Print Story 3 Minutes Each
By toxicfur (Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:14:22 PM EST) (all tags)
Today, I'm back to Natalie Goldberg's Old Friend from Far Away. Five 3-minute prompts. At some point, I should flesh at least a couple of these out, I think...

1- Tell me about a time you were in trouble in class.

I hadn't been in trouble in a long time, and when I was called to the principal's office, I was shocked.

"We're calling your mother," she told me grimly, and I noticed how her strawberry blonde hair that looked so straight from a distance frizzed at the edges.

"She's at work," I said. "Can't you just send a note home?"

"She will answer the phone."

"I don't even know what I did wrong," I whined, in the way that only a 13-year-old can manage.

"You embarrassed the entire school in chapel today," she said. Her body tensed and she leaned toward me over the old, scarred desk. "You spent the entire hour while Dr. Jacobs was talking whispering to your friends."

"I  did not! I paid attention to everything he said."

"I watched you. Don't lie to me. You're just making it worse for yourself." She picked up the phone and dialed the textile factory where my mother worked. I squirmed with discomfort. This woman was interrupting Mama at work. I wondered if she'd get her pay docked. I wondered what other trouble I'd be in when I got home. I just knew that this bitch sitting across from me would not care.

Mama asked to speak to me. I told her I'd been paying attention. "He read Psalm 23," I said. "And I can tell you everything he talked about. I was totally paying attention." I glared at the principal, who for once, could not interrupt or fail to listen.

2- Tell me how you first learned to read.

I learned to read in kindergarten, and I don't remember the moment when I stopped sounding out individual letters and just saw words. I remember my disappointment, though. I had a small book, given to me by an aunt, I think, just a square of paper glued together, and in my imagination, it held the secrets of flight. Before I learned to read, the words on the pages were magical, they transformed in the face of my failed experiments with flight. Pine branches tied to my arms didn't work. Nor did jumping off the porch rail or getting a running start on my bicycle and then leaping off, flapping my arms as hard as I could. But in that book, the words were magic, until I realized I could read. I tossed the book aside, disappointed. The words were just words now. They could be only what they were.

3- Teach me something. It doesn't have to be the traditional subjects. How about how to tie a shoe, be a good mother, how to clean out the refrigerator, make pudding, change a tire? Something that is deep in your bones – driving in rush hour on I-94 to work each day.

The repetition is what makes it easy, really. The tangle of colored lines on the MBTA subway maps start to make a certain amount of sense, and you realize, all at once, that you've got this inborn sense of how long it takes to get from one place to another. The first thing to learn on a busy subway line like mine, the Red Line, between Porter Square and Downtown Crossing, is where the cars are emptiest. Where to stand so that you're lined up with a door and you can squeeze in ahead of the commuters paying too much attention to their free newspapers or their smartphones. Don't look anyone in the eye. Take up as much psychic room as you can and push through the doors before they're fully open. If there are seats, get one with next to a pole, or one of the ones with a crack next to it. Pay attention to the people on either side. That manic look? That's a talker who's going to want to spill out her life story about her 17 cats and the daughter who died and the husband who left her for a bottle. Avoid her. Avoid the man who's muttering to himself, too, even though it's clear he has a bluetooth earpiece. You're going to have to listen to him berate his staff the entire trip. Where headphones, even if you don't have your iPod turned on. Even if you don't have an iPod. Carry a newspaper and look as if you're reading it. Tense as your stop nears, but don't stand up before the train stops. Otherwise, you'll get tit-punched by someone's gigantic backpack. Step off, take the escalator to the street, and light a cigarette.

4- Tell me how you felt about math. Don't just say, "I hated it." Write about an experience around it: Counting out change, a math course, a situation in school, using division or multiplication, keeping an expense account – or maybe you are one of the rare ones that keeps a math journal.

"I hate math," I told Mama solemnly, handing her the homework with a 75 scrawled across the top.

"You do not hate math," she said. "I don't want to hear you talk like that."

I didn't really hate math. I was 9 years old, and so far, school had been easy. The grades had been easy (except for the handwriting grades, which were impossible to improve – I knew, I'd talked to my teacher, and she just shrugged and said that my handwriting was messy, and it probably wouldn't get any better). Math, though. It was boring. I didn't want to do it.

By the time I was 27, though, I lived and died by math. I could calculate percentages without even pausing to think. A $3 tip on a $26 tab? I was dying. A $2 roll of nickels on a $30 tab? I wanted to cry. Those rare times the percentages crawled up above 20%, I celebrated with half-price sushi at the 24-hour grocery store. I calculated the amount of cash I needed to pay my bills, and the percentage I could afford to spend on essentials like cigarettes, beer, and dog food. As long as my meager checking account balance didn't get below a dollar, I would be fine. I hated math.

5- Tell me some details about an uncle or grandfather. Make sure to name the uncle: I remember Uncle Phil…"

The day after Grandmama died, Ann Marie went with me to Grandmama's house. Granddaddy's house, I supposed. Not Grandmama's house any more. My aunts had tissues and Mama bustled about making sure that everyone had what they might need. She knew the house better than anyone but Granddaddy, me, and, of course, Grandmama.

"Who's your friend?" asked Uncle Jerry, who was standing in middle of the den, not doing anything really.

"This is Ann Marie," I said. "Ann Marie, this is my… " I trailed off.

"I'm her uncle Jerry," he said, smiling with tight, thin lips.

"I couldn't decide whether to say you were my uncle or you were my aunt's husband," I explained, weakly. I'd gotten stuck on a detail. My uncle, Air Force, retired, who'd always been kind to my mother, but who I never quite trusted. I wasn't sure why.

"I'm your uncle until I die or Linda does," he said, and wandered away to make himself useful.

And that bothered me. He was my uncle because he was married to my aunt. Once death they did part, he would no longer be my family. Is that what he was saying?

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3 Minutes Each | 8 comments (8 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
These are so good to read by iGrrrl (4.00 / 1) #1 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:23:05 PM EST
Not pleasant always, or easy, but good.

"Beautiful wine, talking of scattered everythings"
(and thanks to Scrymarch)

Thank you by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #2 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 02:39:12 PM EST
The prompts certainly get me to think about parts of my life I hadn't thought about making into stories. I'm grateful to the book for getting me past the occasional bouts of writer's block I slog through.
The amount of suck that you can put up with can be mind-boggling, but it only really hits you when it then ceases to suck. -- Kellnerin
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handwriting by yankeehack (4.00 / 1) #3 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 03:47:48 PM EST
When I was a kid my handwriting was a mess, my teachers, even though they liked me otherwise (I was always the good kid they'd put the basket cases next to) all gave me a hard time about it.

When I was in 5th grade, my teacher said, "I give up. You write like a boy." That, to her was motivation for me to change. My handwriting never did.

By about 6th grade, the complaining stopped. In college, I had class upon class where I had to fill those blue exam booklets. No complaints.

These days, I barely hand write anything, except if it's a note for my daughter's school.
"...she dares to indulge in the secret sport. You can't be a MILF with the F, at least in part because the M is predicated upon it."-CBB

My mom told me once... by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #6 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 11:59:59 PM EST
after I got a C in handwriting in the 5th grade, and my mom had a meeting with the teacher, that Mrs. Paige admitted to her that she'd given me a bad grade in handwriting to keep me from getting a big head about my grades. She wanted it to motivate me to try harder. I did not at all try hard in her class - it was stupid, and all I wanted to do was to read my books in peace. I could do the work in my sleep.

When I was a kid, I thought the teachers liked me (and some did, I think), but for the most part, I think I was a problem for them. I tended to get bored easily and to challenge them more often than they were comfortable with.

My handwriting has not changed much since I was in high school. It's larger now than it was, and I tend to write in half-cursive/half-print. But it seems to be legible to everyone who needs to read it.
The amount of suck that you can put up with can be mind-boggling, but it only really hits you when it then ceases to suck. -- Kellnerin

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In trouble at school. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #4 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 04:19:07 PM EST
I didn't know I was in trouble when the teacher called me up to his desk, and I didn't know I was in trouble when I left his desk. But I guess I was. I was 8, I suppose. It was winter, and had snowed the previous afternoon. I remember this fact because I'd been playing around in it on the way home from school.

When I got to school that morning, I couldn't work out why my reading book wasn't in my bag, but seeing as I hadn't touched my bag since leaving school yesterday, I had to assume that for reasons unknown to me, my mum had removed it from the bag. Because that's the kind of assumptions 8 year olds work under, really.

After I sat down at my desk, the teacher announced to the class about an important moral lesson he had to tell everyone. He said how important it was to look after your property, and then told the story of someone who'd lost his reading book on the way back from school, and then (and this was when light dawned for me) when Mr Farrell (that was his name) asked him about it, he'd lied and said he'd left it at home, instead of admitting he'd lost it.

Then he called me out by name and told me to come to his desk to collect the book and not to lie again. Apparently it had fallen out of my bag while playing in the snow and someone living near the school had brought it in.
That was undoubtedly noble behaviour by the neighbour. I don't know why the injustice should rankle with me. I had a self image of someone who never did anything wrong, and I suspect I was a very high maintenance pupil, even if I thought of myself as the easy one (because I was way ahead of the curriculum without any effort at all). But a few incidents from my primary school career and how my parents talk about my headteacher tend to suggest to me that there was an idea among the teachers that I needed taking down a peg or two and these opportunities should be taken.

How I felt about math. by ambrosen (4.00 / 1) #5 Sun Feb 19, 2012 at 04:29:21 PM EST
Maths was my favourite subject. I was so excited when I got to secondary school and could have actual sophisticated maths lessons. Turns out that it was still going to be failing to stretch me. But there was some hope. We were among the earlier classes to be getting project based work in maths.

They hadn't figured these out yet, so the first one they tried involved something to do with the triangle numbers, I can't remember exactly what. Everyone else worked in groups, but for some reason I worked alone. One group figured out the 1+2+...+n-1+n way of working it out, and one did the n(n+1)/2 way.

The next one was a bit trickier. We had to mark n points evenly around the circumference of the circle, then fully connect the network of those points. Then we were to count the number of regions the intersections of those chords made.

Everyone else was counting it out, and I realised that, having read in a book about factorials, that this was likely to be O(n!) (I suspect it's not, nowadays), and fit a formula with n! to the number of points we had (I think we'd got it solved for n=5,6 and 8 plus the trivial numbers for 2,3 and 4 (0, 1 and 4 respectively).

My teacher was non-plussed by this solution, but I got lots of house points for it. And future problems were a bit better researched as to whether 11 year olds could solve them.

Thank you! by toxicfur (2.00 / 0) #7 Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 12:05:09 AM EST
I love that you wrote a couple of the prompts. Maths like you're talking about is not something that ever came easily to me. Algebra made sense, up to a point, and geometry made no sense. I was so pleased when I found statistics, which meant that I could get meaningful solutions and didn't at all need to know how the formula actually worked.

See my response to yh, too - I was a well-behaved kid, for the most part (in that I didn't get into fights or cause disruptions or whatnot), but I was not an easy kid to have in class, I think. I tended to treat the teachers like they weren't particularly bright, and I would rather spend my time reading and writing than doing any of the things they actually wanted me to do. I suspect there are a lot of us here on husi who had similar problems in school....
The amount of suck that you can put up with can be mind-boggling, but it only really hits you when it then ceases to suck. -- Kellnerin

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It seemed a way to deflect my self-absorption by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #8 Mon Feb 20, 2012 at 07:32:06 PM EST
But I really need to be writing more anyway, so it was definitely the thing to do. If I'd been more observant, I'd have seen quite how good your learning to read one was. As it was, I was wondering if my memory of sitting on the stairs up to my bedroom (I had the attic room, which I think had roughly the square footage of my entire current flat) while my brothers told me to read from Winnie the Pooh until I could do it without subvocalising, yeah, I was wondering if that memory was good enough. Turns out it might have been, but the image of taking flight with words and then immediately taking for granted, that fits the moment pretty well.

I don't think I treated teachers like they weren't particularly bright, but I think I probably didn't have them on the pedestal you'd normally expect. It's funny how those times shape you as much as they do.

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