Prompt 200. The Wormholes of Summer
& a prompt on memory portals by the writer Elena Sheppard
A few times a week, my mom and I stroll to Fort Greene Park. We always grab a coffee at the same coffee shop, then wander around, taking in the trees and the bustle of pups and people. Lately the park has been full of packs of children, toddling along with their little fists clinging to a rope, following an adult like a dozen ducklings trailing a mother duck.
Each time I see them, it throws me through a wormhole, and I emerge in the summertime of my childhood, of long, lazy days doing summery things, mostly outdoors. Every year, my mom ran a camp called “The Art and Nature Camp.” The dozen or so attendees’ ages increased year by year, so they were always roughly equivalent to my brother and me—revealing my mom’s twin goal of occupying us while making a little extra cash. We’d meet at the local park and learn to draw found objects in nature, or when the races at the Saratoga Racetrack started up, my mom would use it as an opportunity to teach us how to draw a horse.
I don’t think about summer the way I used to. Older now, no longer tied to the academic calendar, summertime doesn’t have that same free and easy feeling. Work doesn’t stop; you don’t shake free of your usual responsibilities. But when I see those little ducklings in the park, it makes me want to approach summer differently. Yesterday my neighbor told me her daughter is going to a camp where they study rocks and crystals and astrology. I thought to myself, “I would love to attend that camp.” I want some wormhole to dive into, some strange wonder—like a twilight walk through a wood blinking with fireflies—to pursue.
Today we have a prompt from my friend, the beautiful writer Elena Sheppard, that evokes a similar feeling of nostalgia, of wonder, of imaginative possibility. It’s sure to send you down a wormhole to childlike awe, to memories like reveries, to the past.
P.S. If you could design your own summer camp, what would it be? Mine would involve watercolors, prank calls, and obedience training for puppies. Share yours with me in the comments?
P.P.S. Earlier this week I sent out the newest installment of Dear Susu, where I answered a question from “Blindsided,” who asks, “How can I support my partner’s desire to dive into a new adventure that will upend our stability?” Read it here!
P.P.P.S. Last Sunday we had our monthly meeting of the Hatch, our virtual creative hour, hosted this week by Holly, the newest member of our Isolation Journals team. If you missed it, or want to revisit, you can find a recap here!
The Isolation Journals is my newsletter for people seeking to transform life’s interruptions into creative grist. Both free and paid subscriptions are available.
The best way to support my work is with a paid subscription, where you get added benefits like access to my advice column Dear Susu, our virtual writing hour the Hatch, and other opportunities for creative connection.
Prompt 200. The Green Screen Door by Elena Sheppard
When my parents were young, years younger than I am now, they bought a dilapidated wooden cabin in upstate New York for $11,000. They pooled their resources with my aunt and uncle, and the four twenty-somethings set to work turning what was originally a counselor’s bunk for a sleepaway camp into their rustic dream summer getaway.
By the time I was born, about a decade later, the cabin was in its full glory as a fantasy destination for a little kid. Outside there were thick woods to explore and orange salamanders to catch, rickety old water pumps and trails left behind by the camp or whoever came after. Inside were treasures galore—old railroad spikes that looked ancient and I decided were priceless artifacts from some time in the distant past, and wooden countertops to climb on and scramble across, better to reach the baskets hanging from the ceiling, mouse-proofing our food. Thanks to my dad there was always soft country music playing, and when it rained you could hear each drop plunk on the tin roof. The pièce de résistance was the ladder leading up to a catwalk that connected a cozy winter sleeping loft and windowed summer sleeping porch. Being on the catwalk was like being Rapunzel in her tower and on the bow of a ship simultaneously. To a kid, the cabin was nothing short of magic.
There weren’t many rules in the cabin. In fact, there was only one: Don’t slam the screen door. The green screen door led out onto the front porch, and if you let it go without guiding it shut, it made a thwack so loud it echoed through the trees and rustled the birds in the branches. I heard the words “shut the door gently” so many times from my parents that when friends came over I would parrot them back to them. “Shut the door gently,” I’d say, but hardly any other kid would listen. I can’t blame them for not wanting to follow that rule in a magic house. Following a rule could break the spell.
When I think of that door, and the sound that it made—thhhhhhwack-ck-ck-ck-ck—it is always the magic I think of next. The salamanders and the rain drops, the feeling of being hidden in a secret forest universe and on top of the world at the very same time. I don’t know when the house transformed from a fantastical place that inspired my imagination into the rustic cabin I see when I walk into it today, but I guess that’s what happens when you grow up. Still, each time I hear that screen door slam, the echo brings me back, even just for a second, to the magic.
Your prompt for the week:
Close your eyes and travel back to your childhood home. Now think of the sound your front door made when it closed. Where does that sound take you? What do you hear? What do you see? What do you feel? Write about all of it.
If you’d like, you can post your response in the comments below, in our Facebook group, or on Instagram by tagging @theisolationjournals.
Elena Sheppard is a writer, teacher, editor, and journalist whose work has appeared in Vogue, the New York Times, the Guardian, and Catapult, among other places. She’s currently at work on a non-fiction book about her family’s exile from Cuba during the Cuban Revolution, and the way history, patterns, culture, and memories are passed down through the generations and through blood. A graduate of Princeton University, she holds an MFA in nonfiction from Columbia University.
Featured Community Member
Rachel Noel is a musician and freelance producer who lives just north of Dallas, Texas. She discovered the Isolation Journals at the beginning of the pandemic, just after she’d become a first time mom, just after all the usual support systems you need for that kind of transition completely disappeared. “I was experiencing this monumental metamorphosis of becoming a mother completely on my own and I could feel I was losing so much of what I identified with—specifically being a musician,” Rachel says. “I had no clue how to reconcile these fragmented pieces of myself, but seeing the creations and hearing the stories of creatives within the Isolation Journals community gave me so much hope. They were a constant reminder to be gentle with myself and that neither the work or my talents were going anywhere.”
Rachel’s love affair with music began in the second grade, playing drums, and though she has dabbled in watercolors and film photography, as an art form, it remains her first love. “Music felt like this secret superpower,” she says. “It became my voice and the vessel with which I could express myself so effortlessly.” Her 100-day project was a challenge to put herself out there musically, and it has been both a journey of self-rediscovery and also fortifying her faith in her own talents. “I was hesitant to participate since my creations don’t come from a pen or a brush, but I’ve been so shocked by the kind response. This project has been such a compassionate reminder to myself that I do have something to say and that my voice, and everyone’s voice, is so necessary.”
For paid subscriber benefits, see—
Dear Susu #6: Whole Against a Wide Sky, where Suleika answers the question, “How can I support my partner’s desire to dive into a new adventure that will upend our stability?”
On Hiraeth, or Longing for Place, a reflection on the sentiments of setting from our last gathering of the Hatch
On Conflict and Peace with Priya Parker, conflict resolution expert and author of The Art of Gathering
I’m living my dream summer camp right now! I’ve rented a house in the Savoie region of France for 3 months. There’s a cat to feed and a garden to water, with some payback in the form of fresh fruit - but little other responsibility. I’m cycling many of my long desired rides, famous, infamous, and unknown outside this mecca of bike geekdom. On the tired days (of which there are many - I’m over 50), I record my experiences in painting and drawing. I secured a tourist visa, rather than a talent visa, and I’m freed from the side hustle of official work. It’s all just gathering ideas and seeing what happens - the play of youth. It’s unreal and sublime.
Every summer my grandsons (now 9 & 12), come to visit for a week on their own. This summer they've requested 2 weeks. Two months ago I created a page of "things to do", with check boxes for them to select. They pre-selected ALL the boxes. Among those, some of their favorites. We hike through a nearby nature preserve where they can hand feed birds and we learn the various species and names.
We've also discovered an animal rescue farm which has the most zen like animals we've ever encountered. I've asked if the grandkids could volunteer there and the answer is a resounding yes on both ends. Swimming lessons are a must as are picnics, evening puzzles, cardgames, bonfires, daytime playgrounds and river tubing. This year I've added treetop high lining and go kart racing. I am reminded by this post that summers here are really much like a summer camp. There is time for story telling, library visits and reading, lego building, hide and seek, fireflie watching, with a visit to the local university's star gazing observatory, sleeping in the pop up trailer in the backyard and ultimately, heaps of laughter, hugs, endless questions asked and secrets swapped. What could be better? Thankyou Suleika, for this prompt. It is magical.