When I was a high school English teacher, one of my favorite activities to kick off the school year was when each student would write a poem that was titled I'm From....followed by a single word that described his or her personality.
The poem followed the following format:
- Stanza 1 listed foods or drinks that we liked or had specific memories attached
- Stanza 2 listed tangible items that are significant
- Stanza 3 described the area where each person lives - either the house or the area in general
- Stanza 4 offered a look at people who have made a difference in each person's life
- Stanza 5 contains a list of phrases that each person grew up hearing
My model for the students looked like this:
I'm from German chocolate cake for my birthday, pickled cherries, any Swedish dish (as long as Grandma Larson made it), sliced tomatoes, and tall glasses of iced tea laced with a lemon wedge.
I'm from my Josie and the Pussycats diary, a football autographed by the Husker football team, an emerald ring passed to the oldest granddaughter, and an extensive collection of 45s.
I'm from an oak-lined, middle-class neighborhood in small town Nebraska, where people left their houses and cars unlocked, where we'd play outside until the moon glistened in the evening sky, and neighbors were friendly.
I'm from god, my parents, sister, favorite aunt, and impressionable teachers.
I'm from groovy, far out, peace, and if so and so jumped off a bridge, would you follow?
Throughout the year, we would return to the writing exercise and pull one of the topics for a brainstorming session. Eventually, the topic would evolve into another story, poem, or sketch filled with details.
I wrote with my students and shared my writing as a model. My simplistic poem produced an essay about a favorite teacher that eventually was printed in an anthology, a poem about playing games as a child, and a sketch about a birthday party.
Inspiration is everywhere. Pulling particular pieces of our lives together to shape a story or other writing form is easy if you know where to look. Give this exercise a try and see what old memories and new pieces you produce!