Wednesday, September 29, 2010

It all began when someone left the window open...

Nice title.

For a few years now, I've been using Chris Van Allsburg's great collections of story ideas, The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, as a creative writing prompt. I'll be using it again with my Saturday High School class in the coming months - if I can find a way to work it into my curriculum.

Harris Burdick is basically a collection of story fragments - unfinished stories with an accompanying illustration from Van Allsburg - he of Polar Express / Jumanji / Zathura fame. The best of the bunch really work to inspire creative thinking in people, which is why the one below has been used in English composition exams in school systems in Canada, and likely throughout the world. Each page of Van Allsburg's book consists of a picture, a suggested title, and a sentence or two from the story if it ever existed.

For example, to accompany the picture below:

Title: The Third Floor Window
Sentence: It all began when someone left the window open.

(Look closely at the bird removing itself from the wall, and the empty space near it where another bird presumably once was. It's a haunting image - as are most of Van Allsburg's - and it's a great story start, or end, or something in the middle.

Anyway, my middle school essay class has thankfully whittled its way down to 7 members from its initial 29. (Sidenote: when the idea of an essay class was proposed, I suggested having 12 students - a good number for ESL writing, group work, and speaking. Instead all homeroom teachers were told to encourage their best and brightest to join. This meant 29 students, most of whom lacked the ability and didn't want to be there. For Youngdo alumni, it would be like asking a group of Johnson Burger readers to jump into Sylvia Plath) Thankfully, the numbers straightened themselves out) I like this group. There are 6 girls and one boy. Their English levels are quite high, and the small number gives us a chance to sit-together at a smaller table and chat.

This past Tuesday was our first class back together after Chuseok break, so I wanted to keep things light. Truly, introducing the idea of narrative essays to these bleary-eyed teens was not the thing to do. So, after a game of team Scrabble, I decided to introduce Harris Burdick. When I brought out the pictures and read them aloud, the students instantly took to them.

I lay them on the table and drew numbers to allow students to select one of the 20 or so illustrations for them to take home and use to create a story of their own. As mentioned before, the sentence given by Van Allsburg had to be included somewhere in the story, and the rest was up to them. I suggested one page.

I was happy to see that I got my first one back today from Chloe#1 (there was another "Chloe" in my class previously). Fitting that it comes just as there's a political shift happening (or is it?) north of the 38th Parallel, and the idea of resuming reunions between members of Korean families that have been split North and South since the Korean War is once again being used as a bargaining chip for other economic and military gains. The remaining people who would benefit from such reunions are dying fast, and what they're holding-out for looks like a "maybe" on an all-too-brief reunion in a sham mountain resort hotel where people take videos of you crying, because that's what amounts of your wasted life as a father, brother, mother, or sister - 60+ years in darkness and uncertainty, conspicuous hugs and tears surrounded by cameras, and then a longer goodbye. I have tried, but truly cannot imagine the sadness.

Anyway, here (unedited) is Chloe's story...

(*Please pay attention not to the grammar, but the intent)

A Hundred of Doves

It all began when someone left the window open. A dove that stayed on the window was flying away into the northern sky. The next day, people herd the fact that South-North Korean summit meeting would be held soon. The news was surprising to all people because it was the first meeting since a civil war.

People were interested in the subject that would made in that meeting. After a few days, another bird was seen in the blue sky. What was the most important, two doves of a hundred in the wallpaper disappeared.

It turned out the good relation between South and North Korea, differently with that people's worries that the war might break out again in serious situation. The following day that the third dove disappeared on the wall, every person was expected to come the happy day which they could come and go South and North Korea with free and see their family who lived far away each others.

On the day when about ten birds was gone, there was a summit conference. Although there were no things which was known about the summit, people could guess something good by allowing travel between North and South Korea.

On the wallpaper, the fiftieth dove flew into the sky through small window. People in the world had smile in their face because of an unfounded report about unification of the country. At that time the eightieth dove was gone, it was no groundless rumor anymore. North and South Korea were becoming political, economical, and cultural unification gradually.

Finally, there wasn't any birds in the room. The unification of Korea had finally been materialized completely and all people shed tears of joy. In the blue sky, one hundred white doves were flying more freely than anything else.

It all began when someone left the window open.


Jen Davies, MA, CDP said...

What a wonderful story.

Andrew said...

wow, very cool dave. the last line brings it all together. you must enjoy this class.