Friday, July 13, 2018

“Writing Exercise” by Deb Stark

Once again, I read the writing prompt on the slip of paper:  The woman takes a ferret from a cage.

Damn, I’m getting nowhere with this assignment.  And time is passing by.  Ten minutes already gone. 

“Have fun,” our writing instructor said earlier as he welcomed us to the eight-week writing course. “This is about writing for yourself, not for marks.”

But I am not having fun. I’m feeling lost, thoughtless and very, very alone.  Around me, I hear pens scratching on paper. Heads are tipped forward, bodies tense as my classmates write, write, write. 

The skinny kid with the row of insects tattooed on his left arm puts down his pen and sits back in a self-satisfied way. The retired woman with the purple streaks in her hair is humming as she writes. Her hand moves slowly and steadily across the paper. Where are her words coming from? What creative source does everyone else have that I lack? I don’t know.

Another five minutes gone.  I stare at the kid’s bug tattoos as I resign myself to my fate. No story from me.  Not today.  Maybe never. 

But wait.  An idea.  A sentence.  I put pen to paper….

Jeff took the big black spider from the cage.  “Yep, he was expensive – a fortune – but he’s worth it,” he said.

The assembled professors – full professors, associates and assistants – watched in admiration as the eight-legged monster flown up from the Amazon explored the boardroom table. 

The door opened and Amanda rushed into the room.  She muttered her usual apology as she sat down and opened her laptop.  She was pretty sure she hadn’t missed anything; Jeff started every weekly meeting with a personal story.  She thought it was an obvious ploy to pretend he was still one of the team and not department head but she wasn’t buying it. Still, she was trying to be more respectful.  Promotion time was coming and she desperately wanted to remove the word “assistant” from her title.

As she settled in, Amanda realized Jeff wasn’t talking. Had she missed something? Following the gaze of her colleagues, Amanda looked at the centre of the table.  Her eyes landed on the hairy creature crawling slowly past the water glasses.  It was headed towards her.

Amanda grabbed a nearby issue of The Journal of Biodiversity and raised her arm.  The gasps coming from her colleagues gave her courage.  Rising cries were drowned out by the satisfying splat of paper squishing a foe.  “Got it,” she said, holding the smeared magazine up in triumph.  

She waited for the cheers.


Slowly, Amanda looked around. Some of her colleagues were looking at her. Others were watching Jeff who was staring at her raised hand. He seemed very pale. Her arm fell as she finally she noticed the cage. She looked more closely at the black blotch.  And just like that, Amanda knew she would be an assistant professor forever.

Ting-a-ling.  Ting-a-ling. That’s the instructor ringing his bell just as I write “forever.”

“Time’s up,” he calls.  “Time to write dot, dot, dot.” 

I stare at my paper with relief. Maybe I belong in this class after all.

Deb Stark lives in Wellington County, Ontario, with her husband, two cats and too many raccoons. Her work has appeared in magazines, several anthologies including CommuterLit, From the Cottage Porch (Sunshine in a Jar Press), and You are Not Alone, 52 stories of hope (One Thousand Trees) and the Globe and Mail (Facts & Arguments).

See Brian Henry’s schedule hereincluding writing workshops, weekly writing classes, and weekend retreats in Algonquin Park, Bolton, Barrie, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Cambridge, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, Midland, Mississauga, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, Saint John, NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Windsor, Woodstock, Halton, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York Region, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.


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