In Mary Pipher’s book Writing to Change the World she suggested an exercise that writers could use to “experiment with identity issues.” I didn’t realize before reading this book that this was even something I’d be interested in but the simplicity of the activity intrigued me.
The task is simple: write an “I Am From”-type poem with each line beginning with “I am from…” It should include references to food, places, and religion.
The example she provided in the book was far more beautiful than my own, but I enjoyed playing with pieces of memories. In many cases I deleted lines that were a part of my background but not foundational. Editing was particularly revealing – what do we chose to accept as defining pieces of who we are today? I was surprised to see that books and travel didn’t figure prominently but was not surprised that family did.
Here’s what I finished with:
I am from Tom and Susan, Sadie and Joe, Hank and Patricia.
From New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia; from France, England, and mostly Germany.
I am from loud laughs and bad puns.
I am from depression and kidney stones and heart attack and cancer.
I am from hoagies and sweet tea.
I am from gardeners, politicians, therapists, entrepreneurs, and the postman.
From educators and students.
I am from homeschool and private school and public school and Sunday School.
I am from the Bible Belt and eating out on Sundays.
I am from disobedient to forgiven.
I am from “He’s Still Working On Me” and “Once Upon a Time.”
From “Amazing Grace” and “Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
I am from reading poetry in an empty room and playing piano for hundreds.
I am from “Green – go!” and “Are we there yet?”
I am from scared of the dark and insecurity.
I am from poofy bangs, big earrings, and plaid shirts.
From glasses and braces.
I am from Such a Babe and Daddy Long Legs, Tall Girl, and Fookin’ ‘uge.
I am from “Stop being so sensitive” and “She’s just not aggressive enough.”
I am from balls you shoot and balls you spike and only one season of balls you hit off a tee.
I am from scholarships and “It’s All In Your Head.”
From mediocrity and grit.
I am from long-distance relationship and long-term commitment.
I am from a threatened miscarriage and the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
If you need a writing exercise to get the creative juices flowing, particularly if you’re interested in writing non-fiction, this is a great way to start. Good luck!