The words stuck in the back of your throat, and caged words on the page, are like the tracks the caged storyteller leaves behind, the clues to their functioning.Read More
That night, I didn’t sleep. A strange insect bit me. It itched like hell.
I scratched and scratched at it, obsessed by visions of poison seeping though my body. I reverted to biting my nails, an old childhood habit. I listened to the wild words rumbling in my head, like the variety of animal sounds outside the tent. I tried to differentiate between them. What was worth putting on the page?
I tried to write, but the fears were quite clearly restricting my words on the page.
I thought the wild words that night should be about my pained experience of being in the woods, but instead I found that I was writing an uninteresting summary. I was focusing on the more comfortable aspects of the story, like my preparation for the expedition, rather than risk getting too deep into descriptions of body sensations, or my fears. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to dream about those beautiful prowling wild words. Instead my mind always returned to its antithesis, the caged words, still trapped in his cage. In my half-awake, half-asleep state, I thought I heard the wild words, mewing plaintively, somewhere far away.
By daylight, my mind was worn out. My thoughts were tired, and seemed to be drifting into sleep, even if the rest of me wasn’t. I crawled out of the tent and stood in the cold. The fog had frosted around the trees, mummifying them overnight. I was a failure, I’d written nothing of worth.
I felt the reaction in my body, almost before I heard the sound that had caused it. It was like someone had put a large fist round my guts and squeezed them. The noise came from somewhere in the back of my mind, a scrubby, dark place, and it was, indeed, soft, mewing words. Words were coming, unbidden. Wild Words.
I moved towards them before I thought about it. I took my notepad out. But just as I began to write, the ideas evaporated away. Somewhere in my mind there was now a circular space where the vegetation had been flattened. It was a similar effect to when your pet cat lies in your Azaleas, but the imprint was much bigger. Steam was rising into the air. I felt the warmth. The words were no longer there, but had been there so recently that I thought I could still see their breath moving the grass of my thoughts.
I had almost got those wild words on to the page. It had been a near miss and I no longer felt like a failure. I realised that however hard it had been, I had stayed in that place, with my feelings and my notebook, all night. I hadn’t run away. Despite the fact I hadn’t written wild words that night, I had got much closer. The next time, I felt sure, I would harness them on the page.
The Weekly Prompt: Taking Body Sensations Into Fiction
Take the body sensations on which you based your writing for last week (for Part 1 of The Body In The Woods) and write a fictional poem or story of up to 1000 words. None of the facts need to be the same as you experienced in that exercise, although they might be. Only the physical, bodily sensations must remain the same.
This article was first published on 29th June 2013
This story, by Sage Webb, was the overall winner of the Wild Words Winter Solstice Competition 2017.
Something shook the kink out of the hose and the words sprayed out, soaking me and Brett and the kilim wall hangings we got at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul on our honeymoon. We had hung the pretty, rough textiles as soon as we’d gotten home from the trip, warming up the condo with pinks and purples and golds. After we’d hung them all, Brett had put in a Tarkan CD we’d bought over there, and we’d danced awkwardly on the kitchen’s bamboo flooring, having forgotten everything we’d learned in our wedding-dance classes. Those classes wouldn’t have helped us with Tarkan anyway, but we still mentioned them that night we hung the kilims, and we laughed over how we’d forgotten everything the minute we’d finished that bridal rhumba in front of my mom and his parents and my sorority sisters.
That all happened long ago, though—the dancing in the kitchen and hanging up the textiles, and my sorority sisters watching me rhumba in a white dress with a bustle. All that happened long before I drenched us—drenched Brett and the kilims—in this wet, sticky mess of
“I don’t respect you.”
The mess now drips off everything. It drips off the walls and my fingertips and Brett’s chin. It puddles around our feet and soaks into our socks, and it is starting to produce a weird smell.
Brett doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t move. I know he is breathing, that he can smell whatever it is I am smelling. But I only know that because he’s standing in front of me and we’ve lived together for eight years and I know Brett has really sensitive olfactories. It’s not because he moves or gestures or even blinks. No, he just stands there.
Brett’s eyes look like the sparky little gold lights of the luminaries my dad used to put out in the yard when I was little. My dad grew up in New Mexico, so he would put these Spanish candle things in our yard in Ann Arbor, Michigan, every winter. It would start in early November. Dad would bring home these small paper bags and give them to me and my sister to punch holes in with these janky little chrome-plated hole punchers. The male and female parts of the punchers never quite lined up, so my sister and I had to wrestle with the things to get the holes punched, and the holes never came out quite round. They had these raggedy or distended shapes because we’d had to smash those hole-punching jaws down over and over to get the jaws to punch anything out.
My sister and I would draw angels and stars on the bags and try to punch holes all along the outlines and in decorative patterns inside the outlines, but the patterns wouldn’t come out right and we’d be disappointed. Dad would tell us they looked great, but we knew the truth. We’d do a few bags each evening, and then, the night of Thanksgiving, it would happen. Dad would get out all the bags and flick them open and scoop handfuls of sand into them. The sand settled in their bottoms to weight the bags down. He and my sister and I would then carry all the slightly-heavy bags outside, and Dad would line the things up along our Michigan driveway and the footpath to the front door and along the flowerbeds between the door and the garage. He’d give me and my sister votive candles and we would crouch over each bag and dig a small hole in the sand in the bag’s bottom and put a votive in the indent and pat the sand around it with our kid fingers.
When we had finished all that, when the bags stood brown and papery with their frowzy, asymmetrical stars and seraphim, Dad would walk to the front door and open it just enough to put his head in. He’d shout for my mom to come out, and then the three of us would wait on the lawn. My mom would emerge and Dad would hand her the long barbeque lighter and say, “Mi alma, would you do the honors?”
My mom would sigh because she would be in her shirt sleeves. My sister and I never understood why she’d go outside in Michigan at the end of November without a coat, but our mom would do just that to light the luminaries. She’d shiver and fuss and question the wisdom of burning candles in paper bags, but she’d light them all. And then the four of us would stand in the driveway, and my dad’s eyes would look brighter than the bags, and my sister and I would giggle and poke each other, and my mom would blow on her fingers and dwell on the cold and be the first one to go back inside.
Some people call luminaries farolitos. One could translate farolito as “little lighthouse” if one were an eleven-year-old girl whose dad had packed up the car and driven back to New Mexico after that one last, final fight with the girl’s mom. I translated it that way for a few years—until high school. My sister and I kept punching holes in bags and dropping votive candles in sandy bottoms for a while. We thought, in the way silly little girls do, that maybe the lights might guide Dad home. But then we went to high school and got boyfriends and realized the way life works, the way men don’t come back when you tell them you don’t respect them.
Wild words are the words that want to be heard and seen - as opposed to the ones that you want to write.
They are the ones you keep caged in the depths of your soul. They are the ones that you sometimes hear crying, or, even worse, which have forgotten how to cry. They are the words which leak out, or which sabotage your life, in so many realised and unrealised ways. They are as often words of joy, and peace, as they are words of sorrow or anger. The wild words are the one story that needs to be told, the answering call to the yearning of your heart and soul. There are as many kinds of wild words as there as creatures on this earth. They vary as much in looks as the elephant and the mouse, and behave in as many different ways. Wild words are not necessarily big and loud and emotional. They might cause a stampede when they arrive. But it’s equally likely that they’ll slide in quietly, flutter their way on to your page, or jostle at your elbow.
Wild words are fiction and non-fiction and transcend the two. They are poetry and prose and transcend the two.
Wild words can be, but are not necessarily, profound. Sometimes they prefer to be shallow, fickle and superficial.
They do not take any account of ‘the market’ (but then the greatest novelists never did either). They do not necessarily use the writing tools that you’ve been taught. Nor do they necessarily follow ‘good’ writing practice (although strangely they often end up as ‘great writing’ without all those supports). Sometimes it is agonising and exhausting to give birth to them, but equally often it is a joyful experience as they slip out almost unaided.
The one thing you can be quite sure of is that they won’t be what you expect. What you expect is what your thinking mind is encouraging you to write. The thinking mind likes tame words because they are no threat. They allow us to stay well within our comfort zone. Writing truly wild words involves facing fears. What the thinking mind fears, it won’t support you to conceptualise. That means we have to find a new approach.
For now, the only thing we can know for sure is that to undertake a mission to meet and reclaim the wild words is to go on a journey into the unknown, with all the associated hopes and fears.
The Weekly Prompt
Think about what you expect your wild words to be like. What would be the opposite of those expectations? Allow the answers to find you, rather than hunt them down.
This article was first published on July 18th 2013