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I’m participating in a seven-day writing course this week, and one of the exercises involved communicating emotions by using the five senses. I tackled four emotions suggested in the exercise, making lists of what each one looked like, tasted like, and so on. We were instructed to turn each emotion into its own short piece of writing, but I modified that a little. I combined the two negative emotions into one short prose piece, and then the two positive emotions into another. Here are the results.

Despair & Anger

The next morning, you walk into the kitchen to find the shattered remnants of all your ceramic dishes broken on the floor, a thousand shards as sharp as knives. Right where you left them before passing out. The apartment windows have frosted over, and so has the windshield of your car.

The blue Honda is buried under an ocean of white to the horizon, broken by dirty grey-brown smears where city snowplows pushed the blank death to the side and only further blocked you in. Sludgy, slushy shittiness you stumble through hoping not to fall. The roads and walkways have become traitors, slippery fiends who plot to leave you broken.

Why is everything so hard. Why do you work so hard to get somewhere you don’t want to be. Why you. Why anything.

The atmosphere is a hydraulic press whose weight cares nothing for you. It doesn’t recognize you. It doesn’t know who you are. It only exists to slow time to a crawl, to turn your movements into sluggish drags like when you’re underwater struggling to surface.

Passing trucks poison the wind with exhaust fumes mixing with the burning tendrils of your last cigarette. The semis rumble past with the anonymous efficiency of a human resources drone saying they regret to inform you they’ve chosen someone else. You hate them like you hate words you can never take back, words whose memory aches like your hand after punching something that’s harder than you.

Nothing takes root in this frozen soil. No flowers flourish in this doomed expanse which never knew the sun.

People don’t live here. They just try to keep from dying.

Love & Hope

Before you make love, she feeds you tacos. Their oil seeps through their wrappers to soak the brown bag and turn it a deeper shade. The fragrant heat of a deep fryer and the spicy red energy of salsa. Steam escapes and drifts away to comforting nothingness under the kitchen fan.

You can taste the food before it enters your mouth, just like you taste willingness on her breath when you kiss, telegraphing the aroma of her skin on your face. Sink your tongue into her and drink. She engulfs you, swallows you up like the sea, and cries like a gull, forlorn and ecstatic in her flight.

When she curls up next to you afterward, her pupils grow large like planets in a telescope. Her words and the unintentional song in her voice say you are special, a lie you believe because you want to. She runs a brush over your skin like a groomer tending a horse after riding. The mass of gentle bristles touches you in a way that might be love and might not, but you can’t tell the difference.

The next day, you ride your bike to the ATM. The air carries a scent of evergreens and redwoods and the ocean washed clean by afternoon sunlight. Pure.

You stuff crisp bills into your wallet, filling it with their cloth-like texture and confidence. You trade a few for chocolate brownie cheesecake and a burger bursting with condiments and peppers until your belly swells. Back on the bike, you pop in your earbuds and pump your skull full of thick, fat, fuzzy guitar riffs, a living liquid energy.

You’ve forgotten what concerned you yesterday. Tomorrow might not be so bad. It’s a long time between now and sunset, so why bother worrying?


Our instructor said, in reviewing the exercise with us the next day, that we don’t need to use every single sense all the time, or every single descriptive image we invent. We want to liberate ourselves in the first draft, but pare back over-writing in the revision stage. It’s easy to mix metaphors when writing to the senses, so watch out for that in revision. Also, in a story, we don’t need to use every emotion-laden object we come up with. We can pick one, or maybe two, and let them do the work as the main embodiment of that emotion by having them recur in the story. Once the reader feels it the first time (my broken dishes of anger, for example, or my tacos of hope and emotional nourishment), then every time that object appears again, the reader already knows what it means.