An update from our fifth weekly writing workshop
A summary of this week’s project, plus some of the output published below
The Stone Soup Weekly Writing Workshop, held on Fridays at 1:00 p.m. PST, is open to all Stone Soup contributors and subscribers during the COVID-19-related school closures and shelter-in-place arrangements. We meet via Zoom to respond to a new writing challenge, write together in our virtual room, and then share what we have written with one another. At our session on Friday May 1, we had a record-breaking 35 participants (not counting the Stone Soup team!). We’d all agreed in advance that we would extend the session an extra 20 minutes from the original hour, so the new participants introduced themselves, and we got straight into a discussion of this week’s theme: Places we’d like to be – gardens and special private spaces, utopia, paradise...
William Rubel, Stone Soup’s founder, first presented some images of beautiful gardens, forests, water and other special places in nature. Then, with Ma’ayan and Lena’s help he introduced the idea of Utopia, a new word (or neologism) coined by Thomas More in 1516, which can be translated from the ancient Greek as either "nowhere" or "good place". Ever since then, the world's writers and thinkers have used the word Utopia to describe any imagined or visionary world of peace, beauty, perfection and social harmony. We ended on an image of the Garden of Eden, the original Paradise of the Jewish and Christian Old Testament, where the lions and the lambs (and the mice and elephants) live in peace and harmony. There was some discussion in the chat about other religions’ different images and descriptions of Paradise, as well as some sharing of side stories about whether the snake in the Garden of Eden ever had legs, and if so, how it lost them!
Before getting down to our own writing, groups members shared some brainstorming ideas for ways of thinking about the theme, that ranged from ideas about imaginary utopias or paradise, to special places personal to the group members, such as summer camp (on our minds because it may not happen this year), or the freedom and pleasure of being on a beach.
To watch a video of the instruction in full, click here
The Writing Challenge: Places we’d like to be – gardens and special private spaces, utopia, paradise: real, imagined and anywhere in between!
The Participants: Lena, Ever, Emily, Analise, Liam, Peri, Suman, Djin, Ma'ayan, Anya, Lucy, Georgia, Isabella, Emilia, Tristan, Gracie, Lauren, Maggie, Joanna, Sophia, Allegra, Arianna, Aviya, Kesed, Rhian, Michaela, Maddie, Nadia, Silas, Raeha, Justin, Madeleine, Kanav, Pallavi.
Below you can read just a few examples of the great work that came out of this exciting, visionary workshop.
Analise Braddock, 9
CARA: I hate mazes.
EVELYN: Don’t be silly, you’re just scared.
CARA: I am not!
EVELYN: Then come in the maze.
NARRATOR: As they walked inside the maze’s walls it was the most beautiful vision in the land. Varieties of flowers picnicked along the evergreen walls.
CARA: Race you.
EVELYN: Don’t count on winning.
NARRATOR: The girls ran and ran until you could hear panting from miles away.
CARA: Wait where is mom and dad?
CARA: Look, an opening.
EVELYN: I want to spend more time in the maze, you go.
NARRATOR: CARA ran to the opening astonished. It was filled with all her favorite animals in a garden that the trees were bending to guard.
CARA: I always wanted a zoo.
EVELYN: A garden zoo?
CARA: Let’s see what else is here.
EVELYN: What about my favorite things??
NARRATOR: They searched until a new opening became in sight.
CARA: Look, a room that reminds me of a palace.
EVELYN: You have always wanted a palace.
CARA: It is all I have ever wanted.
EVELYN: Hopefully there is another opening and it is something I want.
NARRATOR: Once again they ran to a final entrance.
NARRATOR: It was a beautiful room with silver butterflies and lined with what felt like happiness and gold.
EVELYN: It is magical, let’s stay forever.
EVELYN: Why not?
CARA: Well… then I am too spoiled. I will have all of this and some have nothing. Let’s go home
NARRATOR: And so they did.
Silas Costa, 10
The cars whizz by like hummingbirds buzzing towards a flower. I jump back, dodging the water sprayed up from the road. I sigh and take the small paper out of my pocket. I look at the directions one more time. The taxi refused to take me any farther than Jupiter Way. Minerva Street, the tiny street I am trying to get to branches off of the Jupiter somewhere up here. I walk past Hermes Street, Mars Avenue, and Venus Street, stomping over cigarette butts and empty chip bags. Finally, I reach Minerva Street and take a left onto it.
Its thinner than the rest of the streets in Olympitya, and seems forgotten. It is crowded with tight row houses standing shoulder to shoulder. There aren’t many people on the street, and only a few lights on in the houses. I look carefully for the address. Alpha, Eta, Rho. I recite the address in my head over and over, my eyes scanning the houses like a hawk searching for prey. I finally find it. It’s an older house, made of brick with a white wooden door. There aren’t any lights on, and all of the blinds are closed, so I figure there’s nobody here. I pull out the yellowed paper and check the address again. It says to go to the alley on the left side. I look up and see a gate where I am supposed to enter.
I open the gate and step into the narrow alley. I checked, it’s miles to the next street, so this must be a long one. But I look ahead and see that there is another door close to me, maybe six feet away. I go forward and open the door.
What I find almost makes me faint. In front of me is a beautiful fountain, with flowers intertwined in its smooth white marble. Water spews out of the head of the fountain like a waterfall, making splashes in the vast pool of water below. I look around, beyond the fountain. There are trees and flowers surrounding it, and small stone pathways leading through the woods and flowers. I look up, and see that the entire area is covered by a canopy of trees, the sun peeking through like a curious child on Christmas. I close my eyes. I cannot help but notice the smell. It seems as though there are millions of brightly colored flowers, each of them a beautiful, unique smell like none other.
And then I notice a ladder climbing up into one of the trees. My curiosity takes over and I excitedly climb up the tree, wondering what is there. The ladder leads me into a tunnel, large enough for me to crawl without having to bend my head too much. I crawl through it and it leads me to another one, and many more. Throughout the tunnel, there are little holes where I can peek my head out of the tunnel. And each time, I came to a new, beautiful part of the forest, abundant with flowers, bushes, trees, and grass.
I keep going, climbing through the tunnels and looking out through the windows. Finally, I come to a small room. I look through the windows that surround the room, and find that I am in the canopy overlooking the fountain. I lay down on the floor, on a beautiful rug with patterns of colors and shapes that are beautiful and unique in every way. As I close my eyes, I start to think.
I worked hard to come here–following the directions was hard–and it was worth it. Sometimes, there are worlds of paradise that you could only find in dreams, and all you have to do is remember it, and all of your hard work will pay off, as you’ll find yourself in a place you never dreamed. Because with work, dreams come true, no matter what the books say. So, keep dreaming and keep working, because for all you know, all of your dreams could be true.
Michaela Frey, 12
Somewhere far away,
the gardens are forever,
sprawling out across the land,
rainbows of red, yellow, green bowing to the sun.
Somewhere far away,
the skies are clear and bluer than any other blue,
and you can see for miles and miles, until the
mountains rise up into the sky.
Somewhere far away,
flowers bloom in fields,
lakes are crystal clear,
and animals live in magical harmony.
Somewhere far away,
the snow-capped mountains are
as majestic as anything you’ve ever seen,
and are beautifully unique, none the same.
Somewhere far away,
nature blooms like an untamed vine,
and if you wander around,
it will envelop you,
and you will want nothing more.
Somewhere far away,
everything is nothing,
and somewhere is nowhere,
but it is still the quintessential world,
But this is somewhere far away,
a different place,
a natural world,
so unlike our world, but also
maybe it is the same as our world.
Anya Geist, 13
Rain falls on the grey lake, ripples spreading endlessly over the water. We are swimming, out by the raft, doing flips, diving down deep into the lake to the point where your toes become numb from the cold.
The rain is falling faster. It splashes off our faces, but we keep swimming, keep smiling for now, breathing the sweet, stormy air. And then we hear it. The first crash of thunder. It echoes over the woods, over the hills surrounding the lake, the sound of nature’s cymbals.
We look at each other, resignation etched into our faces. That’s the rule; you hear thunder, you come in. We begin to swim, sprinting, racing back to the T-shaped dock. We spring up the ladder and rush down towards the beachfront, rain stinging our faces, our footsteps pounding on the dock, almost as loud as the thunder.
We race up the sandy beachfront to the prickly grass where picnic tables lay, semi-sheltered by towering pine trees. There is no one at the tables. They have all fled inside the faded green bathhouse that butts up to the woods. We grab our sodden towels and do the same, hurrying up the splintery steps as a stroke of lightning cuts a gash in the dark, marbled, cloudy sky.
People are huddled just inside, staring out at the storm. We watch alongside them, still dripping wet and shivering in the cold. It’s magical, the way the day can turn like this. But it isn’t bad. It’s uniting, it brings us together to stand there, watching the rain come down, transfixed by the lightning and thunder over the hills, half-heartedly bemoaning beach toys left in the sand.
Then, in a moment, it’s over. The rain quickly peters to a stop, leaving a fresh, moist scent in the air. People stick their hands outside; it’s dry. The only rain comes from water dripping sullenly off the roof of the bathhouse.
The clouds begin to fade as well, losing their ominous facades, turning to mild, cheerful shades of light grey and white before they flee entirely.
The sun peeks through, and we all run back out to the beach. The lake has returned to a shimmering, vibrant blue hue, reflecting the forget-me-not colored sky, and the occasional puffy white clouds that drift across it.
Rushing down the soaked, wooden dock, we dive into the water. It is pleasantly cool, refreshed by the rain. We swim to the raft, and jump off, playing in the lake, diving down as far as we can. It is as if nothing had ever happened.
By Peri Gordon, 10
I used to imagine a utopia.
A land filled with magic and wonder where anything was possible.
I used to imagine going there at night, out of my bedroom, transported to a place of eternal joy and tranquility.
A place of castles and royalty; all of the elements that I was then constantly fantasizing about, all in one place.
A place of mystical creatures, all of them kind and good.
A place where I could lie on a cloud as butterflies surrounded me, the flutter of their wings uplifting my heart.
It was a paradise, where all dreams come true and nothing was impossible.
I rarely think of my paradise anymore.
But I still remember the times when under a midnight sky
I would have my Adventures At Night.
Tristan Hui, 14
I want to fly away inside my head, to a theatre where i can sit in the dark.
in the dark i can sit inside a theatre in my head.
i’d rather fly to a theatre than the dark inside my head.
i could fly away from the theatre and into the dark, rather than be inside my head.
flying in the dark is a theatre inside, but a real one would be better.
my head is in the dark and if i could sit in a theatre i could fly away inside.
even if the theatre is little, my head can make me fly.
the theatre can make my head fly a little.
make the little theatre fly.
my head makes the theatre.
But a real one would be better than sitting in my head.
Maddie Kline, 12
Outside, I’m normal
Part of the world
Like everyone else;
At home, I’m different,
In a world of Aspergers.
Just goes to show
Who’s really different.
Just goes to show
Who’s really alone
Somewhere in the world,
We’re all different.
My religion says,
Don’t harass the stranger,
For you were the stranger in the land of Egypt.
History repeats itself.
Allegra Maio, 10
Most people that use the word fiery use it before the word red. And that’s true. My hair is red but my heart is blue. What I mean is that I belong to the ocean.
My parents think that I should be adventurous. I say that I am. I go out to the ocean and let the cool water hit my toes. I climb rocks and sometimes stub my toes and get bruises. My parents STILL say that I should be more adventurous. They say that I should go on hikes and go canoeing but they don’t understand. The ocean is my happy place.
When they were younger they were happy. Their parents spoiled them and told them that everything was going to be alright when it wasn’t.
When my parents are away on business trips (which is very rare for them NOT to be), I go to the ocean to relax. I think that everyone should have their happy place. They should have a place to melt away your worries. I have those a lot.
When I first came to the ocean at 2 years old, I knew that I couldn’t leave. The lullaby of the waves rocking me to another world. My Aunt Lucy used to tell me that if you liked the ocean, the waves were waving at you. I used to laugh. Ever since she vanished, I've been going to my happy place. My destination. I was going to visit Aunt Lucy.
My mom never really cared about Aunt Lucy. My mom never really cared about anyone but my father.
My father was a famous and rich businessman. My mom wants to impress him so much that she ignores me. I get really annoyed with her and my dad that now I’m going to the ocean every day.
Me and my mom never did get along. We would always fight about something even if it was a dribble of jam on my dress. Most of the time it’s about Aunt Lucy. When it’s about her, I go to the ocean and relax.
Sometimes I wish the ocean was in my pocket. It’s my dream. It’s my lullaby. It’s my Fiery Blue.
Arianna Maio, 9
My hair swoops in the wind the wind that
Takes all my worries away, the roses bloom while the warm sun hits my face,
My happy place
The place that can’t feel itself But it feels me And i feel it
The place that swifts alongside me
The place that make everything harmonious
Just peace no hate
My happy place closes the doors to hate and the peace comes pouring in like
Sunshine through a window
My happy place
But not just any place
The place I’d like to be
Above all places
Lucy Rados, 12
In the morning, a layer of dew coats the tall grasses of the fields, the golden stems stirring in the gentle breeze, and the sounds of animals in them singing their sweet songs of summer.
I pull on my boots over my tall socks, making sure to put on bug spray. I set off into the shade of the forest, the slivers of light reaching there way through the green canopy above me. The trees narrow out, and I walk down the wide path.
I finally see what I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for: a tree stump, over to the left. I make my way over to it, and start on the trail, the only sound my footfalls gently pounding the leaf covered ground, the smell of pine surrounding me.
After a few minutes, I hear water. Heading down a gentle decline, I see a small pool, with a log providing a bridge over the creek. I sit down and breathe in the fresh forest air, away from all troubles of life. A time passes, and I am back on my feet, walking through the dense woods. I reach a bush of blueberries and pop some into my mouth, their sweet taste flooding my mouth. I make my way back to the small white house and step inside.
As the sun rises, it quickly gets hot and we head to the lake. Running down the sun warmed wood of the dock, I jump off the end, plunging into the water, both cold and comforting. As it washes over me, I hear another splash. My friend has come in too. I head to the raft, where I quickly get pushed off by my brother. When I climb back on, I find a huge spider. I dive off heading deep into the cold water beneath the hot surface. It’s dark down there, and I can see neither surface nor ground. I quickly push up out of the frigid depths to where I see a glimmer of light, the sun reaching towards me, trying to get me out. I reach the dock and head to the small beach.
Throwing on a life jacket, I grab a paddle and head through low hanging trees over the water to get a kayak. I get in and paddle out. I go over to the beaver dam, though I only see them at night. I head over to a small rock over to the side with pine trees bending over it. The rocks are slippery there, so I carefully climb out. I see toads, hopping around, no cares in the world, exactly how I feel as I spend my days at the lake. I head back to shore, and as I do, I see, rather hear, a small sound connected to a black head. The beautiful song is from the bird for which the small lake is named, a loon. As I get closer, it dives down into the water, and I paddle back to shore, enjoying the sweet summer sun passing over me.
Hours later, after swimming and lying in the sun, we head back up the hill, passing a small graveyard with ancient headstones, pieces coming up. We drive up a winding hill, reaching the house.
As evening falls, we gather rocks and arrange them in a circle, creating a fire pit. We put logs on, and after a short while have a bonfire. Our friends from down the road come up and we make s’mores, enjoying the evening air and avoiding mosquitoes.
Night falls, and I head inside. The day has been perfect. I wish I could live here in Gilmanton all year, but I have to head back home. However, I’ll be here for more, living my happiest life.
Ever Sun, 10
i trot through the forest floor
covered with layers of dead, limp leaves
moving only when a curl of wind blows by
the trees are twisted and grey
their golden autumn leaves shaking
a cloud of branches shading me from sunlight
i see rabbits
to their holes in the ground, their home
i see birds
with rainbow plumes, flying
to their nests above, their home
i see deer with speckled white dots
coated against their soft, smooth fur
running to their home
as i walk, one foot after the next
looking about, seeking
i realize that the forest is an amazing home
and i wonder
where is my home?
where is my paradise?
humans roam the earth, unyielding
exploring the depths and heights
our true home is nowhere
are we made to wander the endless world?
are we to travel a journey that has no end?
a voyage to find our home?
this adventure for a paradise called home
goes forever on
so, i guess, the earth, the paths we take, is our home
yes, the entire world
we can call it home
that is a blooming feeling
knowing that our home is everywhere
but then, as i make a path in the gloomy forest,
what is home?
and why do we have it?
home is a place
where you are happy
a simple destination that brings you joy
it is a carefree land
and no problems that cover your mind like dark rainy days
a place where you are pleasureful
a sugary layer of delight covering you
like syrup on pancakes
ah, no words can describe it
but everyone has a home
maybe you don't know it
but you'll find it