Monday, February 1, 2010

"The Ex Voto" exercise

At Writers On Fire we do in-class exercises at each session. Rachel Resnick, our fearless coach/snack goddess/role model provides these exercises to jump-start new pages. The urgency seems to help each writer abandon self-consciousness in her writing and just go for it. I've included the instructions on this one so you can try it yourself!

INSTRUCTIONS: Choose an object that inspires you. Write in the 2nd person (you). Your character is in a place of worship and has an object and is having a discussion with that object (or being). There is a yearning to connect. Your character asks the object to solve a problem. Halfway through there is a change in the weather. Find a way to incorporate Lilies or a Crocodile. The object responds, then fades. You have ten minutes.

(Below is my unedited writing from this in-class exercise.Really! Haven't touched a word. Not allowed! My "Ex Voto," or inspirational object--see bottom-- was a plaque of an old car).

You didn't know why you went out to the carport in your nightgown like that. It was cold. You could see your breath, it wasn't just the cigarettes.

You sat in the garden you had planted. Your first garden. Your only garden. Your Impatiens and your Iris and the one great Sunflower bowing to the moon. Your lighter snapped on in the dark and you pulled the fire into you through the long white cord of tobacco.

You did not know what to do next. Not only here, on this night, but for your life. What it wanted of you. You looked up for answers, hoping to find some sign written across the night sky but there was only silence.

It had been a hot day. Your Grandmother's old valiant creaked as it cooled and when you turned, hearing it's tin stretch toward you, the sky answered you with rain.

You stood, dropping the cigarette and laughing. But very quickly you were soaked. You stumbled into the car port and pulled the car door open.

Inside it stank of Lilies--an old scented paper flower still hanging from the rearview mirror. You reached to tip it and watched it swing there for a moment, bleeding dust into the air inside the car. Rain beat down on the roof lie a thousand little metronomes hypnotizing you.

You lay down on the blue vinyl seats, pulling your knees to your chest and closed your eyes.

The car radio crackled to life, searching for the right channel--news--sermon--amazing grace--once was lost but now I'm found--Yooooouuuu send me, I know yoooooouuuuu send me--Only yooooooou--You know and I know--In the end becomes the rooose.

When you opened your eyes the rain had stopped. You sat up and pressed the knob on the radio but it did not respond as if it had never been on at all.

An ex-voto is a votive offering to a saint or divinity. It is given in fulfillment of a vow (hence the Latin term, short for ex voto suscepto, "from the vow made") or in gratitude or devotion. Ex-votos are placed in a church or chapel where the worshipper seeks grace or wishes to give thanks. The destinations of pilgrimages often include shrines decorated with ex-votos.

Ex-votos can take a wide variety of forms. They are not only intended for the helping figure, but also as a testimony to later visitors of the received help. As such they may include texts explaining a miracle attributed to the helper, or symbols such as a painted or modeled reproduction of a miraculously healed body part, or a directly related item such as a crutch given by a person formerly lame.

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