The thing that crawled out of the writing prompt.
Writing prompts can be downright weird. There are idea generators that will suggest plots for you (actual result: “A model has 24 hours to use the information given by their dying guide to find an overgrown garden.”) Some will try to write part of the story for you after you make a few selections (actual result: “Robert Cox looked at the squidgy blade in his hands and felt sneezy.”) There are lists of one-word prompts (your prompt for the day is “perspicacious.” Onetwothreego!) There are lists of prompts that are suspiciously similar to the plots of existing novels.
The other day, it occurred to me that I’d never looked for blogging prompts. I figured they’d be different, and I wondered if they were also weird, so I turned to Google. The first suggestion I stumbled across was to write about self-hypnosis, and everything went downhill from there. (Does silently chanting, “I suck, I suck, I suck” count as self-hypnosis?)
While some blogging prompts seemed to want me to become an expert on a specific topic, others just wanted me to vomit out personal revelations or write about some oddly-phrased thing. (Do you really want to know what songs would be found on the mix tape of my life?)
I’m not saying that writing prompts are always bad, or useless, I just don’t always find them very helpful. I’d much rather write about Mr. Cox’s squidgy blade and why he feels sneezy (I figure it’s because the immortal proto-fly crawled up his nose) than about organ shortages in the U.S. (internal organs, not instruments… and yes, I’ve written about that), but in the end, they both feel like assignments, and that usually leads to feeling like it’s a chore. Unless inspiration just happens to strike, I’m probably just not going to be all that into it.
Just because something is interesting to me doesn’t mean that it’s interesting to you… but if I’m writing about stuff that doesn’t interest me at all, then I’m probably not going to write it in an interesting way. I’d be a terrible ghost writer.
One of the blogging prompts I stumbled across suggested writing about your meanest teacher, and inspiration struck. Actually, it was more like a memory-strike from orbit, because when I started thinking about it, something popped into my head that I hadn’t thought about in ages.
Anyone who went to school with me would probably assume that any “meanest teacher” story would be about my high school band director. Few teachers can match the inter-dimensional evil of a marching-band director in the Texas school system. Glee brought forth more than a few uncomfortable memories, because my band director was basically Sue Sylvester before anyone challenged her power.
But no — we’re going back to grade school for this one. My fifth-grade teacher was a guy who scared the living shit out of everybody, and I mean everybody. He was strict as hell. I don’t remember ever seeing him smile. His classes were eerily silent, because we were all too terrified to make a sound. If you made a sound, he’d see you. He was in charge, and you’d better never, ever forget that. Aside from the aura of Ultimate Authority, the guy could give verbal lashings like no one I’ve met before or since. (Granted, these are a 5th-grader’s memories, so if I met the guy today, I might have an entirely different perspective on it.)
To make it even worse, he regularly did things that seemed wildly out of character, but did them in a way that was completely in character, thereby increasing both our confusion and our fear. For example, he’d pick a book and read a little to us every Friday afternoon, something you might normally associate with your nice, warm, friendly, cuddly teachers. Of course, he did it his way — he sat on a tall stool at the front of the class and read aloud to us while we sat, rigid and silent, hands folded on top of our desks, afraid to show any sort of reaction at all. He even picked books like The Black Stallion, books that were popular, age-appropriate, and interesting, and then cruelly deprived us of the opportunity to actually act like we were interested. It was utter madness.
One day, in the middle of class, I got the sneezes. It wasn’t the immortal proto-fly, it was just allergies. Southern California can be a bad place for allergy sufferers, and mine were terrible back then. He never berated anyone for sneezing, but I was afraid to do it too often, because once you’ve scared the living crap out of somebody they start making up their own rules to avoid drawing your attention. You know, just in case. So I kept stifling them until a really big one came along, and then I couldn’t help it — I sneezed explosively.
Unfortunately, something else exploded, too. The sneeze was accompanied by another blast of air from an entirely different orifice, and I froze, hoping that the sneeze was loud enough to have covered it. No such luck: a boy sitting next to me started snickering. At that point, I figured I was done for. It was inevitable. I’d caused a disturbance, and there would be hell to pay.
To my utter shock, the teacher turned away from the board and snapped the boy’s name in a voice that would have made a Velociraptor quit doing whatever it had been doing. That was it, just a name… but somehow, he managed to make that one word carry two entirely different meanings: it meant, “Quit laughing, or I shall devour you whole and cast you into the fiery pits of hell,” but it also laid the blame for my backfire squarely at that kid’s feet. It wasn’t just me, either — that kid realized it immediately. Unwisely, he decided that being unjustly blamed for someone else’s air biscuit was the hill he would die on, and he actually opened his mouth and said, loudly, “It wasn’t me! It was–”
The next word that the teacher blasted at him not only shut him up, it shut the rest of us up for the next six weeks. I don’t think anyone said a thing unless they were asked a direct question. We were all too afraid to move, forget making unauthorized word-noises with our cake holes.
I felt kind of bad about it at the time. Despite the fact that his back had been turned, I was certain that our teacher knew exactly who had sneezed (and thus, who’d actually been responsible for the crop dusting.) He was omniscient, because of course he was, and he had purposely blamed the other kid for my squeaker. It didn’t occur to me until later that he might not have known. Or maybe he just didn’t care, because flatulence is a normal bodily function that can’t always be controlled, but laughing is one step away from open rebellion. Laughing and arguing? That kid was lucky that Hellraiser chains didn’t materialize out of thin air and tear him to pieces.
And in case you were wondering, the answer is no. Not one single kid ever gave me the slightest amount of crap for beeping my horn in class, because that’s how powerful that man’s aura was. We could have been miles away at the bottom of a coal mine and it still wouldn’t have felt safe to ignore his edicts.
That guy was totally my favorite teacher ever.