Our homeschooling curriculum has always been quite heavy in the creative writing department. When we were using a private online school, kiddo turned every writing assignment into an exercise in creativity – whether in plot, setting, voice or perspective – somehow our kiddo always injected a lot of creativity into everything she wrote.
Once we hit the high school years, we went independent and gone were the days of boxed, pre-packaged curriculum. We had the freedom to handpick courses and curriculum from many different sources and providers. I really do not think we were ever disappointed with any of the providers we chose. Sometimes we didn’t stay with the provider for more than a year, but us choosing not to continue in no way was a reflection on the provider’s quality. We moved on because our kiddo was ready for the next thing.
Over the past few years, we have used BraveWriter, Coursera, NaNoWriMo, and a Private Instructor/Mentor. All of these were beneficial, and all of them were engaging and challenging for our kiddo. This year kiddo has chosen to put formal literature and English aside for a bit while focusing on Mandarin, psychology, and her maths – oh and she will, of course, continue her blog and take part in NaNoWriMo again.
So, with all that writing going on did she really need yet another writing challenge? Nope – but I did!
I decided that I wanted to challenge myself to get words on a page – my own words, on my own page, on my own timeline. I didn’t want a lot of pressure, but I did want to be held accountable. Kiddo has told me I should participate in NaNoWriMo alongside her this year, but I am still not certain that I will be able to carve out enough time for a commitment like that.
Three months ago, however, I joined a very small FB group for ‘want-to-be’ writers, weekend-writers, professional writers, and any other person wanting to put words on a page. We are a small, tight-knit group of individuals who are definitely there to support each other without pressure. The basic structure of our page goes something like this:
The basic structure of our page goes something like this:
Writing Prompts (WP) are curated from other sources and two are posted to our page each week. Members can respond to one or both. Responses can be in any format from haiku or poetry to short essays or novellas. There are no right or wrong submissions, as this is meant to be an opportunity to practice your writing.
I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you my very first submission.
Prompt: You have a magic bag that gives you whatever you need for the day. Today, it’s given you a bag of glitter, two feet of yarn, a black and white photograph of Danny DeVito, a model trebuchet, and a moldy block of tofu
Well, I said I was up to the challenge, but looking at the contest guidelines and rules, I realized that I might very well be in over my head. Of course creating stunning, show stopping, and eye-popping red carpet worthy designs was my specialty, but having a big Hollywood star such as Mr. DeVito seek out my services was still a boost to my ego. Well, my ego sure jumped on the opportunity, but two weeks later, as I sat staring at the official requirements, my doubts got the best of me. I couldn’t even imagine how to complete the design, let alone create something worthy of taking home an award in a contest.
If you haven’t heard, Halloween in Hollywood is a big deal. The famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre undergoes a magnificent transformation, under the direction and creative genius of James Cameron. The annual awards show that is known to occupy this historic building will be all but forgotten when the iconic red carpet is swapped out for the spooky and realistic cobweb carpet.
October 31st is the day that everyone who is anyone struts their stuff down the Creepy Cobweb carpet as they stop and pose for the paparazzi before heading into the mother of all Costume Contests; and it was now only 4 days away. 4 days. Only 4 days left to come up with something creative and something that adhered to the contest rules.
As I looked around my design studio my eyes took in all the trappings to create several gorgeous outfits. The bolts of crushed velvet were ready to be transformed, the tulle was just begging to be ruffled and sewn. And, just that morning the courier had delivered the exquisite brocades that had been flown in from Chengdu. I was itching to get my hands on that brocade, after all it isn’t every day you get to work with brocade made in “the city of brocade”.
With one more glance at the paper in my hands, all visions of running my fingers over that silky surface disappeared. Brocade was not listed as an approved material on this list of rules – heck, there wasn’t even a list of approved materials to be found. The only hint was some cryptic message at the bottom of the guidelines that read: In the bag is all you need – you can add nothing more.
This time around my creativity and design sense were really being put to the test. Shaking my head, I set the paper down, prepared my ego for the bruising that was inevitable, and walked over to the worn leather bag on the sofa. Taking a deep breath, I opened the frayed flap and hesitantly reached into the bag.
As my fingers made contact with a slick surface, I silently pleaded to the bag as if it were responsible for it’s contents, “Please, please, please be something useful.” As I grabbed the first object and removed it from the bag my mind quickly recognized the feeling of this slick lightweight page – after all every single client of mine has gifted me one over the years. As I stared at the 8×10 glossy headshot of Danny DeVito, the absurdity of my situation was cemented into reality. This man, I had to make a costume for this man.
I pinned the picture up on my empty inspiration board and realized how awkward this action was. When working with my other clients I would normally have numerous fabrics, images, textures, and accessories already pinned to my board. Being only 4 days away from the event and having an empty board did not bode well for me, and panic was setting in.
Shaking off the fear, I reached my hand into the bag a second time and my hand found itself pushing against something soft that was surrounded in plastic. I found myself yet again attempting to bargain with the bag, “Please be fabric, please – even cotton – I will be thrilled to see cotton. If it is cotton, I will never speak badly of it again.” I closed my eyes (as if that was going to change anything) and slowly pulled my hand out of the bag with a soft substance firmly in my grip.
I must have stood there with my eyes closed for a full minute, as the unknown was scary, but the actual act of knowing was even scarier at that moment. It took a bit of self-talk to finally convince myself to open my eyes. In the end, I took a deep breath, counted to three, and opened my eyes.
There in my hand was a large 3-pound plastic bag of glitter! I passed the bag from hand to hand examining it from all angles – really hoping to see a note taped to it with some direction or instruction. Nope, nothing there but glitter – lots and lots of glitter. At this point, I think I went into shock. I honestly do not even recall how the other items got removed from the bag.
The next memory that I had was one of me sitting on the floor, silently sobbing, surrounded by my inspiration Board with Danny DeVito’s picture pinned to it, a 3 pound bag of glitter, a 1 pound block of tofu (that may very well have been a couple weeks past it’s use by date), a smaller scale model of some contraption – catapult? trebuchet? (I wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but it reminded me of something out of my high school history books), and a remnant scrap of yarn. Yeah, looking around at the materials I realized that silently sobbing was probably the most appropriate response to my situation.
After a while, the shock receded and I gradually regained my composure. The internal battle between my emotional and logical sides had been settled, and with one last deep breath, I locked up my emotions and set out to do the job I was hired to do. I gathered the random and meager materials from the floor, and held them all within my arms. A model of a trebuchet, a block of what I now recognized as moldy tofu, a two-foot length of scrap yarn and a big bag of glitter, these were the items I was hoping to get inspiration from.
With all the materials in hand, I began to pace the studio as I did on many occasions with my projects. Something about thinking and walking helps to bring about creative energy. As I made my third loop around the studio I began to feel more optimistic and I noticed that I even had a little bounce in my step. The burdens materials I was carrying did not seem to be weighing as heavy on me, and a sense of peace and acceptance had come over me. With my back to the window, I stopped my pacing for a moment to give creativity a chance to settle in, and as I paused, my attention was drawn to the amazing rainbow prisms that just happened to be dancing across the walls. How had I never noticed them before?
I looked down into my arms and I also saw that the light from the window was playing with the bag of glitter, casting tiny rainbow reflections onto my arms. I looked down a bit further and quickly realized where the wall rainbows were coming from, and realized why I wasn’t feeling as weighed down.
I must have gripped the bag of glitter a little too hard when I picked it up – somehow puncturing the bag – and thus, unbeknownst to me, I had been leaving a trail of silvery glitter in my wake as I paced the studio waiting for inspiration to strike. With a half empty bag of glitter in my arms, I looked around at the glitter littered studio – it looked like a war had broken out in a discotheque. And – ‘Wham’ – inspiration had hit me. I now had my idea for the costume.
I quickly went to work – before the idea had a chance to get lost in the chaos – and began sketching the scenes that were flashing in my mind’s eye. I must have sketched for hours because when I finally raised my head from my design desk all the wall rainbows were gone. The rainbows had disappeared with the setting sun.
The next morning I decided to devote my day to research. There was a putrid block of tofu that I still had to address, but I definitely needed it to be purposefully incorporated, and not just included as some tacky accessory. As it turned out my day of research was time well spent. I couldn’t find anything remotely scary about tofu, however, I was able to find a way in which moldy tofu could be used within the context of my costume idea. Overall, the day away from the design studio not only gave me space to incubate my idea, it also gave me additional perspective; researching has a way of opening doors – and minds – to new perspectives.
2 days – I was now left with only 48 hours to get the costume finished. Normally this would be the day of final fittings. I would box up the creation, head to the celebrity’s home, hotel, or office, and would have them try on the outfit. I would make any last minute fixes right there on the spot, or would take measurements and notes about alterations that would need to be done back in the studio. I would then leave the celebrity with a final word of warning, “Do not gain, or lose weight in the next 48 hours.” Yeah, experience had proven time and time again that all my hard work could be reduced to Tabloid Trash by a single hoagie or a couple pints of ice-cream (or beer).
Well, with only 48 hours left I was informed that I would not have access to my client until the day of the event. This information would have normally turned my world upside down, however, somehow not having access wasn’t bothering me this time. I had a clear picture of the costume concept in my mind, and coupled with the research I had done the day before, I was surprisingly confident and calm. I sat down and started working on the individual pieces, and somehow during those 48 hours I had crafted a thematic costume using just the materials allotted to me.
On the day of the event, I delivered the costume to Mr. DeVito’s hotel with the following note:
Dear Mr. DeVito,
When you first approached me to create a costume for you for the Halloween in Hollywood event I was honored. I have to be honest, and tell you that honor quickly turned to horror as I later received the rules and requirements for the costume contest.
I have since learned that you, yourself, were the one who chose the random materials that I was to be limited to use. You actually wanted to be decked out in some fashion, in glitter and moldy tofu, accessorized with yarn and a trebuchet. Being a creative type myself, I understand that the creative mind takes many forms – but your choice in materials really left me wondering exactly what hellish chaos resided in the creative world between your ears.
I say that with the utmost respect, as I now feel that your choices have helped me to stretch the landscape of my creative mind – and for that I thank you.
What I have created for you to wear tonight is a huge departure from my typical design line, as you will see. I present to you my creation!
Staying Alive – Disco Never Dies
As the world grows with discontent, a group of ignorant civilians – misunderstanding the meaning of ‘discontent’ – take it upon themselves to wage a battle with ‘disco’. Seeing as they are an otherwise peaceful group of vegan pacifists, the only method of warfare they could come up with was biological in nature. They gathered around the old elm tree – hand in hand – thanking it for its service to their cause; they then proceeded to cut it down to craft a holy trebuchet. Unwilling to put forth too much physical exertion, they chose to forgo using stones as projectiles in their assault on disco. They instead chose to reiterate the strength of veganism by hurling chunks of bacteria riddled tofu in a weak attempt at a biological battle. Through all of this chaos and warfare disco refuses to fall, and once again it is proven that ‘Disco Never Dies’.
Thank you for the opportunity to create this costume. I hope you can wear it confidently, comfortably, and in good conscience knowing that this creativity was born from the chaos you provided.
After leaving the package and note with Mr. DeVito’s assistant and being given the absolute assurance that it would be delivered immediately – that tofu wasn’t getting any fresher – I went ahead and walked away knowing my job there was done.
It was fun to push myself out of my comfort zone, and even though this isn’t like anything I would have ever chosen to write in my free time, I found that the experience and practice was exactly what I needed. I also thoroughly enjoyed working my kiddo as she created (in a Frankenstein way) the image I am using in this post. Who knows, maybe she will decide to attempt one of next week’s writing prompts herself.
I just finished this response and submitted it today, and I am already looking forward to the new prompts! I am most definitely feeling up to the challenge. ; )
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