Understand

by Nancy Casey

We don’t have to live very many years before we start understanding a thing or two. Yet, no matter how long we live, or how wise and talented we might be, the ocean of what we don’t understand will always be vast compared to the tiny island of what we do understand.

Today you will write about understanding and not understanding all at once. At the center of the exercise is a sentence shaped like this:

I understand­­­ ________, but I don’t understand_______.

This type of fill-in-the-blank exercise gets your mind working in a pattern. When that happens, you often start to get ideas that wouldn’t pop up if your mind was working in its usual patterns.

Another thing that can happen with an exercise like this: Long after you finish your page, your mind might keep working in that pattern and continue to present you with ideas for filling out that sentence.

Because the exercise requires you to come up with only one sentence at a time, this is a fun exercise to do out loud, going back-and-forth with another person or going around a circle in a group.

Another thing that’s fun and interesting is to write a page that uses this pattern every day for a while. Your mind will quietly work on it when you aren’t thinking about it at all. You are likely to come up with ideas that surprise and please you each time you do it again.

For now, set up your page. Put a line across the top where your title will go. Reserve some space for illustration if you like. Then, without pausing to think, begin writing.

Fill out the sentence with the first words that pop up. Don’t worry if they seem lame. There’s nothing like writing down a lame idea to make your mind rumble around on its own for “better” one next time. (It’s actually rather difficult to write an entire page full of nothing but lame ideas.)

Maybe you will write clear sentences about a subject or problem you are trying to figure out. Maybe every sentence you write will revolve around the same topic.

Maybe your sentences will seem disconnected. There might not even be much connection between the understand and don’t understand parts of the sentences.

You can even turn the sentence inside-out, beginning with don’t understand, so it has the form:

I don’t understand ______, but I understand ______.

When your page is all filled up, look back over your work. Pause to add illustration or decoration if you like. Do your ideas form any kind of a pattern? Do they seem to be about a bigger idea that you hadn’t really planned on writing about? If they do, maybe you can use that insight to think up a title. If they don’t, make up some kind of a title anyway and write it at the top of the page.

Put your initials or a signature on the page, too. And write the date on it. Here is just one example of what someone could write.

You can share your work by posting it as a comment below. You can type it in, or take a photo of it and upload the image.


Nancy Casey has lived in Latah County for many years. You can find more of her work here. If you would like some individual help with your writing, contact Nancy or the Latah Recovery Center. In-person Write-for You classes have been suspended for now, but when Covid has fully receded, they will return.

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