John Updike’s story “A & P” is the first story I remember reading that seemed like I could have lived. It’s about a kid who works in a grocery store and three girls about his age come in wearing bathing suits. I worked in a grocery store as a teenager. It was a family owned store called Russell’s Old Trading Post, and one of the things I remember about that was almost no one my age ever came in to the store. In Updike’s story the manager tells the girls they aren’t dressed appropriately. The kid in the story tries to stand up for them, a chivalrous move probably intended to impress the girls. The girls don’t seem to notice the kid’s attempt. They leave. The kid gets fired.
Updike’s “A & P” appears in the collection Pigeon Feathers
Having read the C.S. Lewis Narnia series and a bunch of Louis L’Amour Westerns on my own and then stories like Beowulf and “The Monkey’s Paw” in school, those stories didn’t trigger anything inside me from the standpoint of thinking about the sort of story I might tell. Lewis caused me to check the inside of closets for secret passages and Star Wars prompted me to try and move objects in my room with the force. With Updike’s story “A & P,” there was just the start of looking at the world to see what stories could be told and for what reason.
7 min free write word count: 231
You can read Updike’s story by clicking here.
The first story I remember writing was about a dragon that spit out water instead of fire. I remember this being in the 2nd grade, although that could be off a year or two. On the merits of the story, I was selected to go read my story at the high school auditorium in Logansport, Indiana. The dragon was an outcast. No one would play with him. Eventually he saves the town with his freakish ability to spew water. Now, I can see that the story clearly follows the plot structure of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
Looking back, I can see my elementary story was a version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Second grade was also memorable for my teacher identifying what she thought were motor skills problems I had. She said I didn’t swing my arms correctly when I walked. I remember staying after school to draw circles on the board. I’d hold a piece of chalk in each hand and draw circles trying to get my hands to move in synch. Then I’d draw circles with my hands moving in opposite directions. It reminds me of what the mind and body have to do to dribble one basketball high and one basketball low. I just accepted my motor deficiency skills and did what I was told. I don’t know what my mom and dad thought of that teacher, but they mostly were teachers who supported my teachers.
I meant to focus on the story of my reading and writing. Maybe I’ll come back to that soon.
7 min free write total: 243
Today is the first day I’ve sat down to write without knowing what I would say. Obviously, I could have just not written, but if I ask students to write regularly, they are going to be in this same spot, and I want to try and do what I will ask them to do: write when they don’t feel like they have something to say.
Is it my job–as the writing teacher–to help students make words come? Last school year, I noticed that many of the students in the classes I taught had trouble making words come. According to something Greenwood High School called the Senior Capstone Project, the students had to write twelve 200-word reflective journal entries. Lots of students could only come up with a sentence or two. I worked with many of these during free time at lunch or after school. I found myself asking questions like this:
- Before the year started, what did you think about the project? Did you have any idea what your topic would be? Did you know anyone who had worked on the project? What did they say about it?
Students would write something like this: I went to see my mentor. The meeting went well. He showed me a project proposal.
facing the blank page
I thought I could get the students writing more toward their 200 words. I’d ask them where their mentor worked. I’d ask them where they met. I’d ask if they were nervous. I’d ask who talked first. I tried to get the students to just go into more detail and make what they were writing a story of the meeting. I would tell the students that the answers to my questions should be put into the writing.
I thought my questions should fire the catalyst to write 200 words, but I found that I had to keep asking questions until the student reached the minimum writing requirement. The students hadn’t had much practice making words come when they needed words to come. Is this something that matters?
7 min writing word count: 337
Maybe next time:
- Vonnegut’s writing desk
- Memorable or useful experiences in the writing classroom
- Somewhere to Live.
- Places I’ve Lived.
- Gluten for Punishment.