Thursday, August 04, 2011

Write something

In junior high one of my favorite teachers was my English teacher. Every so often she would tell us to take a a sheet of paper and a pen. I know. I know. You're thinking "Ugh, a pop quiz." There were plenty of those but every so often it was an assignment that she told us had no right or wrong. HUH? We didn't get it at first either. She would write a word or phrase on the board and tell us to write anything down. Whatever popped into our heads. Other words, phrases, sentences, a paragraph. Random sentences. Anything. There was no write or wrong. There was no erasing, hence the pen. Even if you misspelled something, just keep going. It was timed. We only had 2 minutes.

The very first word was WATER. I will never forget it. It was one of the longest 2 minutes of my life. The stress. What if I got it wrong? If I didn't write enough? If I rambled to much? How do I start? This blank piece of paper stared back at me. It was horrifying. If I made a mistake I couldn't erase it and start over. There wasn't even time. Oh no! How much time is left. "1 minute", she called out. Panic washed over me. I looked up and stared at her. What in the world did she want me to write? She was looking around the room and said, "Write something, anything. 20 seconds". I wrote my name at the top of the page and then I wrote a list: rain, shower, downpour, wet, drenched. "Time's up. Pens down. Pass up your papers."
I remembered being relieved it was over and panicked at the same time convinced I had failed.

As we left the room for the next class she handed us each our papers back with a smiley face in red ink. Our homework was to bring it back the next day because she was collecting them again. We were stunned. The assignment was the topic of conversation all day. Between classes and at lunch that's all we talked about was how weird, what was the point, how much more we could have written, we all thought of encyclopedic volumes we could write now.

We did these assignments for 2 years. More time was added to the assignment, 5 minutes to write whatever. Eventually, she would write comments on the papers but they were never critical. Our last assignments before graduating 8th grade was the word WATER again. This time I wrote over 2 pages. It wasn't a fully developed essay but good paragraphs some of which actually went together.

She returned them to us stapled to the first water assignment with the same comment on everyone's paper. "Look how far you've come" and the smiley face in red ink across the top of the paper.

I still think of those assignments when I try to think things through. Sometimes I still think in a list like the first assignment and sometimes its full sentences that come together. I find it curious.

Thanks Mrs. W for teaching me to think, think whatever but think.

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