In Ekphrasis Class The Best Plan Turns Out to Be What Wasn't Planned

What is planned is to play the recording of Stanley Tucci reading Etgar Keret's short story "Creative Writing."  What is planned, is to have the students write about it.  Write what?, they ask. Write anything, is the response.

The plan is that they will all be very inspired. The story offers so many possibilities! Within one five-page story lives: A society where once in a lifetime, a person can divide into two beings, each, half the age of the original; A world where you can only see the people you love, where it slowly dawns on a husband that his wife can no longer see him; A woman who gives birth to a cat that the husband suspects is not his; An enterprising fish who gets turned into a man who becomes so successful he forgets he ever was a fish.

What a bold writer to take four fascinating story ideas and waste them all on one very short one, a writer confident that the world will continue to deliver ideas!

The students frown at their papers.  Some start to write, some don't. Several minutes pass. Cassie asks to use the rest room.  Barbara sighs and rolls her eyes to the ceiling.  Arthur taps his forehead with his pencil. A bird flutters by, a fairy of a shadow dancing across the room.

What is planned is to have the students share their inspired pieces. Bill declines, but Nancy agrees to read. Anthony reads his with a British accent.  Grace, with the laptop, apologizes; she is working on an essay for civics.

Not according to plan, Elliot in overalls stands and says he has something to write on the board. He takes the chalk and draws x/y axes, like Kurt Vonnegut and his x/y axes of storytelling, Worst Despair to Unbelievable Happiness; Beginning to Electricity. But Elliot labels the y-axis: Broadness of Assignment, and the x, Specificity of Source.  With such a specific point of reference (Etgar Keret's short story "Creative Writing"), but with such a broad assignment ("Write anything"), Elliot is at an impasse, and just like last week, feels blocked.  He puts a dot on the graph to illustrate.

What is not planned is to ask Elliot to think of a proper prompt that will place him at a more opportune point on his graph. He suggests writing alternate reality stories, where something that is impossible here and now, is accepted as perfectly normal within the context of the story. He writes a description of a society where people have four arms.

What isn't planned is that Jacob writes a near perfect little story about a young man who has only 18 words left. What isn't planned is that the class suggests that Elliot could make his description into a story by showing a character with four arms living in a society of four-armed people, similar in spirit, they say, to Jacob's.

1 comment:

  1. You are very brave to face a classroom armed with faith in the creativity and kindness of youth who arrive with their battery of concerns, fears, hesitations, and reluctances. I try to imagine a room filled with septuagenarians facing the same challenge. Perhaps they will overwhelm you with words until you must beg them to raise hands and speak in turns. Their experiences and imaginings pouring out like a flood. I hope they don't worry about distinguishing them. Grandpa john