Archive for the ‘Writing exercises’ Category

Tonight, I asked my students to share their favorite story. This is what one student wrote:

Once in the ancient land of India, there lived a simple boatman who ferried passengers across the Ganges to a town on the other side. The boatman was down to earth and had no cares for what went on in the outside world.

One day while the boatman was on his daily run paddling across the river, a scholar entered the boat from the city who knew many things. He sat in the boat as the boatman continued to paddle.

This went on for quite some time until the scholar felt something needed to be said. “Oh boatman,” he asked, “Do you know of evolution?” The confused boatman replied, “No, I do not sir.” The scholar’s eyes widened and he said, “Why, you fool. Twenty-five percent of your life has been wasted.” The boatman shook his head and continued rowing.

The scholar could not keep silent. “Boatman, how many planets are there in the solar system?” The boatman shook his head again. “What is this,” boomed the scholar. “Fifty percent of your life has been wasted.” The scholar took time to revel but could not keep silent for long.

“Boatman, when did the first man land on the moon?” The boatman shook his head again and looked at the sky. The scholar looked up also. There were black clouds gathering. “It looks like it’s going to rain,” said the scholar.

As he said this, the clouds grew more dense and the winds started to blow. The boat started to toss and turn violently. “Row faster,” the scholar screamed. The boatman stood up. “What are you doing,” the scholar cried. “It is too strong, sir. I hope you know how to swim.” The scholar sputtered, “Swim? I don’t know how to swim!”

“Then your whole life has been wasted,” the boatman said and dived into the river.

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Below are the remaining excerpts from students writing on rooms:

The carpet is shag, of course, forest green with flecks of tan. It smells from years of dogs and cats. There is a cream-colored wooden lattice near the dining room table, parallel to the steps of the split level upstairs. The dining room table sits in part of the living room. There is always a padded tablecloth under the plaid or print tablecloth. It is made of teak wood, which matches the buffet that holds the silverwear and the briefcase that holds the special silverware for eating fish. The handles are made of bone. Mom’s china also lives in that buffet — or was it called a hatch. There is a very simple teak sailboat on the wall next to the huge mirror centered on the wall, but not opposite the dining room table.

I have lived in the same room the majority of my life, and as I have changed over the years so has my room. There are more coats of paint on the wall than I can remember, and they are getting ready for one final coat. I will leave soon, but I will always remember every stain in the carpet from food and drink spills and holes in the wall from posters I’ve moved around. I will fix it up one more time and then pass it on to my little bro so he can have the big room until he’s old enough to move on and out too.

There was a black, shiny piano in the corner, very sleek and beautiful. In the other corner alongside the same wall, a wooden door. The door had no window nor peephole but two gold secure locks. The door led out into the backyard. It was positioned right in front of our little vegetable garden and in front of the neighbor’s back door. Past the door on the adjacent wall was a funky pastel splotched couch. The green and pink and purple on the white canvas was faded and old. In the corner, there was a large cardboard box with toys in it. The box was torn and ready to burst, but no matter how many times we changed the box, it always returned to that from shortly. The contents in the box were nothing special, just dusty plastic toys. A rocking horse stood next to the box. The room itself was plain with white walls, off-white with age, with wood-patterned borderlines. This was my childhood basement.

If you’d asked me when I was younger if I’d spend one-eleventh of my life living in a converted chicken coup, I’d probably laughed at you. A gray, rain day. A gray rainy spring day, three months, no apparent end in sight. The floor is wet, water seeping under the walls, drippings from the ceiling. A few places of refuge from the moisture. No electricity. Damp, dark, replete with mice and spiders. Now there are three humans packed into a space barely big enough for one. Not worthy of storing anything of much value, if you want it to be safe. Now there are two humans. Now only one.

Up three stairs and to the left, I heard chatter. The chatter seemed somewhat chaotic. As I approached the laughter, the sound began subsiding. It was my family. As I turned left, I could smell eggs and bacon. The stove was popping and crackling as the food was cooking. I proceeded ten more steps where I was able to see around the corner to the right. There sat the dining table that mom was so proud to finally afford. My father sat on one tapered end while my three brothers sat on one side and my sister the opposite side. There were plates all over the table, an oak table already slightly scuffed.

As my friend and I arrived at the hotel in Vancouver, I was struck my the sudden change in atmosphere a couple of blocks made. The signs were missing letters. The doors and windows were barred. Dilapidated buildings lined the busy streets. The faces of the pedestrians turned hollow. This was a place where hope was lost. This was a place for the destitute and forgotten. The cab rounded the corner, and there our hotel stood, a stranger to this street. It stood apart from all the neighboring edifices, which looked opulent in comparison. Though aged a hundred years or more, it stood untainted by the surrounding pain as if it had been loved so much a protective shield had formed around it.

As I walk into the blue and green painted walls and my nose fills with the scent of lavender and baby powder, my heart and mind is at ease. I go back two years when we brought our baby boy home for the first time, when we took him to his room and introduced him to his new surroundings. The footballs and baseballs pasted to the walls, his giant crib. The rocking chair in the corner, the endless hours there reading story after story.

The room I had in Iowa was very small. It was at the end of a corridor on the right in an old house that had seen a hundred years or more and seemed to bend in one spot. Inside was sea-foam green spinning lazily around to ward off summer heat. The room was almost square except for a block at the back end that dove deeper in, to house a small closet for a child. One could peel off chunks of wallpaper in that closet half an inch thick and not get to the wall. The carpet was a coarse, cheap beige color that always showed dirt. In the right wall, a small half door stood with a simple latch. Beyond the door was a small, musty, uncarpeted attic which became my play area. The attic was on the side of the house where the roof sloped down, so it got smaller further from the door. It was lit by a single incandescent bulb hanging by a short cord and by a window that looked out over the backyard and garage. The toys and things were scattered and stacked, but in the middle was my train set.

Early morning, it is dark and black as you walk into the room. A faint odor hits your face from the day’s work before. With the switch of the light, a loud hum can be heard, but still you sit in darkness. As your eyes adjust, you catch a glimpse of the room in front of you, the benches covered in oil and the left over parts. You open the big bay door and light blasts in. The project you have been working on lies in pieces around the room. You see the engine on the stand, half put together in the corner. Only for a second do you question why you do this.

I for once in my life have a room all to myself. My desk is redwood, and my shelves are custom, covered with books. This room is the place for my mind to grow and have great dreams. My great dreams.

The room is always changing for me. 
As a kid we were always moving,
and I became accustomed to the change 
and through that 
learned how to thrive through the change. 
No one gets paid to stand still.

The noise around me is never still. The students sit in organized groups, seven trumpets, three trombones, countless winds. The music stops and the chatter starts. The leader yells and they play again. All together now. Then a select few, louder and softer. The sound fills the giant room and echoes down the hall, a symphony of joy and sorrow. It has always been this way. It is alive even after we are gone. The walls hold our voices and the ceiling, our scars.

This isn’t the room I grew up in. It’s not just one room in particular. I have moved around a lot, but no matter where the house is, there is always a garage I make mine. In the house where we live now, the garage is my after-school hangout spot. I walk in, smell the differential oil and race gasoline (which I think smells exactly like grape kool-aid), open up the bay door and feel at home. The television just doesn’t do it for me. I would rather be bent over my sawdust-covered workbench than staring at a screen. I prefer the grease-stained bare concrete to carpet.

I feel like I grew up in this place. I sit here for hours at a time, my space to think, work and dream. The windows has a great view of the world. Sometimes I sit and people watch. They pick their noses, and I can see them. I love my space. I can be me or someone else. I have knobs, some you can’t see what they are for, the words are rubbed off from years of work.

Family moments were in this small room, white walls and leather sofa. The walls were cold in winter and warm in summer. They were made of bricks, and we didn’t have any heat. It was dark during the day because we didn’t have windows. The floors were made of concrete. It was a colonial-style house. The television was in the corner on a small, old wood table. We laughed, fought, cried, read and ate in that room. A room that wouldn’t say anything.

Just down the hall to the left into the door that made the sound was the room. Distinguished from all others. The green-grass like carpet, certainly beyond this time. Knick-knacks lined the walls held by the same dark finish but in different groups. The light buzzed and flickered as all did back then. Sewing material to the right. The table supervises the descending boxes of toys. On the other side of the desk, papers and letters from anyone who knew. Above hung a pendulum clock that swayed from side to side creaking in continuous clicks from inner gears, only heard when all was silent. A small music box accompanied the clock. It sat below waiting to be wound.

It is six o’clock in the morning, and I punch in the four-digit combo for the door. As I open it, my nostrils flare, the horrendous smell of swamp foot. All I can think about is getting out of there as quickly as possible. Then late arrivals start trickling in. The wretched stench of last night’s bar on their breath. Mumbling stories of conquests. Fifteen minutes and I’m gone. I grab my snowboard and rush out the door, take in a deep breath of brisk mountain air and open my eyes to the ski resort.

It all started when St. James was undergoing a Main St. renovation. A consultant came. Over lunch, they took him up the pull-down attic ladder onto the Opera House level. You don’t know what you have here, he said. Built in 1894, the top of the building windows had been boarded up and the building painted white. Jeanne owned the country cottage space and Helen the Farmer’s Insurance space, but they sold it to the restoration project. Helen bought the building on the other side of the cottage, removed plywood, repaired windows. She said they found and integrated into the design the stencil and tin ceiling, kept the old bank vault, restored the windows and the back display area that had been bricked over.

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The Room
by W.S. Merwin (born 1927)
I think all this is somewhere in myself
The cold room unlit before dawn
Containing a stillness such as attends death
And from a corner the sounds of a small bird trying
From time to time to fly a few beats in the dark
You would say it was dying it is immortal

Below are three paragraphs by three different students writing about rooms:

Pink Derma (acrylic on wood), by Arash and Kelly

For the past five years I’ve lived in the same beautiful home with my amazing family, the best little brother anyone can ask for. A mother who is like a best friend. A bright pink room with a canopy bed. This is the memory I have of the place I grew up, where I brought too many boys home to meet mom. Where I felt safe and secure. Where I had too much love and attention. The only part I disliked was the smell of cigarette smoke. My mom smoked, but I never did. A month ago all I could think about was moving out, so I could get away from that smell. I never thought I’d be left with such a hollow, empty feeling of tears and loneliness.

Pink Chant by Maura McDonnell

When I’m in my bedroom, I’m truly the happiest. I’ve had the same room all 20 years of my life. I have countless memories there. I love curling up in my pink and brown polka-dotted blankets wearing my boyfriend’s over-sized t-shirt, holding my cat and watching television. My room is full of an overwhelming amount of my favorite color, pink. I love being able to relax and see all the amazing things my parents have blessed me with. The one thing that makes my bedroom the perfect room is when my boyfriend visits Felix and I.

Landscape (mauve/pink) by Kuno Gonschlor

Four walls surround me, pink. Curtains that match the walls with a speck of white. The room has a waxy smell, the scent of the burning candles my mom would light, with the images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Screaming is all I could hear from behind the door, the shouting of my mother pleading while my father continued to beat her. My room was a paradise, an island I could escape to, far from the pain, the palm trees blowing as if they were dancing, swaying from side to side. Each shout I would hear, the palm trees would dance. The pink walls were the sun setting to the west, disappearing into the horizon. Each tear I would shed, I would think of the rain falling from the sky, trying to turn off the flickering burning candle with the fake image of the Virgin Mary. But why if it rains and the candle turns off, then why won’t my pain go away? I wake up still surrounded by these four walls, but now I’m grown, still affected, but the walls are not pink.

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When I showed up at the track that cool Friday night,
the light illuminated the stadium.
I was moved by an experience I was about to embrace.
We pulled into the parking lot and stepped outside
taking a large breath in
and my lungs filled with the smell of high-octane fuel and oil.
I knew instantly this was going to change my life forever.

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I’ve always loved that paper consistently listens,
takes my ink,
letter by letter.
Moved by nothing,
changed by no one,
What is family when it is broken?
When life gives you oranges,
must you simply make lemonade?

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My parents got me a pony one year for Christmas.
We didn’t have a lot of money and for 50 dollars
they bought an awesome pony named Sugar,
a cart and harness. In the process,
they didn’t realize the change this would bring.
The pony needed food,
and this turned out to be an opportunity
for me to show responsibility —
and experience caring for Sugar.
The day we moved her home,
it was early spring and we boarded her near town.
My passion for horses taught me
how to deal with love, anger, forgiveness, anxiety.
Change came when I outgrew Sugar

and got my first horse Angel.

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