Write It Out: Instruction Video
“At precisely 11 a.m. every teacher in every classroom at McKinley Elementary School tells their students to stand. The enthusiasm of the collective chair scrape that follows rates somewhere between mandatory school assembly and head lice inspection. This is especially the case in Ms. Bergermeyer’s fourth/fifth combination, where everybody knows is where the unimpressive fifth graders are put. Eliza Naumann certainly knows this. Since being designated three years ago as a student from whom great things should not be expected, she has grown inured to the sun-bleached posters of puppies and kittens hanging from ropes, and trying to climb ladders, and wearing hats that are too big for them above captions like “Hang in there,” “If at first you don’t succeed…” and “There’s always time to grow.” These baby animals, which have adorned the walls of every one of her classrooms from third grade onward, have watched over untold years of C students who never get picked for Student of the Week, sixth-place winners who never get a ribbon, and short, pigeon-toed girls who never get chased by boys at recess. As Eliza stands with the rest of her class, she has already prepared herself for the inevitable descent back into her chair. She has no reason to expect that the outcome of this, her first spelling bee, will differ from the outcome of any other school event seemingly designed to confirm, display, or amplify her mediocrity.
Ms. Bergermeyer’s voice as she offers up spelling words matches the sodden texture of the classroom’s cinder block walls. Eliza expects to be able to poke her finger into the walls, is surprised to find she cannot. She can certainly poke her way through and past her teacher’s voice, finds this preferable to being dragged down by its waterlogged cadences, the voice of a middle-aged woman who has resigned herself to student rosters filled with America’s future insurance salesmen, Amway dealers, and dissatisfied housewives.
Eliza only half listens as Bergermeyer works her way down the rows of seats. In smarter classrooms, chair backs are free from petrified Bubble Yum. Smooth desktops are unmarred by pencil tips, compass points, and scissors blades. Elixa suspects that the school’s disfigured desks and chairs are shunted into classrooms like hers at the end of every quarter, seems to remember a smattering of pristine desks disappearing from her classrooms over spring and winter breaks to be replaced by their older, uglier cousins.”
Prompt “Start with a sentence from someone else’s story” – MEC 2020
“Haiku are self-developed antidotes against illness.”
She paused after reading it aloud and hearing herself say the words, as if the thought were new to her and required additional consideration. The fact was, Marsha had been writing haiku for years, without explicitly realizing but perhaps intuitively knowing, they were helping her to cope. She looked away from the page to the bright, cloudless sky, narrowed her eyes against the glare, and then looked back at him, eyes softening as she did so, as if he were a cool breeze she could rest within.
It was a moment between them she’d never forget. Perhaps it was the place, perhaps it was the beauty of the day or because she’d finally felt heard. More than that – heard and understood.
His world of action seemed to push them farther apart, while hers, a world of quiet introspection, was meant to bring them together. But in the bringing together, they each had to first be comfortable within themselves. Each, on their own. She wondered would he have the courage to step into the fire and see himself, really be with himself, so that they could be truly together? Would she?
She thought she’d understood – that it was not a journey to be taken lightly, and once begun there was no going back. That there would be no peace. She’d begun the journey herself and was still on it, there would always be more to learn and although it felt daunting, there was no doubt it was worthwhile.
Years ago, she’d suggested he join her and in fatigue and frustration he’d pushed back. “Why aren’t I good enough? Why do you want to fix me?”
She froze, and saw the mirror. It was the same one she’d been trying to break herself.
I find it so intriguing and wonderful that, sometimes, when looking back at some piece of fiction I’ve created from a writing prompt, I get a zap of clarity. I love the way creative writing or free writing can just do that. I may not see it right away, but more often than not, there’s more in there than meets my eye at first glance. Has that ever happened to you? Share your thoughts below!