Exercise 1, Part 2

Writing Exercise

D. J. Cools

1/17/20182 min read

Like many creative (or crazy—same thing?) people, I tend to get obsessive. When my brain attaches to an idea, I dig deep. Which is why I am currently reading four books about writing at the same time (outside of the 7 or so other books I am currently working on). If you write, or want to write, take time to read The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo. I am still processing much of what he has to say, but one sentence in particular bears repeating here: ‘An act of imagination is an act of self-acceptance.’ I find this brief statement full of hope and mystery.

In my previous post I mentioned Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin. I am moving through it slowly, but it is no less intriguing or helpful than Hugo’s essays or the others I am reading. I have completed the second part of Exercise 1, and I welcome comment and critique. It is very brief; here it is:


New green grass pushed up between grey-brown oak and orange leaves. The leaves stuck together in clumps, still damp from the third and final rainfall of the year.

Next to the wire fence a backpack sprayer pump filled with water and weed-killer waited. On the outside it looked cheerful in its red and white livery. On the inside it was poison.

Sage wasn’t ready. It felt like there was a sock in his throat. The morning light, glittering with that almost unbearable brilliance of new sun on a soggy, rain-fresh world, mocked him. Everything was too colorful. Oversaturated. A fake orchard filled with fake trees. And fake brown hills behind, set off by a fake blue sky.

He wasn’t ready for this day, for this work, or for the happy Mexican men gearing up for a day among the orange trees. He picked up the backpack sprayer. The morning was already hot.

Yesterday afternoon, standing at the curb at LAX saying goodbye, something had broken in Sage. Two weeks of punk rock alarm clocks, long days working in the trees, skateboarding after dark. Coffee at midnight and hot dogs in the mini-fridge and cigarettes out the window. It should have been a fresh start. Hope. But his brother was already far away. The upcoming surgery, and after that, a new life, a new job—back to his old girlfriend. He wasn’t coming back here. Sage knew that, and he didn’t want to know it. The rented room they shared was stripped of everything that meant anything. All of it stuffed into the bags around their feet. Everything was going north.

His brother held out his car keys. “You can have it.” He smiled. “It’s a pile anyway.”

Glossy leaves brushed against his cheek as he pushed deeper into the orchard. Working the lever of the sprayer as it settled more steadily onto his shoulders, he fought the urge to cry. The hardness in his throat and the ache in his chest were making him nauseous. He avoided the other men. Tears stabbed at the corners of his eyes and his vision swam. He pumped the lever steadily. He soaked every weed with poison.