Bananas, Birds, and Deer: Adventures in Creative Writing

In the course of my first year of teaching it occurred to me that all of these wonderful things the kids were learning about stories ought to be put to use, and I made them write their own short stories. It was an experiment I haven’t tried again, as such–I definitely think it a worthy endeavor, but the outcome left rather a lot to be desired. The naivete of the teacher allowed some references into certain stories (which were subsequently read aloud to the class) that should never have been mentioned in a well-regulated classroom. I did, however, gain some absolute gems from their brains.

Spitted Bananas

One story had the protagonist in a bit of a slimy situation. As the student wrote, “I needed to get back to my palace, so I made like a banana and spitted.” I found the attempted use of a pun very admirable, but the actual wording made me wonder any number of things. For instance, did the banana impale itself on a spit? How would that help one get back to their palace? What does roast banana taste like anyway?

Is this what it looked like after lying in the flour?

Another story involved trying to save a prized pet peacock from certain death by some illness or another. It was very touch-and-go for a while, as I recall. In fact, after the owner finally gets the right medication for his bird, he gets home only to find that “his peacock was lying on the flour.” The class was relieved to learn that he was in the nick of time to save the poor peacock. I just figured it was indicating its preferred method of cremation: breaded and fried. After all, a meal is usually involved in a memorial; I guess usually the deceased isn’t the one consumed, though. Seeing as how the bird didn’t die, I suppose this is one moral dilemma we are saved from having to resolve.

The celebrated White Hart

Each of the stories that didn’t involve something illicit or inappropriate was filled with tension and angst–I do work with teenagers. One student, trying to emphasize how worried she (or her protagonist) felt at a point of high tension in her story wrote, “her hart was pounding.” Oh goodness. My husband briefly owned a pet deer when he (and the deer) were very young, but I don’t know many people who have their very own hart (whether it pounds or not). That’s even more exotic than owning a peacock. But what, dear reader, was the hart pounding? That shall have to be another question for the ages; the author never revealed that answer.

Rewriting History

Occasionally we all wish we could have do-overs. Mistakes are made, problems created and weathered. Afterward, we look back with clarity and wish we could have done it differently. We always have the choice, at these times, to either learn from the experience, or to brush it off and continue on our oblivious way. The occasions when I have continued obliviously have generally become larger learning experiences later in life.

Those times, however, both in and out of the classroom, where something happens and I immediately wish I had acted or reacted differently, have taught me that I must live with my choices.

I’m not always erudite.

It is part of the human condition, really. We make mistakes, we wish we could change history. we wish we could play a part in history. That is what causes the drive for fame, for leadership, for discovery. Some of those ends are more pure than others, but the motivation is the same: we want to make our mark on the world and be remembered. We want to make a difference. To that end, some people have tried to change history. World leaders have had a huge impact–some negative and others positive. Some who changed the world negatively perhaps looked back later and wished they had done things differently; perhaps they did not. Some have had negative impacts while trying to make the world better.

No one, however, impacts history as much as students when they try to tell us what happened. I’m sure some of you have seen the list of what are actually studentisms turned in on history essays and exams, with all sorts of interesting interpretations of history. If you haven’t, here is a version of it. I know there are others, but that should keep you going for a few minutes at least. None of those, I argue, impact our history quite as much as this: “What had happened so far in history is that Ethan died of a burst appendix.

DEATH, and his little buddy, the Death of Rats (Courtesy of Terry Pratchett and Discworld)

I suppose it’s good of my student to report history as he or she understands it, but really? All that has happened so far in history is that Ethan (whoever he is) died of a burst appendix? In all probability, this was a book report, but I don’t recall. The statement is just so all-encompassing, and obliterating. Forget about the renaissance. Don’t worry about the stone age, or the dark ages. The reformation? Pfft. More recent history? Only important thing there is we figured out what an appendix is, so that Ethan could die from one bursting. Was it his appendix, or someone else’s? With such an incomplete history presented to us, I guess that is the new mystery of the ages.

The Invasion of Reality Shows

There are instances where reality TV is fine. I have enjoyed watching (at other people’s houses, since we don’t have a television at ours) several of the competitive cooking shows, and I personally know someone who has met success resulting from a performance show. Sweet. Excellent. However, the pervasive nature of the “reality” show in general just bothers me.


I suppose I shouldn’t ask the questions, but they exist. How desperate for attention must you be to want a camera following you around all the time? How exaggerated is the “reality” presented by many of these people (merely to garner more attention)? Why have we made it so acceptable to watch other peoples’ heartbreaks, mistakes, and straight-up bad choices? How much does that encourage the continued downfall of society? Why does being a bad person on “reality” TV make you a role model? How much does this contribute to the apathy of my students, some of whom apparently think that they can be bums and get rich from their own reality show?

Oh yes. Students. That brings me back to my studentism of the day, which gives the idea for an entirely different sort of reality show. Remember folks, you read about it here first–if anyone starts something like this, I get a cut of the profit. Wait…profit and infamy are part of the problem. Anyway, here it is: “The bleachers are next to the confession stand.

Wow. Talk about a reality show. You’ve got an entire audience in the bleachers, listening to you confess. Would the stars be the priests or those confessing? Would they follow the sinners to see if they were truly penitent? Would they catch the sins to begin with, and see if they confessed them? Would the priests have heart-to-hearts with the cameras about how they wish they weren’t burdened with so many secrets?

Actually… never mind. You may have read it here first, but it’s certainly not a unique idea. Check it out:

“Your chance to confess a secret to a million people in Toronto’s Subway System. Come Inside? Confessions Underground” A portable confession box–take note of the camera on the right. (Gratuitous choice of the photo of the guy in a kilt just an added bonus.)

I’m not going to ask what’s next.

Oh, My Poor Nerves!

Everyone gets nervous from time to time. Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice is famous for her nerves, ostensibly brought on by having five daughters to marry off and not enough fortune to make them desirable to prospective husbands. Some have speculated that her nerves came from having a husband who was far her intellectual superior (and her social superior as well) decide she wasn’t much worth his time after all. The poor woman had to do something to get his attention.

Mrs. Bennet from the A&E/BBC 1995 Production looking nervous

In any case, Mrs. Bennet is not the only person to ever have a nervous complaint, and as I said, everyone has had a case of nerves once or twice. I tell my students that I am nervous the first day of school, meeting a whole crop of new people, hoping that I’ve improved my skills enough that I can properly teach them, wondering if this is the class that is going to realise that they outnumber me and I can’t really do anything to stop them if they decide to mutiny. Well…I don’t tell them that last part. I do assure them of my nerves and genuine shyness when I introduce to them their first oral assignment. Of course, when I go all actor-dramatic on them to get their attention during Shakespeare, and play four roles at once, including a weeping, distraught Romeo, some of them accuse me of not being shy at all. I look at them in feigned bewilderment and reply, “That’s not shyness. That’s acting.” Then we continue our discussion of Romeo’s extreme emo-ness. He was probably nervous too.

However, I have never seen or read of anyone so nervous as one of my students apparently was. My students write autobiographically from time to time, and one student confided in an essay, “I was so nervous, it felt like my heart would fall out of my butt.” Now my friends, that is nervous. It’s also a marvelous example of original figurative language gone horribly graphic. At least they didn’t use a cliché. I love when students use their imaginations to come up with something glorious. Though this student may need a little refinement as time goes by, I am thrilled by the potential.


Incredible Feats of Strength

It is amazing what my students can do. Occasionally I wonder why, if they can do all the unbelievable things they write about, they cannot finish their homework. But I digress. Today’s studentism needed the whole family to accomplish, and it really did warm my heart to know they all worked together so well.

In today’s world of families falling apart, ignoring each other in favor of–anything, really, and going their own way as much as possible, I was thrilled that some students have families that work toward a common goal. I do wish more families were like that. I love having a family that, though it has many disparate parts, works together when something needs to happen.

I can only assume that the family of the student who wrote this is the same: when they see something that needs to be done, they all get together and figure out how to make it work. This is obviously a family with goals, dreams, and the wherewithal to make it happen. If you’re not convinced, check out what the student wrote; you’ll become a believer:

My mom, my brothers, my sister and I were getting ready to move Minnesota.

Another Incredible Family

Wow. In an incredible demonstration of family togetherness and problem solving, they were about to move Minnesota. Where they thought Minnesota needed to go, or how they eventually decided they would move it aren’t explained. Perhaps they had begun with the District of Columbia, or had previously worked on moving Rhode Island, and felt that with their prior experience, they could safely move Minnesota.

I suppose in the end they realized the task was too much for them, which is why our maps haven’t been redrawn. However, even the thought of taking on such a daunting task is so beyond my purview that I’m amazed this student could write about such a thing so casually.

At least it wasn’t Texas.

Inadvertent Parallelism

Sometimes it’s not the things students write, but what they say. I recall overhearing a couple of students as they walked into our building after lunch. Keep in mind, as you eavesdrop with me, that the only classes taught in this building are English classes of one level or another.

Student One: What class do you have right now?

Student Two: English.

Student One, blithely: Okay.

I was hard-pressed to keep a straight face. Of course English!

So where does parallelism come into it? I have taught The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet a few too many times. In I:i, we see this conversation:

Benvolio: Tell me in sadness, who is it that you love?

Romeo: […] In sadness cousin, I do love a woman.

Benvolio: I aimed so near, when I supposed you loved.

Romeo’s response to his cousin’s query produces in the audience the same “Gee, really?” response that I experienced while listening to the two students. It is Benvolio’s dry response, however, that makes Shakespeare’s version rise to the heights of literature while the poor students I overheard will go down in very few annals of history for their witticisms.

“It’s Elementary, my dear Watson!”

I’m sure I’ve had a few stellar conversational gambits of my own–please don’t think I make fun of these things because I’m infallible. I just enjoy them so. I hope that my own oddities and “duh” moments provided someone else with the amusement I derive from the ones I’ve collected over the years. After all, “for what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” (Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 57).

Do pardon the jumble of literary references in this post. I have read enough that allusions are a standard part of my conversational vocabulary.