Sunday, June 10, 2007

Family Albums & Dreaded Yearbook Pictures

During the last days of school, my classmates and I passed around our yearbooks and took our turns signing them. Later, locked up in my room I read the inscriptions. Each was individual in their writing style and handwriting. I remember the Sylvia Plath style narrative a friend wrote on the entire back cover. It was without clich├ęs like “embarking on a new future.” Rather, it was dark and more of a cautionary tale about life. How did this teenager know so much about life and the real world beyond the doors of our high school? I remember how tickled I was to see written, “You’re a beautiful and talented woman,” from one of the jocks who had spent most of high school teasing me about my nerdiness. Others signed with catch phrases that were popular then.

I’ve since thrown out my yearbook. Not to mention the horrible yearbook pictures of me, some of the inscriptions were too embarrassing reread. When I tossed out my yearbook, there was a lot I wanted to forget. Some of the inscriptions revealed things about me I didn’t like. Yearbooks tell a lot of stories. They’re a piece of history.

Dig out your own yearbook. (Assuming, unlike me, you’ve kept yours.) Read the inscriptions. What do you remember about the authors of those inscriptions? What type of relationship did you have with each? Where were they in the hierarchy of students at your school? Spend ten minutes freewriting about them.

Below are more ideas. Freewrite for ten to fifteen minutes on each. Use sensory details. Include dialogue if it applies.
· Your prom. Did you attend your prom? Why or why not? Describe what you and your date wore, what you ate, what music played.
· Who was awarded “Most Likely to Succeed” or “Best Dressed” or “Class Clown?” What do you remember about them? Were there others whom you felt deserved the awards instead? What has happened to those students? If you don’t know, make it up.
· What extracurricular activities were you involved in? Write about specific incidents.
· Who were your favorite teachers? Which ones did you dislike? Describe their physical appearances, speech patterns, habits.
· Were there any class bullies or anyone who intimidated you in one way or another?
· Who was your best friend? Describe the things you did together. Compare your similarities and differences.
* Write about school pranks
· Write about a class reunion. Describe who showed up, who changed, who stayed the same. If you’ve never attended one, write a fictional reunion.

If yearbook pictures aren’t embarrassing enough, dig out any family albums you can find. Spend some time looking at the pictures. Don’t think about writing yet. Note the feelings you experience as you turn the pages. What sensory details do you remember? Specific events? Choose a few photographs that evoke some type of emotion. Write about what happened the moment the flash bulb went off. Note everyone’s body language and facial expressions. Observe what is in the background. What are the subjects looking at? No go a bit deeper. What was each person thinking? Write from the perspective of each person in the photo. If you don’t know, make it up. Let your imagination take over.

More family album exercises:
· Freewrite about the members of your family. Go beyond their physical descriptions and describe them moving through their world. Describe their beliefs, mannerisms and quirks, favorite figures of speech. Try one of these prompts to get you started:
1) The last time I saw my mother (or father, grandfather, sister, etc.)
2) These are the facts about my father (or mother, etc.)
3) Grandma (or mother, father, etc.) always said

· Draw a floor plan of the house (or houses) you grew up in. Describe each room in detail as well as any memories you’ve associated with them. Describe the wall color, furniture, mementos. Write about what your fantasy bedroom or house was then.
· Write about the smells of your grandmother’s house (or kitchen or wherever else), your parents’ car, the back porch, the garage. List the sounds you heard in the morning and the ones that kept you up as well.
· Write about the changes that occurred within the family (i.e. births, deaths, marriages, divorces, etc).
· Write about leaving home, about moving and packing.
· Write about the nicknames of family members and how they earned them.

Use these exercises for the yearbook and vice versa. These should keep you busy for a while.
For more writing exercises please visit the CS Writing Workshop.

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