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  • Sara Tucker

Four Play

If you wanna try this exercise, send me four words. You'll find full instructions at the end.

When you have no time to write, try this: Choose four words at random. Send them to a friend with instructions to write one sentence that includes all four words and send it back to you, along with four more words. Now it's your turn to write a sentence that incorporates the four new words. Keep this up, like Ping-Pong, for a week. Now you've got a bunch of sentences. What are you going to do with them? I invented this exercise to entertain a friend who is in the middle of renovating a house. This same friend has recently remarried and moved to another town. With everything else going on during this crazy year, no wonder she can't write. But she managed to play the game with me by exchanging daily emails. At the end, I gathered up all the sentences and turned them into a story. I should explain here that I don't write fiction, normally, so writing "A Parable for Nancy" was a stretch. I'm sharing it to make several points: (1) Penpals are useful and fun. (2) When you exercise, it's important to stretch. (3) Don't take your writing too seriously. It's just writing.

Nancy and I fell into the habit of using various sources—books and magazines, mostly—for our random four words. Our sources included the Williams-Sonoma Cookbook for Muffins, Archer Mayor’s Open Season, a French housekeeping manual published in 1926, a children’s book called Beetles and Bugs, and North Star Monthly.

Here are some of the four-word combinations we played with:

· feminist, alienation, peanut, discover

· distributed, golden, heat, delicious

· cravat, sensitive, adopted, cold

· dramatically, trimmed, cat, perpetual

· rubbish, launched, shed, dream

· dear, flashed, tunnel, empty

· creature, survive, notice, record

· potential,  discarded,  rural, future.

· home, road, brothers, claim

· wildflowers,  survey,  dauntless, spare

· little, buggy,  gem, acquired

· telemarketers, herald, granted, materialized

Sometimes I cheated. Instead of writing a single sentence, I wrote several. And when I wrote “A Parable for Nancy” I accidentally left out the following: "Telemarketers heralded the apocalypse by calling up people all over the world and urging them to buy life insurance and other useless consumer products. Granted, the apocalypse hasn't materialized, but the telemarketers promised it would come. Just give it a little more time, they said."

A Parable for Nancy

It was Sara who sold me the car that brought me to Mrs. Thimbleberry’s house. Sara was an English professor before she sold her car, her jewelry, and her condo and became a Buddhist. She, too, was fed up with her existence, just like me. You see, Sara discovered that the male members of the faculty had little tolerance for her feminist views.  She felt alienated from them; their collective understanding of womens' issues was so meager it could fit inside a peanut shell. This dissatisfaction snowballed, leading ultimately to an existential crisis followed by a psychic reckoning. In the process, she sold me her car. “You, too, can change your life,” she said, and then she related a parable about a queen who was imprisoned but