An update from our sixth 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 8, the group was focused on creating a strong Sense of Place.
The group discussed what sense of place means to them: a description of a specific environment that is topical to you; a description of the surroundings where and circumstances in which the story is taking place. A good sense of place would mean that the readers can visualise where the story is taking place. If it's strong, you feel like you are there in the environment that is being described. William presented a number of short passages that give strong examples of sense of place: Andrew Lang, Charles Dickens, Jean Giono, Robert Musill, J. R. R. Tolkein; and some landscape photographs and paintings that conveyed strong atmosphere and mood (such as Ferdinand Hodler's View of the Swiss Alps) which participants responded to and discussed. At the end of 30-35 minutes of writing 8 participants read their work and had it commented on. This was another workshop just humming with ideas and creativity.
The Writing Challenge: Focus on Sense of Place. This exercise requires a pure focus on the setting. You may not get into a story or a whole poem. We are looking for writing that conveys a strong declaration of where we are.
The Participants: Ever, Emily, Analise, Liam, Peri, Suman, Djin, Ma’ayan, Anya, Lucy, Georgia, Tristan, Gracie, Lauren, Sophia, Allegra, Arianna, Aviya, Michaela, Maddie, Silas, Justin, Vishnu, Lewis, Kendyll, Chloe, Gina, Abhi, Laila, Ethan, Shai.
Below you can read just a few examples of the great work that came out of this workshop.
Allegra the Adaptable, 10
I walk into the living room
to find 4 walls filled with luxurious stuff.
a pretty purple with matching carpets to coat the floor.
The emptiness I feel,
soon becomes a feeling of pleasure.
Tables and chairs, sanded down to the last bit.
A dead bear on the floor;
a deer’s antlers hanging on the wall;
and a wall full of rabbits’ feet.
The presence of being here
makes me want to feel free to burst out of my shell.
I smell the faint smell of weed
and assume it’s my father.
I run my fingers along the wall.
I feel every bit of the purple.
I chip away at some dry paint, only wanting to feel.
I notice, I notice the world around me.
I notice the green, blue and yellow of the floor,
something I have never noticed.
Even the walls,
“It’s not what you look at that matters;”
my mom used to say,
“It’s what you see.”
I used to never understand that meaning,
and now, I finally do
Michaela Frey, 12
A quiet morning during the mid-winter, a window between the old year and the new year, you tiptoe out of the small cabin. It is sometime early, as the old, wooden grandfather clock just hit the starry northern twelve, making a song fit for only those who dare awaken early, a beautiful sonnet just for you.
The morning is as beautiful as no other, a minute after the past day, you cherish the seconds. The grassy ground is coated in layers of untouched snow, and you hesitate before stepping into it.
The day is born, but the stars are still floating up in the sky, the moon shining brightly, all spread out between gaps that look small, but you know that really, the gaps are farther between every star than you could think of.
The snowflakes smile up at you, each a different, unique star of its own. Trees are painted a winter white, all without leaves, but beautiful nonetheless. They smile at you as well.
You tiptoe across the acres of white until you reach the frozen lake. The world seems to have stopped, frozen, just like the lake. It is silent, but not a eerie silence, not like the silence in your home during early mornings, as you know all the birds will begin chirping soon, the squirrels will start to scurry across the trees, the children will soon begin to step outside, cheerily tossing snowballs at each other.
But right now it is just you and the snow, the lake, the trees.
And those are the things that are there, in the light of the earliest minute of the morning.
Anya Geist, 13
A stiff wind pushed its way through the air, consumed by a hot dryness that seemed to leach color and life out of every living thing. The air was dusty, but empty, left alone to feed on countless shriveled gardens and to fade previously vibrant clapboards in town.
Nobody dared to venture outside in this tepid weather, where the heat beat down even stronger than the blazing sun; instead they sheltered in their homes, afraid to open the windows, afraid to let the monster of heat in.
A little ways out of the town, over a parched field, and up a stubby, short hill there was a house. It was perched all alone, surrounded by yellow, faded grasses, and covered with the canopy of the almost-yellow, cloudless sky. Its sides had once been a pristine white, the color of a wedding dress amidst emerald green fields, but now it seemed to have no color. It simply blended into the background, into the pure lifelessness of the sky.
The windows were open in this house, the glass grimy and cracked, the sashes crooked, propped up by musty books. The air forced its way into the house, a barrage of heat that choked you when you breathed. It gripped rotting wooden tables and chairs that were strewn across the rooms, its weight causing the old floorboards to creak and groan as sand sifted through the floor and onto the foundation beneath.
Through room after room the air traveled, stumbling over dusty blankets, tripping over doors that were slightly off their hinges. Finally, it reached the room at the back of the house.
Dull sunlight pierced the windows, and cast smudged light onto the wall. The air filled the room, enveloping it in heat, in stiffness. The heat peered outside, gazing out from a room, in a house, in a world suffocated by heat, by thick silence, not evil, not good, just nature.
Anya Geist, 13
It is one of those days when clouds roll over the sky, blanketing it in a deep grey that dulls all light, that warns of oncoming rain. But no rain comes. The sky is heavy and thick, swirling and troubled, but nothing happens. It is there, simply waiting for the perfect moment to release its burden on the world below.
Spring is just emerging on land, peeking out from the giant of winter. Leaves, yellow-green, bright and cheerful are popping out of delicate branches, while other trees are still only budding, their verdant shoots springing up, greeting the world. Flowers are blossoming, bright and merry, soft pinks washing the air and strong yellows permeating the world. They are everywhere, and bees and insects hum delightedly as they buzz by.
The air is still, heavy, waiting. Absent of sound, it knows something is coming, something that will disrupt the vibrant paradise below. No wind flits through the streets, through yards and sprawled out houses. Hardly anyone is outside; they are all contentedly waiting at home.
And then it happens. There is no sudden warning, but rain begins to gush from the sky, like blood pouring from an open wound. Except that the skin that has been punctured is a roiling grey, marbled and rumbling, and the blood that streamed out is heavy and sweet, fat droplets of water pounding the ground, the dark asphalt streets, soaking the grass and dirt to the core.
The rain hammers on, refreshing and cool, flowers standing up straight in the face of the downpour. Every color seems more vibrant now; every green, pink, and yellow bursts just a little louder, greedily drinking in the fresh water, and the air is lighter, no longer tense with anticipation, but relaxed, letting the rain saturate it with a sweetness, the taste of candy on a tongue.
The world is at rest, allowing water to stream into it, to wash its face, and let it grow, to raise the spring even higher.
An excerpt from Overseas, the unwritten novel
Peri Gordon, 10
The sea tossed us about as if we were a toy ship, the Earth tormenting us with a stroke of her invisible hands. There were great, booming bellows that could only be the voice of thunder, and sudden bursts of white light would accompany them, like spotlights of death. The ocean might as well have been a rearing horse, unexpectedly tossing its passengers into Earth’s endless playroom, a calm utopia turned pit of doom. Rising from the pit, great waves crashed upon us with sickening blows, then plunged down into the depths of the ocean, dragging with them whatever they could find. No prisoner could escape these monstrous attackers once caught, and even those who were still free were prisoners of the howling wind, the booming thunder, the rebellious sea, and the persistent crashes of light.
Through the Dark Lenses
Madeline Kline, 12
My eyes water as I look over the wide expanse of water, shining green, blue, and all colors of the sea reflecting the sun. The beach, which I’ve been to many times, looks different now, the clear blue skies seeming darker, the blinding white sand seeming dirty, like new shoes after rain and mud, and the people all looking sinister, instead of enjoying their family vacation. The water, even, with all its colors, doesn’t look friendly and calm anymore. The waves seem to eat at the sand, chomping and crunching and eating the beach away, and inevitably everyone on it.
I look at that sea, and I have to look away, for fear of seeing bodies, too many, too many, way too many bodies in that sparkling water. I look away for fear of seeing the water tinted red, the fins appearing to chase us down and take us the way the water takes the sand. I look away for fear of seeing it happen again, for fear of seeing another young boy run in chasing seashells, the waves eating him along with the sand and rocks. For fear of seeing another older sibling crying alone on the sand, unwilling to watch. For fear of seeing someone else I love lost to the water, the evil but beautiful water, that took too many, too many, way too many bodies.
I didn’t want to come here, to this beautiful utopian beach. Every acre of blue sky hides another star exploding. Every grain of sand hides cigarette butts and broken bottles of alcohol. Every smiling person hides malice and bad intentions. And every wave, every wave, every single wave hides fear, loneliness, and depression.
After those waves took my autistic brother, they took my eyes and placed a film over them. Through this dark film, I can no longer see beauty or life. I only see hatred and death, all the world really is. Or all it is now, without the pure, innocent mind of my younger brother to clear the skies. Every once in a while, a truly good person is born. And yet, every once in a while, the waves take them away. I don’t see death. I feel it, in everyone who suffers, everyone who watches, everyone who fears.
Is this what the world is going to do with all of us, eventually? Take our souls in the wave, along with our love and hope, and replace it with fear? Not everyone sees through the film. My parents insisted on coming back, almost as if they wanted the water to see another victim. At this point, I don’t care. The water placed the film over my eyes, the water is the only one that can remove it. My parents set up our umbrella, as I prepare myself for the rain. I walk down to the water. The hostile waves pause upon seeing me. I bend down and pick up a seashell, and the water comes and removes the film.
Arianna Maio, 9
As I walk into the bright orange factory
I feel as if I just walked through a portal in a new world
Suddenly I see colorful things
I am shocked speechless inside
Tons and tons of small chutes chasing other chutes
Appear before me
They were gummy chutes!
I squint as I see little tiny dots on those chutes
Tiny little gumdrops play tag with each other as
Chocolate comes pouring out of this big chute
Lollypops, chocolate, gum drops,
little gummy bears float in the sky
As it starts to rain whipped cream and chocolate
I stick my tongue out and enjoy
Before I can realize everything is made of candy
I realize I’m in candy land
The Past is in the Present
Vishnu Mangipudi, 12
James observed the sunrise. It had been months since he had been able to enjoy nature’s presence. He could see the flowering cherry blossoms swaying gracefully in the breeze, he could hear the birds and crickets chirping, he could feel the soft drizzle of rain on his palm, he could smell the scent of cider brewing on the stove.
He had been out to war for the past few months, fighting for democracy over dictatorship. Every single day, he was traumatized by the sight of thousands of dead soldiers on the ground, their lifeless bodies lying motionless in the grass. He was wracked by memories of his fellow comrades themselves, falling. He was one of a handful of survivors, nowhere near the original size of the army. But now, he had achieved what he had always wanted: a fair society for everyone.
After gulping down his cup of cider, James walked down to the printing press. He had worked there as a young lad, and as he walked in, nostalgia overtook him. He could recognize the scent of the old parchment paper, the feel of the mahogany of the press. He remembered a game he had used to play with the papers, pressing jet-black ink to the parchment to write his own secret messages.
As James stepped up to the counter to pick up the weekly paper, he noticed a sheet of parchment through the corner of his eye. Intrigued, James carefully reached out for the paper, grabbed it, and put on his glasses. “Dear Diary. Today, I have buried a time capsule by the banks of a rapidly flowing river, in the soft, loamy soil, next to a rock formation in the shape of an O. The map is shown below:”.
A tear flowed out of James’ eye. He immediately stepped outside and strode to the river. He knew this place. It had been his favorite childhood hideout ever since he stepped out of the house. With the calm, ambient noise of the river softly crashing onto rocks, and the soft piles of leaves that had accumulated below the forest in the fall, there was no reason to despise the place.
As he reached the location and sifted the sand away, he found a small mahogany box. As he gently opened the box, he couldn’t believe what he had seen. Memories came rushing back to James’ head as he lifted dusty pictures out of the box, one of him with his mother, one of him with his best friends.
Although those days were long gone, James couldn’t help but reminisce on the past, knowing that he had had a great childhood. He lightly placed the box where he had found it, along with one of his own notes: ”The Past may be different from the present, but we must enjoy both as much as we possibly can”.
Georgia Marshall, 11
Cars hurtle down the paved roads that go on forever. Steel colored rain comes gushing to the ground like a herd of angry elephants. The sky is a thick mass of stormy grey monstrosities that are supposedly clouds. People dart in and out of dark alleyways, trying to stay dry. The whole town is gloomy and despairing. But the most sorrowful, miserable and dejected sight of all is the tiny brown orphanage.
It is a small lonesome shack, amid many other tall, handsome but eerie buildings, all in a straight line. The pitiful orphanage is made of only weak scrawny slabs of wood glued together by thin spreads of cement. A chipped, wooden, hand-painted sign reading, “The Orphanage,” hangs from a crudely shaped hook next to the thin door.
Inside, dozens of young orphans sit on straw mats reading long, boring textbooks, huddled together in clumps trying to keep warm, or looking longingly out of windows. Those looking through windows appear lonesome and oddly wiser than they should be—like they have seen things that people their age shouldn’t have seen.
Their pale, gaunt faces reveal shadowy corridors that stretch off into darkness, and gloomy forests filled with violet lights in the shape of menacing, baleful eyes. But these children shouldn’t have seen these terrible places. They’ve never been out of this parentless place they call home. Or have they? Are they actually old souls roaming the earth, searching desperately for a place to call home? Or even just the sense of a place to feel with heart and soul that they belong in?
This so-called orphanage is not a place for young homeless children to take refugee. It is a masked prison. A chamber of secrets. A long stone hallway filled with cells, tiny cells, all locked by an empty barrier. This place is no place at all. All the imagery we crave, all the places we go with just pages and written word, are collected by these children—these skeletal beings—that bring them to this fiery sense of hate. This shack. This orphanage. The orphanage.
Lucy Rados, 13
She stared out the window looking over a barren landscape, the striking blue of sky contrasting sharply with desert yellow. Light bounced off the sand, reflecting off the walls and shining through the stained glass window, providing colors of yellows and reds, purples and blues, to be cast across the simple room with otherwise only shades and black and white.
A soft voice rang from downstairs, penetrating the silence that had enveloped the bare room. The girl snapped out of her trance, and walked down the weathered wooden steps, the light colored brown stairs creaking under each footfall.
The girl stepped outside, the heat coming off the desert sand in waves, shimmering, partially cloaking her vision. She walked for about an hour, finally reaching the well which was the only source of water for many miles in most directions. Then, she began the trek back to her house across the yellow sand, the temperature steadily rising as she walked.
After reaching home, she grabbed her bag. The sun was now coming up quickly in the sky, meaning higher temperatures for the 10-mile walk to school. Finally she reached a small whitewashed building, a short, stout one: her school. Her days on the desert were often like this–a walk to the well, school, and the sweltering heat. Every time she walked, feeling the urge to collapse, she thought back to her mornings, the colors that gave the room flavor, and the lights, the sparkling lights of the desert, the sun reflecting off the sand. Beauty where there was also hurt.
Abhi Sukhdial, 12
It was 9 AM. There were no mountains, no cool air, no breeze, no nature. All nature that had ever existed was gone. Dead.
There was nothing left but a big camp full of white tents and an enormous crowd of men. There were drinks on tables, injured lying on beds, and holes for the dead. It looked like World War III. The camp covered over three square miles–there were men walking here, there, everywhere. Commanders, captains, soldiers, all gearing up for the upcoming thing ahead. But this wasn’t even a war. No fight between countries. It was all for money–a great treasure. Both sides were pumped with pure adrenaline.
Behind the camp was a road. A seemingly endless road. The one I was standing in the middle of. I could see the camp spilt in half by a wooden fence. The bugs, flies and insects, which normally you would expect to find a ton of, were all gone. In fact, there was so much dead wildlife, that there was a hole just for storing all the dead creatures! They referred to the holes as “simple” obstacles on this important journey.
I was a messenger working for both sides. I had no personal stake in this fight. My opinion meant nothing, so much so that I couldn’t express it in any large or small meetings. I was like a robot programmed to do a job and I went about doing it. But regardless, I like everyone else, believed this treasure really existed.
The two sides had been in England for many days now trying to find this treasure. Considering we had no clues leading to the treasure, we just physically cut the areas where we found nothing completely off our map. We only had one area left–this one. It has been two weeks now since we started our search, and we’re still looking for it. We didn’t even know much about the treasure. It was just one of those old English rumors that we surprisingly believed. “Look where we are now,” I thought.
Since I didn’t take part in either side, and couldn’t speak much, I just stood on the road outside observing the two camps. You might be thinking right now how they became rivals in the first place. At first, both sides worked together to find the treasure. It was only in the endgame (when we had about two areas left to check out) that both sides became consumed with greed and anger . . . and now they fight instead of getting along. But both sides unanimously agreed that nobody should try sneaking into the other side of the camp or fight unexpectedly. The rules of engagement must be known by both sides.
* * * * *
I could see the men digging big holes everywhere trying to find this underground treasure. This place doesn’t look like Planet Earth anymore. It looks like a brown wasteland. The holes measured each about twenty feet deep. But we still found nothing. I saw the cruel shoveling the dirt, those men not caring at all about their deeds. But I really shouldn’t be giving my opinion, because even as I write this, I have decided to join these men myself.
I looked around the desolate road. The sun was burning right on my face, but luckily, there was a mountain with a lot of shade, so I hid under there. In fact, I was lying on my back on the hillside when I accidentally fell. “Be more careful,” I thought. Then I saw something.
* * * * *
It was a cave. It was completely dark, but it was a cave. I wanted to tell them about this, but I felt that since they didn’t allow me to speak, I shouldn’t allow myself to speak to them either. But I would definitely need a torch. I headed to one of the camps and asked one of the commanders (who was drinking some whiskey alone) for a torch. He was a little suspicious of me, but then I told him that I just wanted to burn some of the dead wildlife. He gave me a small torch, and I headed back into the cave. This time, I could see a large grouping of rocks. Yes! This must be it! The treasure might be in here! But when I tried pushing the boulders, they wouldn’t budge. They were stuck like glue. I need more people to help.
But how? Both sides are fighting for this! I want this treasure all for myself! Screw them! But I realized me complaining wouldn’t do any good. I would need to, somehow, find a lot of men (I counted maybe twenty or more) to push these boulders to their death. I headed out of the cave and saw the men collecting guns. Oh shoot! They’re going to fight again! I thought they only just started, but I could see them already lining up and walking towards each other.
How these two sides fought was very simple. There was a big, open field. One side headed to one of the edges, and the other headed to the other edge a quarter of a mile away. They then got their guns, horses, cannons and ammunition and started fighting. I could see them sadly shooting at each other. I could also see them charging at each other, and in mere seconds, the fighting began. I never knew why they fought like they were in a World War, but I guess they both wanted to do it that way.
I decided the best thing I could do was to gather up the other messengers–the only friends I could talk to. If I’m being honest, we really don’t talk that much to each other, but we still like each other. And we all feel the fighting has gone too far. I headed to one of the tents, where I saw about fifteen of the messengers. I told them about what I just saw, but they just laughed.
“You really think the treasure is there? That easy, Jonas? Be reasonable!”
I tried using my charisma, but they weren’t convinced. I tried a different approach.
“Wouldn’t it be fun though to move those rocks instead of just sit here?”
This got some moving, but only a few. “OK, I have to make a stronger case,” I thought.
“Guys! Do you seriously like it here?” I said a little annoyed. “Enjoy seeing these two sides causing bloodshed to each other? Come on! If we work together and pretend this is something fun, like a challenge, instead of focusing on the money, maybe we can work better together! How about it, huh?”
Nobody said a word after I said this. Soon, I could see a few men coming over, then increasingly more, and more, and pretty soon, even the angry, bored ones came.
“We don’t talk very much, and we couldn’t really share our feelings! Truth is, we have the same feelings,” one man said.
“Exactly! This treasure is becoming an addiction! Not that I’m complaining about it or anything,” another remarked.
But then someone spoke up and said something very bold:
“Why do we even need the treasure?” It was Jacob, one of the messengers who didn’t speak up much.
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Why can’t we just ignore this treasure entirely?”
“NO WAY!” one of them disagreed. “It’s free money. We’re so close to our destination!”
“I know,” said Jacob. “But look at this. Like Jonas said, this is bloodshed. Madness! Why can’t we ignore this bloodshed and go far away? Money doesn’t have to matter to us! It will give us a little excitement, but not much.”
Truth be told, while some of the others were laughing their heads off, I was actually thinking about what he said. It doesn’t sound like nonsense. It actually sounds a little . . . smart. Maybe he’s right.
But my greed wouldn’t stop. I was obsessed with that money. I wanted the treasure now. I couldn’t wait. My mind raced back and forth weighing a great dilemma: “Money or happiness? What do I really, absolutely, truly want?”
* * * * *
Ever Sun, 10
Cool gales that brought along fallen, brown, leaves blew across the sandy, flat, lands, almost as if it was a desert. The calming turquoise sky, freckled with dancing white puffs of clouds, surrounded the scorching white sun, which blazed in contrast with the sky.
Around me there were only shrubs and cacti, and also tiny sprouts of green grass, which I knew were going to become yellowed and dead from the sun. Sometimes I thought the sun was quite mean, and other times I thought that the bauble of flames was useful and giving. I looked at the poor tuft of grass, then at the blinding sun, and sighed. I had long ago accepted the fact that there were those in the world that had to go.
The grains of sand I walked on, barefoot, made a slight crackling sound each time I took another heavy step, each time I lift my foot another stride closer to the clear, blue water of the river. I could already hear the distant splashes and the rush of the water as it chased one another, winding its pathway in the desert.
The river was a survivor, one of the onlys in the merciless desert, that flowed every moment without drying up. But someday it will too. The mighty river, snaking along the desert, unpredicted, would someday too bow down under the hand of the sun.
Peri Gordon, 11
They inhabit me like I am some sort of haunted medieval fortress.
One of them darts through one of my walls and into the well-furnished but dust-covered room where the young girl once spent her time making beautiful sketches before her death of sickness in that same room. Another ghost haunts the stairs, where the girl’s father met his own end in a fatal accident. And yet another lurks in the former office of the girl’s mother, where she privately ended her own life.
Each spirit was once alive. One of them was the girl. One was the father, one the mother. They all died too soon, and that thought keeps them here, passionate grief scorching their minds and hearts. They are each so caught up in their own misery that they do not notice each other’s ghosts, only their own.
I was once a place of happiness, the cheerful, stylish, modern home for a family of three. Now I am a place of despair, a ghost habitat.
People come outside, snapping photos and gossiping about what went on inside me. Even those who do not believe there are ghosts are prevented by others from coming inside me. Most of them know that the ghosts are, indeed, here.
There is a mansion across the street, looking more old-fashioned than I ever have. That would make a good haunted house. But no; I am the haunted one. The home across the street is filled with happy people, happy rooms, happy memories.
But I am desperate.
I summon all the energy that being haunted provides me.
Power and adrenaline build up inside me like fuel for a car.
I send the spirits soaring out of me and into the home on the other side of the road. I am free from being haunted. Let the suffering be transferred to somewhere else. I have held the burden of being shunned and isolated for long enough. It is another home’s turn.
It only takes a few days for the family to move out. Hope rises inside of me.
But they do not come here. People don’t know I am no longer haunted. In fact, they believe I have spread the ghost disease, and that now both the other house and I are haunted. Most people leave the neighborhood, never to return again.
And the ghosts, missing their old spaces, return to me.
Well, that backfired.
Perhaps I really am haunted, not just because of the spirits I contain but because I have a wicked soul. Maybe seeing the deaths truly changed me, for I have become immeasurably evil, so evil that I would try to inflict my suffering onto another to free myself. I am despicable.
And now that the neighborhood’s inhabitants have left, I am even more lonely than I was before