Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Creative Writing Assignment

I like my writing teacher so far--smart and funny and comfortable with his own humanity. It will be fun learning from this guy.
Our first assignment in my short story class was to write a scene that relies largely on physical description. The goal was to "get rid of the essay voice" and to give the reader a sense of having been where the narrator is. We were to rely on a place we'd been. Me? I chose our living space because it was handy. And--as a disclaimer--I've pulled together moments from our living room and dining room's past and interlaced them with moments from the present. It does not always look like this. I thought it would be fun to share it with you.  

Where did I put it?
It’s early morning; the sun is just up and a few disheveled strands of light have fallen through the window and across the sofa where I’m sitting, sipping my coffee. Except for one of the cats dashing back and forth across the wood floor trying to entice someone into playing with her, the house is still quiet. My to-do list is in front of me, but I’m not awake enough to actually write anything on it yet.
The phone rings. I answer it to have a radio disc jockey identify himself, and then explain that they’re giving away large sums of money. All I have to do is answer some very simple questions. Am I amenable? You betcha.
Mary, do you have a dining room table?
“I do.”
Great.  Now! For one thousand dollars, can you locate it and tell us about it?
“Give me a second.”
Clutching the phone, I set my coffee down on the end table and glance frantically around the room. I am momentarily too dazed to think and repeat the words D-i-n-i-n-g-r-o-o-m T-a-b-l-e to myself while I look for it.  I look south first, toward the tall oak china cabinet that displays everyone’s small treasures—china, yes, but also--Sunday school awards for perfect attendance, one boy’s collection of handmade pottery, two collectible matchbox cars, and, in the center, a thick leather collar with the name “Solomon” embossed on its brass plate.   
I look west, toward the red recliner and the entertainment center-made up of an old TV on a large TV stand, the computer we use to watch it, and two large speakers that have been sitting “temporarily” on chairs since June when my husband bought them at a rummage sale and promised to hang them on his next day off. Finally my eyes travel north, to the front door where the coat rack stands, with coats from last winter still hanging on it as though we never quite gave up hoping for one last snow. Just beside it is the 20 gallon hermit crab tank on an iron stand. One of the residents is clinking against the glass as it burrows in the sand.
  The D-i-n-i-n-g-r-o-o-m T-a-b-l-e is just to the left of it—aligned with a strip of faux red and white brick paneling, over hung by a 1970s style swag lamp. It’s barely recognizable under the mound of clean laundry, an open laptop, a rack of sweet smelling mint almost dry enough to be crushed and used to make tea, birdhouse gourds waiting to be painted Christmassy colors, and someone’s two foot tall leaning tower of Legos.  Beneath the table resides an ancient snoring Bloodhound, identified by his collar as Oscar. There is a single desk type chair with arm rests and wheels—pulled up to the end nearest the front door, in front of the lap top.
“I found it!”
 Laughs. Great! Now, can you tell us what it looks like?
  The last time I saw my table unencumbered by everyone’s projects, was at Thanksgiving. Just before we put a lace table cloth on it and set out our mismatched vintage flea market china. We had a 20lb turkey, and stuffing, and green bean casserole, and green salad, stuffed mushrooms, and rolls and pies . . . pies . . . pies . . .
Focus, Mary. Focus. The table is solid oak, the surface dinged and scratched by the pencils of four homeschooled boys, dotting “i”s , crossing “t”s, and carrying the one over and over, and is staunchly supported by thick, ornately carved legs, each shaped like a treble clef.
I relay this description to the guy on the phone.
CONGRATULATIONS MARY!  We have another question for you. And this one is for 5000 dollars! How many chairs does it have around it?
 I stare at the single chair. “One.”
 “Just one.”
We can’t give you five thousand dollars for only having one chair.
“Oh! I have others. They just aren’t at the table.”
Where are they then?
I do the math. One is being used at—of course—the boys’ computer desk in the adjoining classroom, near the kitchen. Another is in the opposite corner, being held together with clamps while the wood glue dries. Someone used it to stand on while they retrieved a cat off the top of the china cabinet and the cat didn’t appreciate it much. The boy and the cat survived the fall unscathed, the chair didn’t. Two are off in bedrooms being used at other desks (there are a lot of those in this house), and the last two are (still) holding up the entertainment center’s speakers.
I relay this information.
The announcer falters. I just don’t know if we can award someone five thousand dollars for only having one chair at their table.
“Would it help if I told you that they’ll all be back there by Thanksgiving?”
I don’t know. This is most unusual. Let me check with my boss.
He is gone a long time. I drink more coffee, glance out the window at the half-dozen birdfeeders hanging from the ancient cedar tree in the front yard. A goldfinch clings to one, picking at the seed. Nearby a downy woodpecker is chipping away at a suet cake.
You promise they’ll be back by Thanksgiving?
OKAY! Then Mary—we have one more question for you. Everything rests on getting this question right. Are you ready to win a MILLION DOLLARS?
“Oh yeah!”
WHAT does the desk in your office look like Mary?
I hang up. With a sigh, I pick up my coffee and my to-do list and write 1) “Find desk.”  


Pencil Writer said...

Mary, I think I've lived in your house . . . great writing! You make me smile . . . again! Thanks for sharing.

Mary O. Paddock said...

PW--Thank you for stopping by and reading. I mean that. And I'm glad you liked this little exercise. I just hope it's what the teacher meant when he referenced a "setting exercise".