Let the big book of words - a.k.a. the dictionary - guide you in tonight's writercize.
Although I would be willing to bet more than half of the households in the U.S. no longer traipse around with this hefty hardbound, relying on the internet for all their definition-seeking needs and spell check to figure out the proper order of letters, I'm also betting that the writers and educators who read writercize have one tucked away for good measure. My go-to dictionary was a high school graduation gift for my mom, which she passed along to my very talented screenwriting cousin, who passed it along to me. Suffice it to say, it's been well-loved. It may not be the most current book for slang, science or technology terms, even geographical names, but it's still pretty handy, and I felt like feeling some paper tonight since I spend so much time writing online.
writing exercise: Pull your dictionary off the shelf. Close your eyes. Open the dictionary to a random page. Count down to the thirteenth word. (Not within the definitions - the thirteenth word on the page being defined.) Type the word and it's definition in your comment field, then use it as inspiration to freewrite for a few minutes.
Click "read more" for writercizer sample response "Reflections on the Quad" about beginning college.writercizer response:
Wouldn't you know it? I opened to "Q."
quad: n: quadrangle
(under quadrangle, the definition reads: 1: quadrilateral. 2: a: a quadrangular enclosure esp. when surrounded by buildings. b: the buildings enclosing a quadrangle. 3: a tract of country represented by one atlas sheet (as published by the U.S. Geological Survey) -from Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary (c) 1965)
Luckily, I attended the University of Washington, which has an open grassy area in the middle of campus known as "the quad." Phew!
Reflections of the Quad
Weeks before I was about to begin freshman year of college, I headed to Seattle for the first time ever to attend Frosh orientation. I selected the University of Washington for two primary reasons: 1- it was the most difficult college to be admitted to among those I had applied to and I got in (30% rate for us out-of-staters at the time) and 2- I really liked the photos in the brochure. I can specifically remember one photo of several students sitting in a circle below the cherry blossoms on a sunny day, engaged in conversation and glowing with contentment.
There were other reasons I chose the UW as well; I wanted a large school so that I could fight my way to recognition in a big pond that resembled "real life." I wanted to stay in the Pacific Northwest so that home was still just a car ride away. I wanted to live in a city, but outside of my native Oregon. I was amazed by the sample coursebook which included everything from Swahili to archeology to forestry to construction management, and anything conceivable in-between.
But I think what really got me was that photo of the quad. I had no idea the day they took the photo was one of only about 30 days that the sun comes out in Seattle, but truthfully freshman year the rain didn't matter a bit. I was living on my own for the first time in my life, and nothing could get me down! Plus, Seattle is undoubtedly among the top 15 most gorgeous cities in the world when the sun is shining - Mt. Rainier, the Puget Sound, the Space Needle - the views can be incredible.
Anyhow, back to the quad. The weekend of Frosh orientation, I decided to wander around the campus on one of my breaks to track down this lawn amidst brick buildings and pink cherry blossoms, and when I came to the quad I looked around and knew it was home. I plopped down, cracked open a can of Pringles, and commenced people-watching. There were small groups of summer school students out studying and enjoying the sunshine, but the being most interested in watching me back was a little squirrel. He caught sight of my dreamy look and handful of Pringles, ran over and hopped on my lap. He looked up at me, grabbed a Pringle out of my hand and continued to sit on my lap and crunch away at the potato chip while he joined my people-watching. Since one you pop you can't stop, he sat with me for a while, stealing my chips and looking around.
Little did I know, someone else was watching both of us. After a half-hour or so, an older man approached us. My squirrel buddy scurried off and I looked around to confirm there was still a decent amount of student activity buzzing around me just in case the guy was a crazy. He told me that he'd been watching my interact with the squirrel and watch the world for a while and was intrigued at what was going through my mind. He was an indie director/screenwriter there to work on his screenplay and said that something about my attitude touched him to the point that he was going to rework one of his characters a little bit. He introduced himself and told me about a short that won an award in some film festival, said he wrote and directed in the style of Woody Allen. I can no longer remember his name or the title of the short, but I never looked up either of them. He wondered if I might like to read the part for this character when I returned to Seattle, act in his movie. I was intrigued, having always wanted to be an actress, albeit on-stage, but am generally not very trusting of strangers, so I said "I'll think about it," which really means, "No, but I hate to say that word, so I'll politely decline without telling you what I'm doing."
He gave me his number, and I occasionally considered looking up his credentials online (more difficult before the days of Google, probably the reason I never did so) and calling him to see if I could still read the part, but I never did. Every once in a while, I still wonder if he made the film, what it was all about, who got the part, if it helped their career.
That afternoon on the quad sticks out in my mind as one of the top memories of college because it was a moment of hope and positive anxiety on the verge of independence. Something magical was happening that day, and whatever excitement was stirring within me spilled out to bring two of the most random characters who ever approached me on that campus - a squirrel and a film director in a half hour pocket of time.