Specific, Sensory, Shoeless
Channel your inner storyteller through creative nonfiction
Thursday, May 14, 2020
an abstract collage of paper scraps with two contributor portraits

Pay Attention
Part of being a writer (and a good human) is noticing what’s happening around you and in you. Using some of the below, write a piece that begins “In this time of coronavirus, I…” 

  • Go outside and sit in your yard. Listen. What sounds do you hear? How are they different from before? 
  • Go for a walk. What do you see? How is this different from before?
  • Think of everything you have done today and list it. What have you done or not done? How is this different from before? 

Pick from Your Box of Chocolates
Close your eyes and use your finger to pick one of these to write about. Think about each in specific, sensory detail, rather than vague generalities or ideas. 

  • What is the strangest thing you’ve seen since this started? 
  • Where were you when you first heard about the lockdown order?
  • What did you buy extras of that might strike other people as odd?
  • What was the first Covid-related thing that made you cry? (Mine was watching the gardeners empty out Miller Fountain on Trinity’s Campus the afternoon the “work at home” order came. It was like they were putting the campus to sleep.)


The Country of Quarantine
Creative nonfiction uses elements of the imagination to make facts more compelling. Practice with this prompt:

Imagine that Quarantine is an actual, physical place—a country—with borders, a language, history, national dress, customs, distinctive music and visual art, an ecology, laws. I love imaging Quarantine as a country, because it lets me pretend my loved ones and I are in the same place. Now, think about your own personal experience of these Covid times, and write about your Country of Quarantine. How do they greet one another in Quarantine? What’s the word for "hello?" How do they make love in Quarantine? Or dance? What is the national anthem? What customs might strike outsiders as quirky? Their favorite foods? What is the national pastime? Do they wear trousers in Quarantine? Or shoes? (Shoes are definitely out of fashion in my region of Quarantine.)

Excerpt from Catalogue of Objects in Trinity University Studio 403 in Relation to Colleagues Kristina Reinis and Raquel Belden

Recorded by Kristina Reinis ’20 after moving out of the studio following the closure of campus as a result of COVID-19

Description: Midcentury modern chair with a matte vinyl, pale green covering and four pine wood legs. Small rip at the front of the seat and scattered wear and tear, including paint marks. Chair was used to seat individuals who came into the studio for a portrait session. Reinis became desperately attached to this chair and schemed for two years to steal it. The chair no longer resides in the studio.




Description: Two men’s Dickies painting coveralls. One navy blue with the name “Kristina” embroidered in red above the right pocket, one black with the name “Raquel” embroidered in red above the right pocket. The jumpsuits had at least 12 pockets, were much too big, and were used to protect the artists’ clothes from paint. Belden preferred to consider Reinis as a “colleague.” “Friend” was too sentimental. These coveralls became a symbol of their working relationship and status as colleagues.




Description: Brown fragments left over from cutting up pieces of cardboard. They gathered over the wooden desk-top, snuck under it, got stuck to shoes, got stuck to paper, got matted in Reinis’ curly hair. Too small and weak to repurpose for other sculptures, the pieces got quickly shoved across the table along with drops of hardened hot glue until Reinis remembered to clean them up and throw them away. She swept up hundreds of these when she left the studio.




Description: 4” x 6” photo album with a clear plastic covering over an illustration of yellow flowers on a light blue background. Scrapbook completed by Reinis and Belden through a constant and surprising number of tears on March 11, 2020, from 8 to 11 p.m., the day Trinity closed. It contains Polaroids of the studio and of them, pieces from their workspace, and many entries from their quote collection. They made this scrapbook to remember the space where they met, ate dinner, did homework, schemed, cried, laughed, sat in silence, and made art together for the last four years.

Kelly Grey Carlisle, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the English Department. She is an award-winning essayist and the author of the memoir We Are All Shipwrecks, for which her travels took her to the Dr. Oz Show and the Nebraska state prison.

You might be interested in