A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!

by | Sep 24, 2021 | Weekly Prompt

Earlier this week, I began writing The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson in a notebook. I hope to finish within a year. I will probably need another notebook. As you might imagine, as I write, I am finding all kinds of surprises. My favorite line today, at the start of poem 42: “A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!”

We had gorgeous autumn weather in Atlanta today, sunny and just chilly enough for a sweater. It’s not the kind of day one ought to rue, except it was Friday, with nothing particular to recommend it, and it’s been a long week. So there was something delicious in Dickinson’s example of bemoaning the yet-anotherness of day upon day upon day. 

Then I saw a delicious prompt tweet: “What’s the pettiest thing you can’t get over from your childhood?” At press time, there are 569 responses, and they are very entertaining. I haven’t thought of what mine is yet, but I know as soon as I saw the tweet that pettiness would be the basis of this week’s prompt. 

Petty and pet as in pet peeve come from the same root. Petite. A small grievance. A sweet little morsel of a resentment. Pettiness is, I think, an underrated theme. We are all so petty! Not all the time, of course; our better natures often prevail. But it’s just fun to indulge our peevishness sometimes. To cultivate an imagined nemesis, to nurse a grudge toward someone who probably forgot all about us the moment we were out of their sight. 

The literary queen of petty is, without a doubt, Sei Shonagon. In her Pillow Book (excerpted here), this 10th century Japanese courtesan wrote a delectable, chatty sort of diary in which she takes care to list her petty grievances, translated typically as “Hateful Things.” It starts off list-y, mentioning people who think they know everything and dogs who bark endlessly, but she reserves most of her hate for lovers who leave the next morning in an odious way, which she then compares to lovers who leave elegantly. She concludes: “Indeed, one’s attachment to a man depends largely on the elegance of his leave-taking.” 

Now that’s petty. 

Prompt

Write from a place of pettiness. Rue the day for no good reason, like Dickinson. 

Or simply write a list of everything you find hateful. Remember, this must stay in the zone of petty. This is not meant to be a heavy or dark prompt, wherein you unearth great feeling about the ills of the world. This is meant to be playful. What annoys you, makes you peevish or disgruntled? Bacon packaging, anyone? People who reply to your tweet by restating your joke as if it’s their own, without liking or retweeting your original? When people proudly tell you how they don’t really care for sweets? Perhaps there are particular words or expressions that drive you nuts. Write them an epitaph. 

Or choose one petty resentment that you’ve held onto since childhood, like the tweet encourages. Tell the whole story. Argue your case. Cast the offender(s) as the villains they were. 

I promise, this is a fun prompt. It might not be something you publish, but it’s a good warmup, a good place for humor and detail and personality.