A Series of Rooms
Prompt Against Anxiety #5 | from Woodland Pattern Executive Director Laura Solomon
Last week, our prompt referenced “the war against the imagination.” This week, we remind you of an additional tool at your disposal in that never-ending fight. This 3-day series of activities asks you to consider the resources that may be available to you via memory. Specifically, we are inviting you to discover shelter and mental space by revisiting rooms from your past that now exist as interiors within yourself.
Before getting started, take a few minutes to acknowledge the sheer number of rooms you have occupied whether at length or briefly over the course of your life. Take inventory of these spaces by envisioning yourself passing through as many as possible: all the kitchens, bathrooms, living rooms, bedrooms, basements, and attics of places you have lived; all the rooms you have visited in the homes of family members, friends, partners, neighbors, colleagues, and acquaintances; hotel rooms, hospital rooms, dormitories, hostels, tents, and other spaces that have housed you even if only temporarily; all the rooms in which you have ever labored—offices, factories, call centers, classrooms, studios, etc.; all the public spaces you have ever entered—shops, restaurants, movie theaters, libraries, churches, bars, and gas stations.
Now, list every space as it appears in your mind. If helpful, try using your phone or other device as an audio recorder so that you can capture as many memories as possible, as quickly as possible. Don’t be afraid of the speed of your mind—if the memory of one place is interrupted by the memory of another, keep moving and know you can return to the previous room later. What is important right now is to allow your mind the freedom to go wherever it’s inclined. Do this for at least 5 minutes.
Play back your recording or look at your list. Delve into each space one at a time, recording its specific details. Record or write down everything your memory can see, hear, taste, smell, and touch in each space. Do not be concerned with time, only with space. For instance, you may hear sounds in the same room that reflect different periods of your life. Allow all moments experienced in a single space to co-exist together. Spend at least 5 minutes on each space, and then let your mind rest for at least 24 hours.
As many have noted, “sheltering in place” means something different for each of us, but for many of us it is a challenge. These challenges vary in the extreme. Some of us are fortunate to have the physical and psychological protection we need, and the privilege to take shelter there. Some of us, however, may be experiencing housing insecurity or inhabiting rooms that have been made unsafe by a partner. Many of us may also be working in spaces that put our lives and the lives of our family members at risk. Before returning to yesterday’s memory work, take 5 to 10 minutes to write freely about your current environment(s), whatever they may be.
Next, return to your writings or recordings. Without judgment, notice which rooms from your past presented themselves to you most starkly or forcefully and continue expanding on any new details that come to you. Take at least 10 minutes and do not cross out or delete anything from yesterday.
Now look closely at the specific language describing rooms past and present. Take note of any repeated words and observe any other patterns or connections that emerge—a person, a type of room or space, an activity, a feeling. Also ask yourself: What similarities and differences exist among these spaces and your present environment? Ponder too the breadth of rooms you have inhabited and what these spaces have contributed to your present sense of self. Write for an additional 10-30 minutes.
If you’ve completed the preliminary work, there are now numerous new “places” to go that live between memory, documentation, and imagination. You might for instance develop a series of short essays, narratives, or lyrical poems that re-inhabit, transpose, or transform the rooms entirely. Here is one idea: Using the raw material you have collected, select 3-5 rooms connected via emerging patterns or themes to create a series of room portraits that might ultimately serve as a self-portrait. Before starting, it may be helpful for you to choose at least one constraint from each of the following categories:
For a second, third, or fourth go at these spaces, continue to ask questions about the rooms of your past and present and about the contrasting emotional/psychological spaces they occupy within you. You might also try re-approaching the rooms by using a different set of constraints and then recombining your drafts. And if you find this exercise particularly generative, keep going and develop your project further, including more rooms, themes, and memories.
We acknowledge that in Milwaukee we live and work on traditional Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee homelands along the southwest shores of Michigami (Big Lake), part of North America’s largest system of freshwater lakes, where the Milwaukee, Menominee, and Kinnickinnic rivers meet and the people of Wisconsin’s sovereign Anishinaabe, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Oneida, and Mohican nations remain present.
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