Writing Prompt: Happiness is ______________

IMG_6814 I tacked a fortune from a Chinese fortunate cookie to my wall several years ago that reads, “Happiness is Activity.” It is certainly my motto, so when a friend calls up with a proposition for a fun-filled experience, I seldom turn it down nor do I ask a lot of questions (especially if that friend knows me well and I deem her trustworthy like my friend Sheila.)

So, when Sheila sent me a message asking me if I wanted to go a Vermont Humanities Council sponsored reading by former Poet Laureate Billy Collins a couple of weeks ago I said “yes.” There was some momentary confusion as my scattered mind tried to differentiate between poet Billy Collins and the musical Billy Elliot, which led to another friend believing that we were going to go see Irish comedian Billy Connolly (who Sheila thought was Australian, but after a Google search, we discovered was actually Scottish), but even had we not solved the problem of the “Billys,” I was in from the start – any of the three would have been fine with me just to be out doing something.

We went and I loved it and quickly said “yes” again when Sheila suggested I attend a free poetry workshop that was starting in Randolph and would be meeting on the Second Wednesday of each month from now until next spring. Mind you, my upcoming Wednesdays from October through December are filled with teaching, but I had one free Wednesday coming up and those in the spring, so I contacted the leader, requested and received permission to attend, and found myself sitting last Wednesday night with around 18 people, one my former boss from the local paper, writing poetry in the basement of the library. I’m still not sure what the group is called – I didn’t ask – and only received the letter describing what it was about after I signed up, but I was game and in spite my nerves at sitting directly across from my former boss and trying not to squirm as we shared our poetic scratchings, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

We are reading Billy Collins’ anthology of contemporary poets, Poetry 180, and using writing prompts to create work of our own. For our first prompt, our leader handed out a scrap of paper with some lines a friend had emailed her.

“Has been and Is are my old friends. We go back. Will be is much less trustworthy.” We were supposed to use these lines to inspire a poem, while hanging on to the concept: Here, was my fledgling effort:



I took your well-read hand

Each callous and wrinkle painstakingly memorized

And promised to open it again


To study it anew, fresh, novel, untried

It didn’t work

I knew the whispers of your creaking knuckles,

the moans of your weathered fingers too well

to restart from page one

So I thought let’s revisit them


hoping the withered leaflets of delicate skin would not tear

that time would not write a new book,

one never knows…

if Tomorrow

holds the remainder bin or the next bestseller


For the second prompt we had to choose any two words and repeat them three times in our opening line. I chose “later today.”


Later today, later today, later today

I will get around to what needs to be said

Later today, later today, later today,

I will finish what needs to be done

Later today, later today, later today

I will check off my list,

settle my accounts,

make peace with my enemies,

console my friends,

take a hot bath,

put my feet up,

pat my dog,

read a good book,

put tasks to rest

Later today, later today, later today

I will accomplish it all

That is if time remains

And doesn’t run out

Then again,

there’s always later today

Although I didn’t share around the table, I was pleased to actually put pen to paper without freezing up or blanking out. How do my students handle all those writing prompts I throw their way? But, I’m happy to be sharing them here and will continue as the workshop progresses. I wasn’t sure what I had signed up for, but once again saying “yes” and seeking out a new activity yielded some happy results.

Writing Prompt: Happiness is ____________________