On one fine, Friday evening, Cheri, a friend, and I broke out old and dusty sets of watercolors and two new and one ancient laptop to commence a hopefully enduring tradition of Watercolor Writing.
It started off as a misguided attempt to gain a skill that Cheri had learned in college for stress relief (a common start to these side ‘hobbies’ like crocheting which turns into points of stress in themselves). I generally like learning new things and I had a watercolor set that I would dabble with on occasion. Cheri generously offered to bestow her knowledge on us plebeians and we gathered. Unfortunately, I had the
brilliant misguided idea to use this as a writing exercise in which we would swap paintings to produce a ten-minute flash fiction.
And the stage was set.
We carefully set up the water colors and searched on an art-prompt app for inspiration. Here’s where my story diverges from the other two. We could not settle on a topic that the app chose. It chose, in order: indigo, jewels, muscled men, and spy equipment. What happened was Cheri and Hoshi (our friend) decided to go with one of the prompts: indigo — which I heard as “igloo.”I I also heard that we were to use all the prompts and with no further delay and ZERO instruction, we launched into our painting.
Here are our results:
With the paintings done (and a few side chores in between) we reconvened to swap works to write our flash fiction. Ten minutes seems like so much more time when you aren’t struggling to finish a complete story. As you can see in our excerpts, our first attempts weren’t glorious. But it was such a rush.
The adrenaline hit as soon as I sat down and set up my word doc and stared at the blank page. Knowing I had a time limit made everything ten times more pressured. I stared at my picture (Cheri’s painting) and had no idea what the mundane picture’s story was. The blood splatters added much needed inspiration as she told us to “Start!”
Suddenly, all three of us at the table were typing in tense silence. Any pauses were hurriedly filled as words spilled out similarly to word vomit. There was no time to edit as I quickly sped through a story.
With such little time, I found myself borrowing heavily from other works that I had been familiar with but trying to apply it in a way that was original. I don’t know if I was successful, and no doubt I could’ve done much better given more time, but it was exhilarating to produce anything at all. The atmosphere of the three of us focusing intently on producing anything of substance was so tense that my mom even asked later what we were doing so seriously.
Regardless of how hard my mind and heart were racing, how tired my fingers became from typing, and how badly the stories came out, it was a great exercise. Suddenly we were thrilled to be producing actual pieces that we were passionate about. Most of us (Cheri and I) had fallen into slumps with our WIPs and it was a shock to our systems, forcing creativity to bleed out of necessity.
I highly recommend this, or something similar. Here are our attempts for your reading amusement:
Chebk- (Hoshi’s painting)
He stood, looking around at his creation, typing into his device different strings of commands. Around the lands, the starting blocks of life began to spring up from the ground.
Roiling fields of bubbling amino acids struck by lightning called forth from his little screen.
<start command dna sequence>
<enter land masses>
His fingers flew across the screen as he travelled along above it all on a platform watching his codes take form. With the gathering of the yellowish clouds, the bright bursts of blue lightning shot down fusing the amino acids and forcing to form complex bonds.
A lone land mass grew up in the distance following his one command. From them streamed the acid rains that coated the ground, cutting through the formed land masses, separated the liquid areas down rivulets.
<enter fast forward>
Time flew by as the world remained static around him. The dna formed together creating sequences. Slowly, single life forms came into existence. Then multiple. Then they began populating the rivers, going down, away from the land masses to the sea. The clouds started to clear as water developed instead of the rain.
Plants formed absorbing the pouring liquids and transforming them into a different atmosphere. Then creatures. Small at first, then growing larger and more complex.
There was a creature that turned away from the others.
Soon humans formed, turning away from their hunting and gathering to cities along the river banks. They began to claim land and once again, the yellow clouds began to form. Claiming territory that was never theirs to claim.
He became furious entering commands with blinding speed.
The humans twisted his commands into doing the work of the evil and the cunning. They began to kill one another with sciences they had developed in their desperation to snatch up the land from each other.
He entered commands.
In a desperate attempt to separate them from each other he looked to give them more room to spread out so they wouldn’t need to take. But taking is all they wanted.
Soon he saw there was nothing he could do. He entered in one final command as he threw his technological device to the ground in defeat.
<enter sequence end>
Hoshi – Cheri’s painting
“All play and no work makes Jill a dull girl.”
Stroke after stroke, pale eyes bleeding through heavy hydrogen and oxygen atoms slapped on canvas. Drip, drip, drip.
“All play and no work males Jill a dull girl.”
How many hours had it been? Her mother was somewhere in Minnesota recovering – or dying – from terminal cancer. Her father always accompanied mother on these long weekends of treatment, leaving Jolly Jill behind.
Jill rested a frail wrist on an untouched spot of canvas, careful not to mix the still-wet colors. A sideways glance yielded part of Aunt Mackie’s gluttonous frame. Rolls poured onto the faded maroon couch, slow as honey. Snores crooned through the doorway like death. Yes, she had lied to mother: Aunt Mackie and I talk about a lot while you and pa are gone. We even go for Sunday morning tea.
“All play and no work makes Jill a dull girl.”
When was the last time she had made any meaningful contributions to the family? Even her lame aunt was accomplishing more than her by sacrificing for the family. What had Jill done? Birds and flowers, petals, and beaks. Playing from dusk to dawn and sleeping until the crickets stretched their legs and readied for their nocturnal orchestra. Meaningless life.
Jill dropped her brush and sighed. This flamingo jutted at all the wrong angles. Too much red and too little yellow bled from its posterior, as if it were vomiting year-old peanut butter out of its anus.
“Angle. Take it from a different angle, Jill,” she soothed her pulsing temples. Already she could feel the nausea spreading from her gut to her esophagus. Fire raced down and up, up and down. She forced her breath to slow.
“Different angle, diff- … wait…”
“All play and no work makes Jill a dull girl.”
Meaning? What the hell.
Why COULDN’T it be a purple flamingo vomiting peanut butter out of its ass?
Jill smiled for the first time that December.
Cheri – (Chebk’s painting)
Papa said to close my eyes. When he said, “Open,” he had the creature’s skin tucked around his limbs. It made him smell like the creature, look like the creature. He folded to put on the creature’s massive, long feet. Stomp, stomp, stomp through the squelch. Long, red feet, plowing through white cold. I floated besides him. “My good luck,” he always said, but when he used to say it he would hold me goodbye and leave me to mother. We would watch from the windows and he would come and go. Mother is gone now. Everyone is gone.
Squelch, squelch through the endless white.
The creatures here make pulled noises, tones like lightning. Papa catches light in the thin atmosphere, head glinting warning signs, trembling up an octave that warns of danger. He holds the creature’s fallen hand in his like a disguise. Held up and out, black and awkward. He trips over long feet. Ahead, we see the creature’s home.
“Close your eyes,” Papa says and I do until I hear his awkward new steps, a pretend-creature on an alien world, and I sink into the cold wet and stare at the sky. The colors here are plentiful, enough to gorge on, an endless feast. They make me vibrate. They make me shift, changing. I do not want to wear creature’s skins and pretend to be. We are far from home and Mother is broken, shattered into pieces that screamed high and long. She is dust and gone to the Promised Land. Papa said this could be where we wait to join her, but now he wears creature’s skins and wears their feet, walking as they do.
I stare and stare. The sky is nearly pink. I feel the color and wonder if I am vibrating at the same frequency. Perhaps I can disappear into this sky and change to be like its colors. A new costume. A different life.
There are loud sounds, wet sounds. Papa uses the creature’s hand just as the creature had. Cruel explosions, dull metal. The creatures here fall and weep liquid from the inside-out, the darkest red I have ever seen. I lay in the cold wet white and wait, knowing I could be in the sky.
“Open,” Papa says.
The creature’s home is blocks of solid cold.
“Home,” Papa says. “This is home now.” He does not take off the creature’s skin.
“Home,” I say and settle next to the fallen creature, still steaming near the entrance. I touch his flapping skin and look into the pool of reddest red.
Has any writing prompts or challenges really inspired you? Please let us know and we’ll try them out!