Writing Prompt: First Lesson

Since I’m on an epic quest: 50,000 words in 31 days, approximately 1620 words per day, I thought I’d share a writing prompt, in case anyone else out there is looking for inspiration for your own writing practice.

Reading Patricia Hampl’s essay “Memory and Imagination” this morning, I pondered stories of first lessons and how these incidents shape our view of the world. At the same time, the way we remember these moments is shaped by the way we have come to view the world. Hampl writes about a first piano lesson and realizes that her initial focus, her vivid memory of the olive-looking nun who taught her and even the haughty girl she admired, were not the important parts of the story. Returning to this draft she decided the important undercurrent the writing revealed was her relationship to her father, her disappointment, perhaps, that he hadn’t achieved something so grand as folding opera hats.

In my 1600 words this morning I delved into flute lessons I’d taken (not particularly memorable–a telling omission). I pondered how long I’d spent with that instrument and how easily I gave it up after college. It occurred to me today that playing the flute was maybe about trying to be first chair; enjoyment of the instrument and music were secondary. I had no overwhelming natural talent (so, not much recognition–my true goal) and no abiding passion for the instrument.

In case you are wondering, the photo above is Cleo (again). She is half lab (supposedly) but doesn’t remember that she knows how to swim. I have to throw a stick to where the water just comes up to her undercarriage the first few times. Then I keep tossing it out further each time until she finally releases her paws from the sand and finds herself doggie paddling, effortlessly. I don’t take her swimming often, and the next time we go, she has forgotten again.

Writing Prompt: Write about a first lesson. Describe it as vividly as possible, write everything your remember–sights, sounds, impression–not worrying if your memories are accurate or if the words are well chosen. After you’ve gotten your whole draft down, reflect on the memory: inaccuracies, surprises, what you think it means.


Two of my favorite poems with very different takes on the subject


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