Thursday, August 14, 2008

4 things in a box writing prompt

The writing prompt asks the student to imagine a situation where they are moving (easy for my students since it's a boarding school and they're constantly packing and unpacking throughout the years) and they have a box of belongings with only four items in it. Each item appears worthless but actually retains a significant meaning to the student. The assignment requires that they describe each objects physically and then explain the significance behind them. Below is my own version, which I wrote and read aloud to one particular class during our author's share (the one with Jarod in it, as you'll see). (A running joke in my classes is that I'm inept at math so yes, I know that the first sentence contains a glaring error).

There are three halves to my life that, when they are in balance and in harmony with each other, make me feel content and happy to be a human being on this planet. These three halves are comprised of my family (which includes close friends), creative expression (which incorporates both music and any kind of writing), and teaching. Thankfully, I have at least 3 objects to think of for this assignment.

Everything in this box is small and appears worthless and insignificant, if not like outright trash. First, you’ll find a handwritten shopping list. The penwomanship on said list belongs to that of my wife, Shelly. Ever since I’ve known her, her handwriting has always looked the same. The ‘s’s are voluptuous, the bulging ‘b’s and ‘d’s convey cheerfulness, and the ‘t’s are adorably crossed closer to the bottom of the letter than the top, suggesting good-natured humility. Additionally, the list is written in the secret language that only my wife and I would understand. “Laundry soap” becomes “landry sop” for no other reason than we both find it humorous that removing vowels from words changes the sounds of them and yet we can still figure out the meanings from context. Next, popsicles are represented by the word “pockles,” which is the utterance our daughter ascribed to these frozen treats when she was about a year and a half old. While I realize that shopping lists are generally thought of simply as useful tools, my wife and I nonetheless have elevated the shopping list to the height of something to enjoy the process of writing and reading. More importantly, the shopping list underscores the reality of our situation. My wife and I are partners in life who share chores such as grocery shopping. We try to make life more interesting for each other, we try to get along, and share our responsibilities. This shopping list to me is an emblem of how I feel about this beautiful human being with whom I’ve chosen to share my life.

Next, you’ll find an empty bottle of pear-berry anti-bacterial soap in the box. You know how smells can instantly transport the memory to a specific time and place like no other sense? This pear-berry smell is associated with the arrival of our daughter Hannah. After each and every diaper change of this infant, we’d squirt a tiny droplet of this pear-berry gel on our hands. When the bottle was emptied several months later, we couldn’t bring ourselves to just throw it away or even buy a new one. This scent became attached to the memory of Hannah’s first few months with us.

Heh? Who uses cassettes nowadays? Even CDs have been supplanted by computers, mp3s and iTunes. The clunky, prone-to-unspooling antiques known as cassettes are relics of the 1980s, which is when this particular one dates to. If you can find a stereo that plays tapes and pop it in there, you will hear the first recordings of my musical career. There’s the recording of me anxiously, awkwardly crooning The Beatles’ “All My Loving” at a 5th grade talent show accompanied by my own slightly out of tune guitar strums. In addition, you can hear the results of the day I neglected watching Saturday morning cartoons and decided to also forego playing outside in favor of shutting myself in my bedroom with a sign plastered on the outside of my closed bedroom door reading “QUIET: RECORDING SESSION IN PROGRESS.” Then I proceeded to capture renditions of all the works in my songbook up to that point (5th grade). To anyone else, this is an un-listenable travesty; to me, of course, it is precious and irreplaceable.

Finally, what is THAT? It looks like a tiny yellow plastic wheel with spikes along the perimeter and some kind of removable black bolt attached to one side of the middle. Well, this is a sprocket you’d find inside one of those white-out tape dispensers. When I was a neophyte EHS teacher, this object somehow found its way into my hands and soon became my favorite ADD toy of choice. When I’m at my desk, I like to set it bolt-side down so that I can slap my hand down on one side, causing the sprocket to flip off the desk and spin mid-air like a flat rock being ejected from a catapult. Most often, I carry this object around with me during class and click the bolt in and out, which satisfies my urge to keep my fingers busy without resorting to nail-biting or knuckle-cracking, which are far more unseemly habits. At any rate, this sprocket is associated with teaching. In fact, a certain former student of mine named C.J. once absconded with the sprocket and held it captive in her dorm room for a few months. This forced me to chew pen caps, bend paper clips, and fiddle with and/or destruct all manner of tiny objects in my midst until its return. C.J. is no longer a student at this school which makes me realize that a mere five years from now, every EHS student I currently know and love will have departed this campus for greater things. Of course, I just hope they don’t annoy their professors by not having their materials ready and continuing to chat once their college classes have started. After all, I won’t be there to harass them about such matters. At that point, I’ll just be an ever-shrinking, ever-dimming figure in their rearview mirrors, clutching this silly yellow sprocket in his fingers as the lump in his throat grows. Not for Jarod, though. I’m not gonna lie to you. I’m good. I’m all set with Jarod. Thanks, Jarod, it was fun, buh-bye now.

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