As a 17-year old high school senior, my English teacher, Ms. Prather, assigned me and my classmates the task of writing about our bedroom and what we saw using as many adjectives as possible. It could be real or imagined. My story was a mix of both. We were also supposed to let the details do the work – show don’t tell – through the use of metaphors and similes.
We spent a week working on the assignment before turning it in on March, 4, 1988. After working on the suggestions Ms. Prather made on my third rough draft, I was confident I would receive a good grade.
This is what I wrote.
A terrible sight lies outside the window. A huge black cloud hangs over the sky, like a classroom blackboard, with all eyes upon it. The thick, gray smoke from the plant down the road slowly sucks away the breath from the life existing nearby. Brilliant, pastoral, and lively maple trees no longer blossom; now they sway in the wind like a corpse floating down a river.
Inside, brilliant streaks of colors jump off the wall. That red, the deep dark red, drips like blood, oozing from a vein. The yellow and black stripes are like a sleek tiger running through the pale green forest, with dark and light blue shining above like the sky on a cloudless day. Towards the center of the room that magnificent drum set sits, with its deep black cylinders and shiny metal rims, awaiting for a lonely soul to come and try it. Those immense cymbals reflect the moonlight onto the wall, and that sleek tiger begins to run again.
The moonlight shines almost completely on the seat, as if God himself expects someone to sit there. The sticks, positioned almost perfectly in the center of the head, are green, like the grass on an early Easter morning. Nothing and no one can come within reach. As the sticks strike the toms, the heads shake, creating a deep soothing sound within the cylinders. Disturbance is nowhere to be found, for it is shut out along with the rest of the world.
There is now a new one, where only musicians can go. Jazz, Blues, or Rock can be played in this tiny world, but no one can hear, except the musician. Then, once again that presence is near and the music can be shared. Soon light shines through a window, and out the other, with the sound of the music riding away on a wave of sunlight. But that presence is still there, it is always there, just watching; nothing more.
Ms. Prather wrote on a separate piece of paper, “Very impressive piece overall, Irene. Good use of sentence rhythms, visual imagery, and metaphor to create the complex mood.” I received an “A -” for my work.
Many students at Middletown High School despised Ms. Prather. She was probably the strictest teacher in the school. She taught seniors and everyone dreaded getting her. She always called you out on your bullshit. She pushed everyone to be better, yet we never recognized it while we were there. To us high school seniors, she was an unnecessary hard ass and a pain in the ass during our school day. In reality, she was something more.
I learned more about the English language and how to write well from Ms. Prather than I ever did from all the writing courses I took in college. By the end of the school year three months later, I had a new-found respect for what she was trying to do for me – take a good writer and make her better. Of course, I was a 17-year old dumbass, so I didn’t know any better. Today, I think I did that coffee swilling old woman proud.