Make-Do Origin Stories & Concrete Futures

Prompt Against Anxiety #16 | from poet and community organizer Ching-In Chen, author of recombinant (Kelsey Street Press, 2017) and The Heart's Traffic (Arktoi/Red Hen Press, 2009), as well as two chapbooks. In 2018, recombinant was the winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry.


A horn made of pink and deep purple, bright pink, and gold and white rope, made by Valincy-Jean Patelli and given to the writer during the Patio Taller residency. Photo by Cassie Mira.

During these pandemic times, I’ve had great difficulty focusing for any length of time on writing, reading, or any other activity. What’s been useful for me is to practice meditation (focusing on the breath and being present in the moment) as well as making do with what I have in front of me. What I’ve found especially insightful right now is Lama Rod Owens' Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation Through Anger, which my sangha community has been reading together. This prompt comes out of that practice.

1. Take one day to gather 100 words from your daily life, preferably not from a reading and writing practice where you are trying to write or read, but from the flow of what you might come across naturally—in the news, in the objects and conversations surrounding you, in the music you listen to as you move about your day.

2. On day two, choose an object that has emotional significance to you (or a photo of the object). Write 50 words describing the object. What have you not yet said about the object that's underneath the surface? I say ‘underneath the surface’ because I think we tend to reach for what’s obvious and close to us (what’s 'on the surface') when we first start the process of writing. I usually find more surprising leaps happen when we get to the layers ‘beneath the surface.’ Write 50 more words to describe what is underneath the surface.

3. On day three, read the 200 words aloud into the air. Choose 50 of the most striking and surprising words to keep from each day and archive the rest (perhaps to work with at a later time).

4. Now you are ready to play! The 100 words you have chosen are the ones you will make-do with for the following:

a.) Using 75 of these words, write an origin story of your object—how it came to be made or born and the journey it took to get to where it belongs now. Imagining these origin stories by looking more closely at the objects you come across in your daily life is another way to go ‘underneath the surface.’
b.) With the remaining 25 words, imagine that there is a conflict surrounding the object. Write a dialogue between those in conflict.
c.) What is the future you would like to imagine for this object? Not a dystopian future, but a concrete one you desire. As writers, this is a way that we can cultivate our imaginative power—by dreaming futures to work toward. Choose 50 words you think might be the most relevant for this step.
d.) Write one additional piece with lines from each of your results from a-c.  

Prompts Against Anxiety is sponsored by Milwaukee Public Library, an anchor institution that helps patrons read, learn, and connect—to our resources and our community. Now more than ever, stay connected, stay home, and stay safe. 

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Occult DocupoesisPrompt #19—Kimberly Alidio

Junk Drawer SongPrompt #18—Hoa Nguyen

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The Family PhotographPrompt #15—Rosa Alcalá

Note(s) to SelfPrompt #13—Stacy Blint

Embracing ConfusionPrompt #12—Bryon Cherry

Writing/Playing the ArchivePrompt #11—Jay Besemer

CAPTURED & FREEDPrompt #10—Dasha Kelly Hamilton

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Proyecto ConbífPrompt #8—Erick "CK" Ledesma

TRILOGYPrompt #6—CA Conrad

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A Series of RoomsPrompt #5—Laura Solomon

Two Variations on N+7Prompt #4—Jenny Gropp

T H E A P A R T / TOGETHERPOEMPrompt #3—Margaret Rozga

An Exercise in WindowsPrompt #2—Marla Sanvick

Erasuring AnxietyPrompt #1—Peter Burzynski

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