In response to The New York Times article “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.”
346. “What is Your Most Memorable Writing Assignment?”
In eleventh grade our English teacher assigned us a 20 page paper due at the end of the month. “On anything you want,” she answered when asked what it had to be about. “With a bibliography page citing your sources, or an author’s page describing what you learned while writing it.” Of course I would wait till the last minute.
I have just now recovered the ole document. It is in my hard drive, in a folder titled “high school>11th grade>English>20pgessay,” dated October 31st 2007. The date makes me smile. I remember pretending to be sick the day before, and staying in from school to write this project. What I’ve never forgotten is how by 10 a.m., with a cup of black tea ready, my hands were on the key board of the family computer, motionless. The pressure of writing 20 pages in one sitting wasn’t what fazed me — I had to get it done one way or another. It was the fact that I had nothing planned. So, I took a deep breath, and began writing the first things that came to mind. What came out was a story.
By the time dinner was called, it was 8 pm, and I was putting on the finishing touches to the paper: margins, spell check, save as. I had written 8953 words, 29 pages, including an author’s page, not including the tabling of contents or title page. It was called: “The Week.”
The prose is what you might expect from an average high-schooler: horrendously simple, with SAT words scattered around, addresses to no one in particular, and digressions that make more sense to the writer than the reader. But, rereading it just now — music, time, family motifs and all — I discover that the elements of my writing style today were present back then (that is, what we called “bullshiting” in school, I’ve carried into adulthood). The piece is a 7 day look at the life of a high-schooler from the point of view of a character who consists of my many emotions. It’s semi-autobiographical, and organized into chapters/days. The narrator is clearly living through events from my life, but in an organized succession that leads to various epiphanies, all crafted to reach a definite conclusion on what it means to live a routine. A grandmother appears, a mother disappears, there’s a cross country race, there’s missing homework assignments, a failed test, and sibling dynamics, and the wish to live independent of others, while accepting the importance of family and responsibility.
I don’t think I’ll upload it, because it’s quite embarrassing, but it does make me smile, and writing it was memorable, I’ll say that. I realized I frequently make tense mistakes, the same spelling errors; realized that time passes with or without us, and that as young boys and girls we live programmed lives. Also, and this I’ll never forget, on page 17, I wrote in double brackets: “[[If you are actually reading this, please put a star on the top right-hand corner]]” and my English teacher never drew a star on my paper, just left a bunch of red ink check marks every other page, and a big “80” on the cover.
“The Week.” Funny how I still live my life in 7 day units. It’s essential. Even if she didn’t read it, I’m glad the English teacher had us write this. It wasn’t my first story, or my last. (Did rereading it inform me how I should write this very post, conclusion and all? Yes. ‘A’ for effort, next time, please.)