Bob sez: Back in the early part of the 21st century, Jack and I were putting together a book on writing your memoir. One of the exercises for the book – one we used in class – was Write About a Photograph.
Jack and I taught together for a dozen years. We traded off like tap dancers from the old Vaudeville days. When he was on, I rested. When we taught together I could get some writing done. The writing below came from a photo of my father, taken when I was eight or ten, when we lived on a shady street in Amarillo Texas, the big city in the Panhandle. When we did a writing, we tried to test it by doing a follow-up writing, with one change. In the sample that follows Daddy’s Photograph, I hopped into the brain of a fictional character in a fictional town in the Panhandle of Texas. Driven by the Blog, we’re back at work on the Memoir book, and I am using the fictional character in a novel. The lesson here is follow your words where they lead.
Photograph of my Daddy
In the photograph I see my Daddy. My Daddy sits on the front porch. The front porch is concrete painted pink. My Daddy sits in a metal lawn chair. The pink metal chair matches the pink concrete porch. There is smoke in the photo. Smoke curls up from a pipe. The pipe is stuck in Daddy’s mouth. The mouth curls down on the right, bent by the pipe clenched between teeth. My daddy wears a white- go to church shirt with no collar. He wears wool pants with a crease. It is summertime in the photo, a still June evening. It is cool in the photo.
The street is Hughes Street, a red brick street in the oil town of Amarillo, Texas. The altitude in Amarillo is 3600 feet above sea level. It is a high desert country that thrives on water to beat the wind that blows the dirt. Dirt on the ground is topsoil, Daddy says. Topsoil hides oil and when you drill for oil you hit water. It is a high desert that squats on a caprock above the Texas Shelf that starts around Abilene and runs down to Houston and Galveston on the Gulf of Mexico at level of the sea. It is a high desert but they call it the High Plains or the Golden Spread or the Hub City. Amarillo is the hub of commerce. Oil. Wheat. Cattle. Feed.
My daddy is a smart man, a college graduate with a bright brain and a bold hand. His name is George. But I call him Daddy. My Daddy drinks whisky but not at home and not in the photograph. He can’t drink whisky at home so he takes trips out of town to far-off places like Baton Rouge and Dallas and New Orleans where nobody knows him where he sits alone at a bar in a hotel and drinks the whisky that is not part of these old photographs.
The photograph is black and white. The photograph shows Daddy on the porch, those pink lawn chairs, the red brick house at 2214 Hughes Street. My Daddy is alone. A lonely bald man thinking of booze. Dewar’s whisky, liquid gold in a shot glass in a bar inside Daddy’s mind. The photograph does not show the bar. The high polished wood. The ring of condensation under the glass.
The photograph shows a man smoking a pipe on a concrete porch in the summer in Texas on the High Plains in a town halfway between Dallas and Denver Colorado. The photograph does not show the bar or the shot glass on the bar or Daddy’s bloody heart nestled like a rock inside the shot glass.
Exercise: change the object – pipe to cigarette–Write for ten minutes
change the POV – narrator to fictional
change the photo to a scene
keep the image of the man on a porch, smoking
change the time – twilight to noon
Bob sez: because the writing is one long sentence I did not punctuate.
Cassie in First Person – POV chapter
My Daddy sits on the front porch of our house at the edge of town his lips curled around a cigarette and the ash end an inch long drooping from the tip of the cigarette my Daddy staring through the smoke at a scene from his childhood a boy and his dog and a rifle and a water moccasin biting the dog and the kick of Daddy’s rifle against his shoulder and the dog yelping and the body of the snake the same muddy color as the water in the creek and a tear rolls down his cheek as he finishes telling the story and my sister excuses herself as I come up the dirt walk with the dead flowers and a patch of dead yellow grass and my daddy in his Sunday go to church outfit the pants shiny in the seat like a new cook pot the collar unbuttoned showing his red throat and his neck skinny and dyed red by the sun my poor sad Daddy who loved to dance and my poor sad Mama who loved to dance with every man but daddy to show him she was young and free except for the three children clutching her skirts and he turns away from watching Sister to stare at me through the smoke from the cigarette clenched between yellow teeth the smile sliding up my body the eyeballs like steel marbles rolling along my skin from the black Mary Jane to the white socks with a hole in each heel and the steel marbles of his eyes rolling up my legs white from the winter and rolling circles around my knees right eye and left knee and left eye and right knee and then the eyes clawing up the outside of my dress pressing into me a pretty pink hand-me-down from Sister and the marbles rolling up my belly past the Secret Place into my navel and then up my chest my collar bone along my white throat and the redness the red heat like fire in my cheeks and Daddy on the porch holding out both hands with the smile through the smoke saying Cassie-honey how about a game of Gotcha for the old man?