Concrete: An Abstraction on the Stairs


You can take a sledge hammer to concrete. You can break it into pocket size bits and stuff your pockets full of it. When I write about writing and call it “concrete,” I mean to say that we are surrounded by things we can hold, things we can break. Concrete things give us sensory experience: tastes like salt, smells like chert, color of sky, weighs heavy in the pockets.

There’s hardly a scene that doesn’t have a top and a bottom, the bead board on the porch ceiling or the marble on the floor. We’re surrounded by props, and these props help tell the story. See me walking up to the house. The stairs I ascend are long, broad, and white. Do you see me? I’m wearing a long dress and pearls. My heels treat the steps like sensitive piano keys. I wear no fancy coat, and the wind blows my gown in billows, right through me.

Now change the stairs. They’re concrete block under poured cement. They’re painted in slick crayola brown, five in all before the screen door. Do you see me? I’m in braids and a dress my mama made me. I smell like persimmon juice to my elbows and pine needles. My dog is with me, cicadas so loud that I float.

Now tell me which set of stairs made me happiest. I don’t have to say that I’m happy. I can’t take happy and sledge at it with a hammer, but I can take these concrete words, and I can show you happy. I can make you a jar of lightening bugs and find a way for you in the dark.

On Mondays I’m going to write on writing, which means that mostly I’ll write out spirit by practicing a little with the concrete things in my life and maybe in a fictional life. We’ll see. If you want to mess around with these little prompts, send your readers this way, and link up below. Practice writing, the craft; share it with us. Next week is on THE BOOK, except we’ll link up on Tuesday, October 2nd, instead. Make sure to use #concretewords on twitter. Thank you always for coming here.


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photo credit
amberhaines
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43 Comments

Tanya Marlow
Reply September 24, 2012

I am so enjoying sitting at your feet and learning from you. I had forgotten what good writing does to my soul - it makes me feel alive and like I've drunk tropical fruit juice, all zingy and refreshed. Your writing is like that to me.

I have never 'learnt' writing, I have always just written. And then not written, for the past 15 years. It is at once familiar and alien to me, and I very much feel like I have my bike training wheel on. Thank you for letting me hitch a ride on the back. :-)

I don't think I'll be able to do a Tuesday next time, as I have my own guest-posting series... But today, I am playing along. Thanks for the invitation :-)
http://tanyamarlow.com/halfway-up-the-stairs/

Elizabeth
Reply September 24, 2012

This brings me JOY, I am off to ascend and descend the stairs with words one of my favorite things in the world. You share your space so well, Amber. And you brought me along as you climbed up and down too. Was right there. And that brought me JOY. Loving this series, hope you can tell from my stumbling feeble attempt to tell you so in a blue square box :)

Brandee Shafer
Reply September 24, 2012

I love your word pictures. Also, I think you should have a moment on the stairs of Tara. You could pull it off.

Shelly Miller
Reply September 24, 2012

Love the way you help us see Amber. Thanks for the generosity of spirit in doing that. As my creative director would say, "show me, don't tell me." It's a mantra I hear in my head every time I sit down to write. I hope to link up later. Had so many stair stories and pictures cascading in my mind it was hard to narrow the thoughts down.

Lynn Morrissey
Reply September 24, 2012

You have me staring at stairs, Amber, and ascending and descening both flights of fancy and stairs past and present. I don't have a blog w/ which others may connect, so I will just write at length on my own in some quiet corner today. But please know that your lovely post has suddenly taken me to stairs of childhood, especially, a hidden staircase that connected our upstairs flat with the downstairs one, where my paternal grandparents lived. How I loved to go to visit them throughout my childhood years and what a difference that made. I live in a ranch-house now sans those familiar childhood stairs and also without the two flights of stairs that led to my husband's and my first dwelling, a cozy Arts-and-Craft bungalow. Yet, I can see how God has graced our house stairless, because Michael had a serious heart attack when we moved here, and climbing so many stairs would have further jeopardized his health. I think we can even see God's sovereignty in the stairs we traverse--maybe even seeing the stairs in our particular lives as opportunities to witness His angels of mercy ascending and descending, bringing His grace into all of our circumstances. Thank you so much for such a rich post. You're a wonderful writer and see-er!

    Amber
    Reply September 24, 2012

    Lynn, you are incredibly encouraging. THank you. I love the stair images you mention here and especially that you don't have stairs now. :)

      Lynn Morrissey
      Reply September 24, 2012

      :-) indeed! You are very kind. Thank you! Also, I love what you said to Jennifer Lee about reading, which I am always doing. How do you seek to write freshly when you read widely? I find that a challenge--so that I am not emulating another. If I do, it's unintentional. :-) Your writing, Amber, is worthy of emulation. How gifted you are!
      Lynn

Mattie
Reply September 24, 2012

Ah! I love this.

Sarah Bessey
Reply September 24, 2012

Taking notes, wise one. Taking notes.

Megan (FriedOkra)
Reply September 24, 2012

I hadn't thought about the smell of persimmon juice since I was probably 11 or 12. Now I can smell it and feel my insides rise and fall with the arching flight of the swing in my cousin's backyard, right under a persimmon tree. Beautiful and evocative, Amber.

    Amber
    Reply September 24, 2012

    Oh Megan, I can feel it in a pucker when I think about it.

Joy @ Joy in this Journey
Reply September 24, 2012

I can't decide which one is the most happy. I love the billowy gown and light steps of the first stairs, the childish smells and braids of the second. I'm leaning towards the second because childhood is usually happier. I'm getting a bit of pensive from the first.

You've got me thinking about how to do this better with this week's story about Elli.

Kelly @ Love Well
Reply September 24, 2012

This is a path, right here.

Thank you for shining your light on it.

Jennifer@GDWJ
Reply September 24, 2012

So good, this.

So I'll share a bit from my personal files (actually, from a past post that I don't want to link to, because I don't really like it all that well ... so I'll share this little snippet):

"Instead of telling me a boy is tall, show me how he bends over nearly in half to hug his aproned grandmother at the kitchen sink.

Instead of telling me that a room is empty, let me hear the echo when the child creaks open the door.

Instead of telling me that the woman is afraid, show me how her muscles tighten as she flattens herself against the bedroom wall.

Confession Number One: I know how to write this way, but sometimes, I get lazy. (This sentence is an example.)

Confession Number Two: I know how to live a show-not-tell life, but I don’t always do it."

Keep it up, Amber. You're one of my writing heroes, by the way. It seems to come so natural for you. Would love to hear sometime if this flows out easily, or if you have to work hard at it. Do you ever get lazy, like I do? (See aforementioned confession.)

    Amber
    Reply September 24, 2012

    Oh Jennifer, I do lazy best. I have horrible writing ticks that I use again and again. I can hear my voice get lazy especially when I'm not reading very much. I usually don't realize it until I do start reading.

    I really really love the snippet you shared here. I do indeed.

the Blah Blah Blahger
Reply September 24, 2012

Reading your posts are like taking a deep breath...whenever I click over here, I feel refreshed and ready for more!

Kim
Reply September 24, 2012

"I can make you a jar of lightening bugs and find a way for you in the dark."
Yes, you can!
How many late summer nights did do just that and make my way around the darkness. Who posts about persimmons? Just crazy southern writers, sick with love for the land. Can I be so bold? http://kfsullivan.wordpress.com/2010/10/19/the-persimmon/

Joyce
Reply September 25, 2012

I find this challenge interesting...Reading your blog is a great experience for me...Thanks a lot for a great sharing with us...

Tanya Marlow
Reply September 25, 2012

Just reading through all these comments again... What IS Persimmon??

Allison
Reply September 25, 2012

Both scenes are so welcoming and fragile in such different ways. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Amber. So far, practicing writing with you here has been like opening the door to a room in my house I never knew existed. What a ride.
http://throughshyeyes.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/the-stairs/

Jennifer Upton
Reply September 25, 2012

So incredibly on time Amber. This goes right along with the book I am nestled deep within "Writing The Memoir:From Truth To Art." Writing concrete, from the senses has taken my words to a place never before traveled. It scares me honestly, the rawness. Look forward to seeing what is next.

Megan at SortaCrunchy
Reply September 28, 2012

I, too, want to sit at your feet and learn all I can. So few paint pictures the way you do. Tell us all your secrets.

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