Pillage and Plunder – revisiting journals and posts

On those quiet days of not really writing, I’ve found it useful to go back through journals and notes. This is a random process where I choose a journal – that are not stored in any organised way. Well, not organised for others.

I do have a storage system that usually works according to the left and right side of my desk and nearby bookshelf: semi current journals are on a shelf space to the right of my desk, current journals are on the right hand side of my desk and random notes and ideas are on the left hand side. It seems to work, except that I tend to pick up a journal on my way out the door to a workshop or day out writing observations, interviews and research.

Sometimes my journals have a clear continuity, often they do not. Sometimes I can visualise the journal I need by the cover. Sometimes I find the most interesting ideas and moments arrive when they are needed, or I am able to massage them into my writing.

Pillage and plunder is an activity that I encourage my students to do in the hopes that they will find some nuggets of gold in their writing that can either be used straight away in their work, or to convince them that they can actually write. This works well in class when we share a sentence or phrase, or even a paragraph. Sometimes a discussion occurs when a previous activity is recognised and everyone goes looking for their entry. Sometimes we take an extract and use it as stimulus for further writing. Sometimes we simply wonder ‘what was I thinking?’

Looking back at our writing is all part of the process that builds confidence in our skill. Sometimes, I look back through this blog to see what I was writing a few years ago. This might be prompted by a comment that leads me to re-read a post and discover errors that I simply must correct or I just click randomly on a month, choose a post and check that hyperlinks are still active. I’m also interested in which posts rate high in the stats for visits, which is how I came to look at Dialogue with Death – personifying abstract nouns.

Written in 2016, this post outlines an activity for a Year 12 class studying the poetry of Wilfred Owen. His confronting and graphic poems explore the reality and suffering of soldiers in World War I. Rather than just analyse poetry, I find students are able to deepen their appreciation and understanding of ideas through their own writing. The activity was designed to explore characterisation and I was pleasantly surprised at my first draft of a middle aged woman portraying betrayal:

There I was, standing on a sunny sidewalk, impatiently waiting for a bus. I had already counted every pavement crack and piece of greenery of this decrepit landscape.

Toot! Toot!

A persistent car horn interrupted my angry reverie. I looked up slowly – it didn’t pay to move too quickly in these parts – and my eyes opened wide. I was so unprepared for what my sight beheld.

Catherine Lomax. smiling widely and waving.

The passenger window slowly and soundlessly slid open.

“Hi! Haven’t seen you for ages.”

Stonily, I returned her comment “Me neither.”

“What have you been up to? Didn’t expect to see you here.” Not looking at me any longer, Catherine was checking her lipstick in the rearview mirror, small finger patting each corner of her sly red mouth.

Before she could ask another awkward question, I looked away, stepping sideways, out of her line of sight.

“Hey, c’mon, we used to be so close …”

Then I laughed. Couldn’t help myself, really. Mirth and merriment bubbled up as I replied rhetorically “Close?”

Catherine’s mouth pouted, and she lifted her sunglasses to perch on her raven hair. Obviously a practised move.

I tensed, expecting an onslaught, yet she delivered a sarcastic rejoinder: “Close enough to get me this position. I haven’t forgotten your assistance.”

Her ‘s’s’ were crisp and menacing.

“My assistance? Not given willingly as I recall”. My voice had entered the dance, while my body pulsed with adrenaline. Run. Leave now. Stop engaging.

I took a deep breath, breaking eye contact to check the time on my phone.

“Need to be somewhere?” Catherine’s smugness oozed towards me.

“No. No thanks.” I gave her one long look, sweeping slowly and deliberately over her face and care and attitude.

Then my feet turned and walked in the opposite direction, taking me with them, away from my vicious nemesis to greet the rest of this day on my own terms.

Success at last.

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