Meetup 148: Writing About Values

Compassion

Last Saturday, Lakshmi Priya hosted a session at Write Club on values. The interesting thing about value-based writing, we found, was that it was often difficult to separate one value from another. It just goes to show that our worldview is often comprised of certain ephemeral set of rules of guidelines (or habits?) that we call ‘values’. And most of the time, we cannot either define them or tell them apart. Drawing neat little mutually exclusive circles about each value, needless to say, is impossible.

Anyway, we had the following three exercises to work through.

Exercise 1

Write a Terribly Tiny Tale based on one of the following three values:

  • Integrity
  • Humility
  • Compassion

We had a fun time guessing from people’s pieces what their core emotion was. Often the writer would intend to write about compassion and end up writing about integrity. Humility in the mid became compassion on paper. Some pieces had all three. I remember a scene where a man goes to toss a coin at a beggar, but on looking closely, finds that the shining discs in the beggar’s bowl are not coins but war medals.

When we asked what value it was about, someone said compassion because the man was giving alms to a beggar. Someone else said integrity because that’s what the medals stood for. Yet someone else said humility because the man must have felt humbled by the sight of a war hero begging on the street.

As I said, we had fun.

Exercise 2

The purpose of this exercise was to write story, poem or mood piece with an animal as a protagonist. The main theme in your piece should be the same value you picked for Exercise 1. There are three prompts to choose from:

  • A wolf falls in love with a sheep
  • A raven watches your life through the window of your room.
  • The black cat, a witch’s pet.

Exercise 3

Here we wrote another scene or mood piece on the same value, but this time the beginning of the piece was given to us as a prompt.

  • That night, when five of us sat around the bonfire, enjoying roasted nuts, Bhoomi told us secret, a secret that changed us forever…
  • Hi Alchoholics Anonymous, until last night it had been exactly 7 months and 15 days that I had gone without alchohol. I know I was doing great…but then something happened
  • (Parent to child) Let me tell you a story, this story is about a box…

My Contribution

I was not able to write about exercises 1 and 3 because I had to move around the room speaking to people, but I did manage to get something in for exercise 2. My prompt was: Wolf falls in love with sheep.


I stayed in the shadows of the five elm trees. Mama told me that a wolf must stay out of sight, especially on clear summer nights such as these. ‘You will one day grow up to be the head of the pack, Luka,’ she said. ‘You will lead us all in hunt. A wolf’s strength is not in his claws. It’s not in his teeth. It’s in how well he hides himself, how he becomes one with the shadow.’

I ran along the grassy path and crouch under the fence for a quick sniff. I’d come close enough to make out faint bleats. A dim orange glow lit up the barn window. I craned my neck and looked up at the sky. A few minutes more and the moon would rise. I had to finish my work before that. Sheep were stupid, mama told me. The younger ones are always wandering off, and they had such tiny voices. One squeeze of the paw and they fell silent.

I tottered up to the barn wall now, ears perked up, tongue hanging out. I was breathing hard, and my throat began to itch. I bent down to lick any evening dew off the blades of grass. They tasted sweet, made me think of Mama’s soft howls that put me to sleep every night.

But dry as sand.

Pulling my claws inward so that they would not clack against the earth, I slid towards the back of the barn, where the farmer kept his water vessels. One, I was thirsty, and two, it wouldn’t be long before a sheep or two would come prancing by.

I gave myself two or three long licks of water. My nose became wet, and for a moment I could not smell anything. Mama would not be happy if she came to know that I was here, all alone, away from the pack. But what could happen? Sheep didn’t kill wolves. Not even ten of them could pluck a hair on one of us. But I knew what Mama would say. ‘You’re not a wolf yet, Luka. You’re just a pup.’

If I could catch one sheep on my own and drag it back to the rock, if I could show them all that I was ready – yes, Mama would never call me a pup again. I could see Mama’s smiling eyes on me, glowing with pride. The future head of the pack. Luka.

Something nice hit my nose just about then. It was soft like wool. It was tender, like the thigh of an ox. It went straight to my claws, and they came out on their own, digging into the dirt. The hair around my neck stood up. And I heard sounds – unsteady, carefree, with a little bleat accompanying each step – like it was humming to itself.

I gathered myself up, bent low to the ground, shifting from one of my front paws to the other, waiting. A shadow appeared beyond the corner, and it became larger and larger. I licked my lips, and once again I was thirsty, ready to spring and clutch at the neck. However big it was, I would take it down and drag it away. I was Luka, the head of the pack.

But then, as the shadow emerged and came into full view, I rose. I blinked. My eyes widened. What was this?

What stood in front of me was not a sheep. It was not even a lamb. It would have been born a few days ago, perhaps. She had a bell tied to her neck, and in tinkled with each step she took. I suddenly realized she had not seen me. I pushed myself closer to the wall, deeper into shadow, but my eyes stayed fixed on her. I’d never seen living eyes on a sheep before. The carcasses that the bigger wolves brought back to the rock always had such – such – dead eyes. These eyes saw, they blinked, they darted, they smiled – they – they were beautiful.

Yes, they were beautiful.

Go ahead, write your own piece in the comments section below. Don’t worry about how good or bad it is. Just write. At Write Club, we don’t judge!

Image Courtesy: Canyon Hills Friends


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Comments

  1. My piece on A Raven watching your life through your window:

    August 10th:

    Dear diary,
    Something really strange happened today. I spotted this raven at my bedroom window staring at me intensely. It wasn’t the first time either, I have seen this raven around almost daily, and only today I realised it is the same fella everyday. And I know this because there is a small white scratch on his beak. Could it be David? Could his soul have come back from the dead?
    Or am I reading too much into it?

    P.S: You do know today will mark a year since David left me.

    August 21st:

    Dear diary,
    I am sure the raven is David, and I will tell you why. Remember that Paediatrician I met at the socials last week, he asked me out. And as I laid out my first date dress on the bed, you know, the red one. David’s favourite! The raven came and pooped on it. It entered my bedroom sat on the bed and pooped on the red dress! If this doesn’t convince you that David has come back to me…then nothing will.

    August 30th:

    Dear diary,
    I am so happy today, I and David had coffee in the balcony, just like old times. I made mine strong and gave David some milk. Oh I discovered that this new David loves my chicken pops just like the old one. When I clean the house and dust the surfaces, David does the same on his window sill. He removes all dust particles using his beak. His soul is still the same. He is my David, even his habits are the same.

    I am in love all over again!

    September 15th:

    Diary,

    David has not been coming daily anymore. I wonder where he goes. Do you think he goes to see her, be with her, just like he used to? I thought he came back for me! That bastard, can’t he let go of her and just be mine. I need to know where he goes, I need to follow him diary. I must make him mine again.

    September 20th:

    I saw him, I saw him sitting on the window sill of her apartment looking in, watching them. It was a raven and I know it was David. That lying, cheating, traitorous man! He promised me, he swore that he will be mine and only mine.

    September 22nd:

    Dear Diary,

    I am happy again. Oh so happy, I have been listening to Angus & Julia Stone in a loop since morning. David is back home, he is mine again. He has fulfilled his promise and left his wife and children forever.
    Guess what, diary?
    All it took was a taxidermist and some rat poison.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The prompt I was supposed to write on was the one about wolf falling in love with a sheep. But I just couldn’t resist writing about the witch’s cat –

    I wait by the steely steaming cauldron, watching her looming figure glow in the luminescence of the swirling potions, bubbling and frothy, leaping forth onto the cold ground below, leaving scabs of open earth. I wait in silence as she walks over to the garden outside, slamming the door shut on her way out. It baffles me why she’s so inclined to use her magic for the daily mundanities. At four hundred and thirty three, she’s an old witch, and flicks and swooshes of wands barely conjure any magic at all. As she walks in, she places the freshly plucked rosemary in the creaky wooden cupboard. Stooping low, she reaches out for me. Her long and finicky fingers dig down on my fur, and she raises me to meet her eyes. Her eyes are deep and guarded by heavy gnarled eyelashes. My yellow eyes are wide open and she probes them, pleading for more.

    “Make me stronger Debra” she moans.

    I twitch my whiskers in disapproval, bare my sharp claws and with a fowl feline ferocity, wiggle out of her grip and hop on to the brim of the frothing cauldron.

    “You’re old an hag, lady” I say calmly, walking on the edge of the rim towards her.

    “You’re a post menopausal arid witch with little prospects of having any bewitching life at all. ” I clarify as she stares at me through the caves of her eyes.

    “Why don’t you live an ordinary life?” Evidently unamused, her right hand grips the edge of the cauldron. Her old broomstick shudders in distance, as if reluctantly awoken from deep slumber.

    “What is ordinary life, Debra? Going down to the village for groceries?”

    A dark tear tumbles down her rugged cheek, with swift motion, she catches it in her palm before dripping it into the potion. The potion of her miseries, as she likes to call it.

    “Get over your loony ideas, woman. This shit isn’t working. You’ve got to accept that your stint as a witch is over. I’m here to assist you to transition smoothly to a fulfilling life as an old single lady who lives with a cat.

    “You’re not doing a good job” she barks. “Oh, cmon” I say, twitching my tail in anger, “You’re an old single lady and I’m a perfectly fine cat, how am I the one to be blamed?” I ask.

    She strokes her rough unwashed hair and looks wistfully at the photograph of her hundred year old self, a perky witch she was then, with rosy cheeks, taut skin, pointed hat and a spotless black robe that fluttered in a youthful breeze. And there I was, by her side.
    “You see, you’re no longer a witch and I need to move on. I need to find a younger witch to spend the rest of my life with. ” I chuckled at the thought of it, the rest of my life… was forever, unless I were to be strangled by a disgruntled witch too sorry to be parting from me.

    I hear her breathing heavily, a madness has taken over her. She cracks her knuckles and the fires beneath the cauldron dim down. The luminescence of the froth fizzles out. She snaps her wand in two, stashing it in her rickety trunk along with the old broomstick.

    “Debra, you are free to go. As you wished, I’m just an ordinary woman now. ” she says, wiping her dark tears. She takes off her black robe and stomps into her bedroom.

    I analyze my options as a fine black feline with mellow yellow eyes and realize with a tinge of sadness their enormity. I could be just about anywhere. Many young witches would kill for me. If I walked down to one of the regular folks, they’d pamper me just as well.

    After an hour, she walks out with soggy eyes and a drab gray apron. I walk up to her and nuzzle by her feet. The first rays of the sun flood through the curtains. she picks me up, looks into my eyes and says, “As you wish, Debra.” I blink slowly. When the milkman arrives, he sees the two of us.

    A single old lady with her black cat.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sagar, this is great. Your imagery is deep, and your choice of adjectives always surprises pleasantly. So you’re clearly not using the first word that comes into your mind. You’re hunting for those adjectives that are multi-dimensional. Rickety, rugged, gnarled…all of these had simpler alternatives that would have made the piece poorer. By going for the deeper adjectives, your piece has become deeper too, and more visual.

      I like the verbs that you use. Most of them are strong, specific verbs: like nuzzle, shudder, stomp, fizzle…generally speaking, the stronger the verbs, the stronger the writing. In my writing I have a tendency to use weak verbs. I’m trying to expand my vocabulary a little bit so that I will have more verbs to choose from when I write.

      Dialogue appears to be a little stilted and clumsy. Maybe we can talk about it when we meet. Remind me if I forget. Or email me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the feedback, Sharath! I think I go too overboard with adjectives (it was embarrassing to see ‘yellow mellow’ now. ) As for ‘gnarled’, I had only recently listened to a podcast (http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/fiction-podcast-colm-tibn-reads-sylvia-townsend-warner) wherein Colm Toibin says it multiple times – it stuck in my mind and was thus the first word to come to my mind. I’m glad to know those were strong verbs. ( However, the use of ‘fizzle’ over other similar words was purely for the purpose of alliteration 😛 )

        Yes, the dialog is embarrassingly bad. I need to re-read your post on dialog-writing. (besides, the ‘value’ just doesn’t come out that well 😀 )

        (Needless to say) I loved your piece!

        Thanks 🙂

        Like

  3. My Piece was “Black cat- The witch’s familiar”, you could read it below or also find it on my blog: http://peter-blogvibes.blogspot.in/2014/09/black-cat-witchs-familiar-and-her-rant.html

    I see her from the corner of my cornea. I see her devour the fresh lamb meat, like a gourmand unleashing her appetite after years of starvation.

    I look at my bowl, I am being fed hash. That’s what I am usually served. I look at the other inmates; the owl, the rabbit and the rottweiler; we all are being ill-treated. But to my surprise, they seem to enjoy it. Obviously they have issues. I on the other hand have a severe distaste for non-recognition and ill-treatment. Nevertheless, I must hog on fresh food in her absence and sneak protein bars from time to time to gain strength.

    The aspiration of escaping this dungeon is the only hope that drags me through most of my days. I sit quietly in the corner making plans and analysing the execution pitfalls. I see the inmates and the black hooded lady with fake nails seeking sadistic pleasures in my quietness.

    also try showcasing my power almost on a daily basis. Yesterday in an attempt to strike fear in her, I dropped a decapitated lizard’s body in her soup bowl. In my anticipation it clearly showed what I am dangerously capable of. But in hindsight, it was a mere attempt from my side that escalated as her dinner table trivia. And to top it all, her other witch friends, only made some condescending remarks on my capability to scare a grown ass human being.

    Today, she’s having an assembly in a closed room with her comrade. I am locked out of it, despite the fact that I will invariably be the center of attraction in her upcoming events second to none. I am treated as the bad omen by the society. But being treated the same way by the other animals, is a tad too much to live with. I am done with this bullshit. I am going to end it very soon.

    As the time is approaching nearer, the night when she does her belly dancing around the human skulls, I shall put my plans in to action. I must gain back my gifted superpower to scare other human beings, who in turn would try to kill the witch first for owning me. Then they would definitely try to harm me too, but then their own species would guard me. I have PETA to back me the fuck up. Yes I do watch news on a daily basis.

    But if that plan fails, then the same night I shall put my plan B in to action. With all the fair intentions of vengeance, I would weave around her feet. But only this time I will do it on top of the stairs when she isn’t looking.

    Like

  4. For the Excercise 1, the scene that you’ve mentioned is here: http://peter-blogvibes.blogspot.in/2014/09/a-tiny-tale.html

    Tilted head, tattered clothes, gloomy eyes, amputated right leg and restless hands. I saw him counting coins, from the other side of the road.

    “Poor soul”, I thought.

    As I crossed the road, with hands deep in my pocket, searching for more coins to add to his broken plastic cup; I saw he did not count coins.

    Those were war medals.

    Like

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