July 3, 2016

The Wildcard: a free writing exercise

This post is part of a 30 in 30 blog experiment, where I committed to writing 30 posts in 30 days with minimal planning between June 20, 2016 and July 20, 2016.

I keep a jar of words - kind of like one of those magnetic poem sets for the fridge - that I can pull three words out of and use them as a quick start writing prompt. I made big lists of things I love, hate, fear, etc and placed them all on their own little square.

Here's the piece I came up with today. The words were: Photography, Class, Wildcard. I write for fifteen minutes without stopping. What follows is unedited.

The Wildcard

Mr. Habnity handed out the photography assignment with a gleeful grin on his face. Judging by the sighs, snorts, and the occasional groans from the rest of the class it was a doozy.

He slid the paper onto my desk as he walked by and I got a whiff of processing chemical. The school only had one small darkroom now, since most of the classwork was done on digital cameras, but Habnity was old school, right down to the bowtie, plaid socks and velvet green jacket.

Someone said they saw him in the mall parking lot once and that he was wearing a leather bike jacket and carrying a helmet, but it’s generally assumed that the story is a lie since no one knows exactly who stared the rumor.

Habnity slid to the front of the classroom and did a little hop that reminded me vaguely of a cartoon leprechaun on a cereal box. The too wide grin didn’t help. I glanced down at the assignment sheet.
“Assignment 7: What makes life worth living?” was written in big bold letters across the top of the page.

Habbie was fond of abstract assignments. It was too easy to tell us to photograph a rose. Instead, the assignment would be something like, “Define beauty in conventional and unconventional terms.” I skimmed the assignment details-most of which looked normal-until my eye caught something in the lower right corner of the page. F3 was hand written in what looked like green sharpie. Weird.
Habnity cleared his throat.

“This assignment will be completed with a partner, but since your work has gotten a little predictable, I’m not interested in the same old pairings. I went to the liberty of assigning you a partner.”

A rumble of discontent shuttered through the class but Habnity spoke over the noise.

“Find the corresponding photography term to the one written on your paper and you have found your partner. And remember that this is supposed to be fun!” Habbie sat on top of his desk and clasped his hands. The class stared at him until he clapped. “Time is wasting people.”

Chairs slid away from tables. Chris Rogers yelled resolution and Janaya Welsh swung around in her chair and waved her paper at him and yelled Megapixels back. The rest of the class started comparing papers in a less obnoxious fashion. I looked down at the green F3 scrawled in the corner. Aperture maybe?

I stood up, slowly, and stretched while watching everyone pair off. Habnity had really outdone himself this time. Perfect and polite Jenna Holmes was paired with Benji Taft, the living embodiment of Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoon. He didn’t carry a blanket, but he did bring his backpack wherever he went and inexplicably smelled like melted Velveeta cheese. Paul Woo, who’d lost more brain cells to his weed habit than he’d ever had lucid thoughts, was paired up with Jack Dahl, king of debate and class president.

As I analyzed the pairs, I started worrying about who Habbie had paired me with. I’d half hoped he would do my love life a favor and I’d get to work with Lee Bailey, first trumpet in symphonic band, and the reason I’d taken photography in the first place.

But Lee hadn’t done anything but nod his head in my general direction a couple of times and I hadn’t had the courage to try to talk to him yet. I’d planned to ask him to be my partner, but I swear my tongue started to swell whenever I got within 10 feet of him and all I could do was mumble.

Lee was one of the top five students in our class. I wasn’t exactly honor roll material, but I did okay. I had friends. We weren’t picked on or anything. As I looked around the room to see who Lee’d been paired with, I started getting uncomfortable thinking about how the choices Habnity had made said something about who he thought we were. I resented him for it. He can’t do this to me. To us. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t…a head shrouded in a black hoodie stepped in front of me. Quiet but clear blue eyes darted up to mine and then away as the boy licked his lips and held up his paper.

“Aperture,” he said. His voice dripped with honey, his southern accent thick. A corner of his mouth tipped up in a half smile even though he wasn't looking at me. "Abbey, right?"

It was John-Freaking-Strom.

I’d drawn a wild card. From across the room Habbie winked at me before hiking up a pant leg and sitting down behind his desk.

I'll be visiting these two again soon, i imagine. Anyway, how do you jump start your writing?

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