acquire a colorful magnet with the words Puerto Rico on it?” or “How would a rug named Phyllis respond to being stepped on with muddy hiking boots?” Regardless what you decide to focus on when you write about the living spaces of those in your life, rest assured that the possibilities are nearly infinite.