TIMELINE EXERCISE FOR CREATIVE WRITING by Patrick Lowery


Patrick writes:-

Recently I was given the opportunity to construct a lesson plan designed to inspire or trigger some form of creative writing. Since my own experience with certain Timeline exercises had worked so well as jumping off points for poems, short stories, and nonfiction, I thought why not see if this could work in a classroom setting of around twenty students. There were many things to consider before putting my lesson down on paper. First of all I had only done timeline exercises alone in the comfort of my home, without the assistance of someone there to help guide me. My introduction to the whole notion of a timeline came from across the Atlantic, sent by email from Colin Blundell. With Colin’s voice acting as a type of benevolent guide and instructor, and me being open and willing, things took off and blossomed into some marvelous therapeutic insights, new landscapes, varied lenses, along with a new repertoire of Creative-I’s that beforehand were veiled at best.

Still there were logistics involved in my opportunity that had to be addressed and navigated. I had only thirty minutes to try and explain step by step what we were all going to participate in, this included doing the exercise, a quick write-up, and hopefully a few students sharing their timeline journeys with the class. After a few exchanges with Colin to help tighten-up my lesson plan I was ready, and felt confident that some interesting and provocative things could happen. First of all I knew the class wouldn’t be a drag for the students, and I was sure their creative juices would get a boost of energy, and produce some rich and valuable territory for creative writing. But what happened was quite extraordinary.

My write-up of the lesson offered the students a step by step procedure that would first prepare them before stepping onto their timelines, and for good measure I added some Being States to consider. I spent a good deal of the time discussing how important their bodies were to the exercise. I emphasized this element of the experience more than any other, demonstrating as best I could my own body sensing techniques ; giving special interest to how essential the body was to the whole process. This proved to be worth the effort since the outcomes verified that this idea was understood on more than an intellectual level.

Some Examples of Being States

You’ll be going back in time to when you first experienced one of these being states.

  • Being persistent
  • Being courageous
  • Being joyful
  • Being successful
  • Being rebellious
  • Being envious
  • Being embarrassed
  • Being abandoned
  • Being accomplished
  • Being terrified

 Time-line Exercise

  1. Choose a being state you wish to examine
  2. Stand before your imaginary timeline
  3. Sense your whole body
  4. Focus your attention
  5. Step onto your timeline
  6. Close your eyes and let your aim guide you
  7. Observe where you go from a slightly detached position
  8. When you arrive at the place where you first experienced your Being State. See what you see, hear what you hear, feel what you feel
  9. Step off your timeline and write down your experience

I emphasized taking a positive route for their first time with this exercise, but anticipated that with so many students participating at once there would be those intrepid types who wouldn’t be able to resist a trip to a moment when things were moving in a negative direction. I decided to offer them two examples from my own journals, one of them relating to a time when I traveled back to when a cloud of Envy had wrapped itself around my being.

I am kneeling in church and I can see myself from above, when I focus my attention I begin to move in closer. I am around six or seven yrs. old, two of my older sisters are kneeling to the right of me, and my father is kneeling close to me on the left. The air smells like incense and the priest is droning on in Latin, sweat is dripping into my eyes. My father’s breathing is heavy and his whole being feels weighted down, the smell of aftershave and alcohol is potent and I feel dizzy. My hands are clenched together and I am anxious. My right leg is moving up and down and my head is down. I want to get out of this insufferable place, and I begin to scan the pews around me. I feel envious and wish I lived in a normal home with normal parents. I look up at the mosaic Jesus suspended in clouds, surrounded by a golden dome, and then to the Miller family who are sitting two pews ahead of us. I feel a tremendous pull to leave this place, but before leaving I reassure my younger self that things will work out, and I thank him for being so strong. I then found myself much younger, maybe 3 or 4 years old. I am sitting in our dining room watching my friends play outside. I want to join them but…

I felt this was enough for them to get an idea of exploring a negative Being State, and didn’t include the entire experience for personal reasons. I also included a time when I experienced Being Persistent; it’s much shorter but includes a poem that was written a short time afterward.

I am very young, around four or five, I’m with my uncle Carl and we are skipping stones. We are standing next to the dock my grandfather built. The shore is full of rocks and my uncle picks one up and skips it across the water. The sky is blue and the water is calm, it’s early in the morning and I’m fascinated and thrilled by my uncle’s stone skipping ability. He shows me how to hold a stone, how to pull my arm back and flick my wrist just so. Over and over again I keep practicing. I am there for hours, trying to find the perfect skipping stone.

*

the perfect stone

it sometimes takes hours
sometimes days
for others an eternity
to find the perfect skipping stone.

Go out at dawn
just at first light
the water will be calm
after the last dream has faded
and a child wakes.

Don’t get dressed
clothes create friction
the stone is the motion
it will balance the release.

Don’t be surprised if you’re not alone
there are many who have stood on the shore
they’ve come to see:
grandparents, mothers, fathers, uncles
all  gathered in silence.

They will bow
as the stone returns
this isn’t an illusion, or magic
it just happens!

The shore is empty
you too have left
your busy life is the dream now
what remains is the perfect stone.

*

Preparing Myself for the Lesson and Running It

Before I said or explained the lesson I focused my attention and stepped onto my own timeline and into my Teaching-I.  The class stood up at the same time and when they were ready each one stepped onto their imagined timelines. One woman’s account was quite stunning and I was thrilled that she shared her experience.

She somehow managed to step onto her timeline and go back to when she was very young, around 10 or 11. She said she could remember not a Being state, but her BEINGNESS. She said she was no longer receiving impressions from outside herself, she was no longer separated from the world but she was feeling everything move through her, as if all of her was connected to everything else; she was not remembering a state of being, she was being. She said she had forgotten this moment and was happy because she’s usually very distracted and can’t focus. She was fighting in Iraq a few years ago, and thought she had lost her center and now she remembered. I was blown away as was everyone in the room.

The professor explained how she began to process her Being State as soon as she chose it, and when she stepped onto her timeline nothing happened because she couldn’t get out of her head.

One woman shared that she ended up sitting next to her father as a young child, and described his features with intense detail. She realized an important pattern to their relationship, and how this one dynamic of him depending on her for his own needs had been a part of her own self-image, her battle with weight and overall physical appearance, She said she couldn’t decide what her aim was and then at the last moment right before she stepped on her timeline a voice in her said, Being Vulnerable.

I think the hardest part for me was staying with them and staying neutral as they shared their accounts because they were looking to me for support, and this was all new for me also. I had never taught this exercise to one person, let alone twenty. I knew I was pressed for time and that’s an odd role to be in, so I kept everything simple. I’m curious about the men, only one man shared and he picked Being Rebellious as his state of being. I felt right off that he was taking a big risk in sharing his story of a death defying stunt, climbing up an oil rig in Texas and dangling by a belt from 60ft. off the ground. One woman who rarely speaks in class opened up about Being Joyful. She found herself as a young girl playing with a water hose, and the sensation of water shooting up in the air and her being overwhelmed with the joy of this new discovery, as she looked at me for my response I remember saying, well there you go, joy right, and she smiled.

Aftermath

The responses keep coming in. The next day a woman told me she chose Being Terrified and didn’t realize she would actually revisit a terrifying time when she was very young. She said she was very surprised she could have forgotten something so intense. She said she was planning on writing the whole thing up. She was leaning in the direction of a long poem.

My Curious-I would love to read and hear more of these experiences, and who knows? I know some of the students are buzzing about the lesson, so maybe I’ll hear some more in the next two weeks. A trip to the local college pub might prove a to be resourceful outing, but what I’m excited about is what education could look like in the future; a classroom wired not just with laptops and i-phones, but wired inward using a curious and ancient instrument—the human organism.

*

Patrick was working with fellow-students

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