Place Names

Mesdames y Messieurs,

It’s almost summer, and that means a lot of people will travel to various destinations across the country, around the world, or even just around town.  What follows is based on a group exercise I suggested for an online writing group: a creative possibility using some of the famous place names of New Orleans.

I was born there, but my parents and I left when I was 18 months old and I’ve been back only once.  Even if one has never been to the Crescent City, though, most everyone knows some of the names of the streets and places through song and literature.

There’s Tennessee Williams’ play – subsequently made into a movie – called Streetcar Named Desire.

And there’s a book called Frenchmen, Desire, Good, Children, by John Chase, which was published in 1949. The title refers to four different streets in NOLA (but read it without the commas and you get another idea!). Of course there’s also Bourbon, Canal, St. Charles, Rampart, Royal, Chartres, Orleans, Basin, Dauphine, Iberville … and so many more. {Note: A politically correct person who reads the book will have trouble with the antiquated mentions of some groups of people, but for a history of New Orleans it’s a good read that explains the colorful origins – and pronunciations – of the original street names.}

For all you travelers, then, here’s an “assignment”: Pay attention to the names that jump out at you and why.

When you get back, write a piece – even a travelogue – that incorporates the names that meant the most to you and explain why. Did they get you thinking, stir up old feelings or new possibilities? Are they related to someone you know or knew? In short, explore the creative possibilities from all the creative names in the Big Easy or any city, town, or village.

For those of us who remain homebound, we can do the same with the places around us. In our closer-to-home travelogues, which names are we drawn to and why? What do they evoke? What do we want others to know about these places that are so familiar to us?

Another option is to ponder why NOLA has so many ‘nicknames’ and write about that. I know of few other cities with so many and different monikers, and each has its own defining image.  Does the same hold true for the places around you?

Or do you give names to certain places closer to home?  When my sister and I were young, for instance, we had a couple of favorite ‘roller coaster roads’ on which we’d implore our dad to drive.  (We never told him about the ‘drag race road’ we used later as teenagers …)

Sometimes it’s as simple as being in the right place at the right time. After all, Tennessee Williams was inspired by the streetcar that ran right outside his door, and the rest is literary history.

Don’t forget to try out your non-dominant hand for this too. That’ll really get the creative juices flowing like that beautiful, mighty and mysterious Mississippi River!

Wherever you go, safe travels in/on planes, buses, trains, cars and imaginations.


Handy Work

This is an exercise that I’ve used to start new writing groups and gatherings. It’s an easy way to introduce folks to each other (when necessary), but its primary intent is to induce the giggle factor and get our whole brain working. Some participants have told me it’s the one time they can slow down enough to catch all the words that come. Here ‘tis:

Take 10-15 minutes and write something – anything – with your non-dominant hand.

Simple! The beauty of this little workout is many-fold. It exercises the side of our brain that we don’t normally use much or intentionally and thus flexes different creative muscles. No one else can see our handwriting. It gets us away from the computer for a little bit. It can be used with pen/pencil and paper or paintbrush and canvas. Doodling and drawing circles works just as well if we can’t think of anything to write, or we can copy something.

You can do this as often as you want during the day, even with actions that don’t involve writing. Try eating with your non-dominant hand. Or pour something into a glass. Can anyone brush your teeth with your other hand?!?  {Disclaimer: I cannot be held responsible for spilled milk or messy toothpaste – or any other – accidents should you choose to try these suggestions.}

As a start, try writing to-do lists or grocery lists with your non-dominant hand. The more things we try, the better and more comfortable we get with such endeavors. That will and does benefit our writing.  An added bonus — I’ve found that sometimes this little exercise helps when I hit the proverbial ‘wall,’ because it stimulates all kinds of creative ideas.

Have fun with your handy work!