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3/18 Weekly creativity contest winner & new prompt

Musical intro for this week’s contest post: “Get out the map, get out the map and lay your finger anywhere down. We’ll leave the figuring to those we pass on the way out of town.” (Lyrics from one of my favorite Indigo Girls songs.)

Several lovely entries for this week’s creativity contest. The winner is Brittany Vandeputte, who is clearly entering the freakishly creative phase. Brittany, we all want to know where your creative mojo is coming from!

Brittany writes: “I had fun with this one Miranda! This week’s entry is a paper doll. My best friend (who’s Australian) and her family are coming to the US next month. I haven’t seen her since 1994 and have never met her three-year-old daughter, Mackenzie. They are planning a coast-to-coast, two-month whirlwind tour of the country and the prompt made me think of them immediately. I wondered if there would be any way to help Mackenzie orient herself, and teach her a little bit about what she was seeing in the process. I was struck with this idea to commemorate each of the stops on their trip.”

Here is Brittany’s description of the images she sent in:

  • The doll’s body is made from an Apian Compass Rose (with the face of a porcelain doll I found online).
  • Her first dress is made from a map of North America. With it, as well as the others, I let natural boundaries shape the design.
  • The second dress is a topographical map of Mt. Ranier.
  • The third is a geologic map of SC.
  • The fourth is the park map of Disney World.
  • The fifth is a satellite map of California.
  • And the sixth commemorates the ports we’ll visit on the cruise we’ll meet on — and is a world atlas map of the Caribbean Sea.”



From Jen Johnson: “I have to say, as I pondered this week’s prompt, I kept coming back to Elizabeth Bishop’s take on ‘The Map,’ which I’ve always admired immensely.  With that in the forefront of my mind, I found myself quite unable to come up with something new.  I especially admire her gentle query: ‘Are they assigned, or can the countries pick their colors?’ (Here’s a copy of the poem, if you’re not familiar with it.) So I’d all but given up on having a submission, but then I remembered a VERY old poem, written in a light-yet-serious mood in the early years of my marriage. So I’m sending it in, just for fun. Looking forward to what others have this week!”

Poem, as I Try to Put Pieces Together

“She likes to stretch from England to Brazil,”
you say, while fingering a cardboard piece
of ocean, land, or sky. I hold it still
between our fingers, as I match the crease
that curves from blue to green along the edge
with several jagged gaps here in the map.

Because the cat refused to move, I wedge
the piece we hold into an empty gap
beneath her grey and furry tail. “It’s land.
It fits. Now Britain is complete,” I say.
Of course I realize the notion’s grand,
misleading, silly. For there is no way
this puzzle will complete a single thing.

Much less the world. In fact, I feel like Greek
Penelope–by day the pieces cling
together, but by night I let them seek
destruction of the pattern. Them? The cats.

I swear they’re planning feline schemes to tear
the world apart–two fuzzy democrats
demanding equal rights, each her own chair,
our full attention. Yes, when we are through
with playing god, with this our paper world,
I’m sure our world will have a hole or two;
these cats will sit with tails all tucked and curled
into a satisfied I told you so,
and they will never tell where pieces hide.

So we will forget missing Morocco,
holes in Antarctica, each gap we tried
to remember to fill. Perhaps someday
we will find dusty pieces in corners.
For now we will tear up the bluish-grey
oceans to pieces of paper waters,
break England apart, put bits of Brazil
in a cracked, cardboard box in a closet,
and we will map out each other, until
we find room for cats, chaos, and secret
blank holes in the puzzle. Oh, yes. We will.


From Cathy Coley: “i think it’s done. thanks for the inspiration. honestly, this could be a whole memoir full of adventures!”

I grew up on what seems like one long road trip. Summers spent boiling in the back of a station wagon throughout the Seventies and beyond in both directions in time, back into the Sixties and up into the Eighties. Mom’s Parliaments’ and later those long brown Mores’ smoke blown into the back seat by the cracked window, rather than out it, as her theory dissolved in practice. She never listened to us when we said we couldn’t breathe or were getting carsick from the lack of viable oxygen. She would pop the still burning butt out the window before vacuum sealing the tiny wing window which made our ears constrict and burst from the pressure, especially when we took a mountain route. Hands over my ears, I watched the fiery butt fly by, sending off sparks at seventy-five miles per hour or more, and imagined the kids in the back of the pickup behind us, or the couple in the convertible, or the cut-away hood of a suped-up hot-rod, or the dry roadside grasses and trash bursting into flames, ignited by my mother’s careless discard. But it was the Seventies, and even with the crying native public service announcements and ‘give a hoot, don’t pollute’ campaigns on television, the roadways were littered from car windows far more than my mother’s butts, and I believe everyone’s mother smoked. There’s a certain smell I still smell in certain roadside stops in Virginia, of old cigarettes, linoleum and sealed in broken down air-conditioning, barbeque, hot dog, melting chocolate, Cheetos, Coppertone, pork rinds, potato chips, Coca-cola, Mr. Pibb, birch beer, bologna, egg salad, and old sweat that brings me right back to my childhood. It’s not a great aroma, but it is the perfume of my youth, travelling southward, circa 1976.

My extended family lived in Georgia and Florida, and a few in North Carolina on my father’s side. My parents were traitors who had crossed the Mason-Dixon Line to raise their family. We were the first generation in at least three hundred years, on both sides, and cousins of Robert E. Lee. My younger brother, born in Connecticut was ‘that damn Yankee’ as dubbed by my maternal grandfather and uncles. So we travelled every summer to visit the rest of us Down South. We did so for some Christmases, too. Preparations for the trip included long consultations with Rand-McNally on our kitchen counter, flipping the pages from state to state to determine the best route this time. Would we take a more coastal route and stop over in Virginia Beach or other resort beach zone? Or is the mountain route through the Blue Ridge on Skyline drive our preference this time? Maybe an altered western route across the Smokeys instead, so we can stop over at my father’s old Georgia Tech fraternity brother’s place in North Carolina, rather than with Great Aunt Alma and Uncle Jack, who had a 1922 Model A Ford with an A-Ooga! horn to squeeze and a houseful of antiques.

First we rode in our old Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with the windows on top, I would lay down in the ‘way back’ or in the back seat and stare up at the passing clouds and stars and wave to the truckers high up in their perches at the front of their megatons of steel and whatever they hauled inside, so they’d blow their horns as they passed. We had these windows in the car ceiling way before the concept of a sunroof came into fashion. After that car’s engine blew, with my mother, younger brother and me in the car, downtown, hometown, Connecticut with real estate agents chasing after us yelling “Fire!” the day before one of our journeys, the dealership lent us a green station wagon that stopped running smack-dab in the middle of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. My father coasted in neutral from hovering over a river past New Jersey, and drifted us onto the roadside with minimal embankment in Delaware. I remember lunching on boiled eggs and hot Peter Pan peanut butter and Welch’s Grape Jelly sandwiches, chased by Coca-cola, and Wise potato chips, for what seemed like hours, as I already needed to go to the bathroom before the bridge, as we waited for the Triple A guy to tow us somewhere for repair. The whir-whizz constant of traffic so much louder and the wind from each vehicle’s pass nearly knocked me over. I was always a puny kid. My mother often said she was sure I would blow away in a strong wind one of these days.

After that trip, my parent’s purchased a Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon with a 455 V-8 and plenty of walnut-grained vinyl veneer. This station wagon lasted us through many more trips, and my high school driving years, when I’d pile all my friends and then some into it to party-hop all over town at whoever’s parents were out of town for the weekend, and have everyone back before my curfew, drunk as skunks, but home safe at a decent hour. Their mothers all loved me. I, however, was straight and in by midnight, mom waiting up, cigarette burning next to her, while she dozed by the light of the television, waiting for me to check in, check my breath, with a ‘goodnight, mom’ kiss on her cheek before heading upstairs.

But that Pontiac Grand Safari with the 455 V-8 lead us to Georgia and Florida and back, mountain routes, coastal routes, down to Orlando where my paternal grandmother lived, Ft Lauderdale and Daytona Beach for fun in the sun, and even gulf-side to Panama City Beach. It carried us on trips to Maine and Vermont for skiing and all the way down the East Coast, hot as blazes, crayons melting in the floorboard with the chocolate. I remember stopping in Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Myrtle Beach, you name it, if it was in Eastern Standard Time, we saw it as kids. My father was never too keen on stopping anywhere for too long, and if we wanted a side trip, one of us navigated from the atlas in our lap, flipping pages from state to state, squeezed in the middle of that front bench seat between Mom and Dad. The other two, listening to The Eagles in the way back, on the Panasonic handheld pushbutton tape recorder, with nothing to do but pretend to be Bonnie and Clyde on the lam from the coppers, read, doodle or watch the trees, cows, hills, cars and sky go by for hours and days on end at a steady 75 miles per hour.


From me (Miranda): I recently listened to this old podcast interview with Keri Smith, which got me thinking about the creative inheritance of childhood. Lately I’ve been thinking about work that links to my past. The piece I created for the map prompt is about documenting my creative birthright; my origins (the map is of a town in England that was one of my early homes) and what I was given by my mother, who is what I could call reflexively creative. The past can been seen as a map from which we navigate the future. The sunflower is a personal icon of sorts, and in this instance echoes the compass icon used on many maps. This piece isn’t quite what I set out to do, but it is what it is. (Kind of like me.)



This week’s prompt: “Spring Equinox”
Use the prompt however you like — literally, or a tangential theme. All media are welcome. Please e-mail your entries to by 10:00 p.m. eastern time (GMT -5) on Tuesday, March 24, 2009. The winning entry receives a $10 gift certificate to Writers should include their submission directly in the body text of their e-mail. Visual artists and photographers should attach an image of their work as a jpeg. Enter as often as you like; multiple submissions for a single prompt are welcome. There is no limit to how many times you can win the weekly contest, either. (You do not have to be a contributor to this blog in order to enter. All are invited to participate.) All submissions are acknowledged when received; if you do not receive e-mail confirmation of receipt within 24 hours, please post a comment here. Remember, the point is to stimulate your output, not to create a masterpiece. Keep the bar low and see what happens. Dusting off work you created previously is OK too. For more info, read the original contest blog post.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. cathy #

    i hope this means daughter is ok, miranda!

    such different entries this week! the paper doll looks so fun and holds so many wonderful places and memories, brittany! congratulations!

    jen, thanks for the reminder of the bishop poem, i enjoyed looking at it again, it’s been years, but i liked your poem with the puzzle pieces and cats even better. ‘So we will forget missing Morocco,’ and ‘I’m sure our world will have a hole or two;’ just great!

    miranda, yours is so sunny and buttery!

    mine was written to avoid writing in ms that day, but was fun.

    March 18, 2009
  2. Jen at mamasmagicstudio #

    Congrats Brittany! What a wonderful, whimsical submission. I loved the images on their own terms, and even more so in the context of commemorating your friend’s trip. bravo!

    Miranda, the blue/yellow combo in yours is fantastic! As a sunflower fan myself, I thoroughly approve. (And I’ll echo Cathy’s hope that daughter is well!)

    Cathy, thanks for your kind words about my poem. Like it better than Bishop!?! Wow. That’s high praise indeed 😉 I really enjoyed your entry and can definitely see how it might lead to many other chapters in a memoir (rather the way all those roads on the map could lead in so many different directions!) I was especially struck by your portrayal of your mother’s smoking. As a child born in 1972, it rang utterly true to me. My mom has recently confessed, blushing a bit, to smoking *while* she was breastfeeding me: “But at least I tried to blow the smoke away from your face at my breast!” Well that’s a comfort, I suppose…..

    March 18, 2009
  3. cathy #

    thanks, jen, and yes, better than bishop, all those old dead poets always get the credit. it’s time live ones got it well, too. 😉

    i think smoking was just de riguer back then, and a constant.

    March 18, 2009
  4. Yikes…smoking WHILE breastfeeding…how did any of us survive??

    Daughter is fine, thanks for the well wishes.

    March 18, 2009
  5. love those paper dolls, brittany! such fun! i bet they were fun to make too. congrats!

    Jen and cathy, your poetry and prose pieces are both wonderful. jen, i have two cats so i love your cat stories woven in there. cathy, i never really had many road trips with my parents, but your memories are fun to hear.

    miranda, i love your map! i had thought of doing something similar with my favorite place on the map but never got around it too.

    great entries everyone! and glad to hear your daughter is well miranda.

    March 20, 2009

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