Today in the last AP Lang class after a long discussion of Chuck Palahniuk, my teacher gave us the following writing prompt:
You want to be happy? You want to be at peace? You want to be healthy? As any good writer would tell you: unpack ‘happy’. What does it look like? How can you demonstrate happiness on the page – that vague, abstract concept. Show, don’t tell. Show me ‘happiness’ … [Learning to write means learning to look at yourself and the world in extreme close-up” (Stranger Than Fiction 37-38).
Accept Palahniuk’s challenge: Give us “happy.” Tell the truth. Be specific and concrete. Show.*
He gave us about an hour to write around a paragraph, but most people finished in around ten to fifteen minutes. It was due at five o’clock in the afternoon.
As an aspiring writer, I thought this was going to be easy. I thought I could show happiness on page without making it too abstract or vague. Spoiler alert: It turned out a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I kept typing and deleting sentences because the sentences I crafted simply were not true to me. I hated the cliched description I gave of sunshine and flowers because it did not feel personal. So, I turned in a shitty version of what I wrote at four fifty-nine (apologizing for it) then took another hour to write and edit one single paragraph. This is what came of it:
We are walking across the soccer field after dark, the dew seeping into the front of my tennis shoes, my friend a few steps in front of me. The night sky is not black but bleeds with different blues and purples and pinks. I look up and ask why do stars shine and he answers because they’re stars and I hear our laughter blurring together, indistinguishable when apart. Shadows slip across his face as we trudge through the grass. When we talk – about people, about books – our words float into the sky and we are only scarecrows underneath the millions of stars. I wonder how I could ever have wanted to shy away from the world, which in that moment, seemed to only stretch as far as the soccer field.
Some parts still aren’t as true as I want them to be. Some parts I hate the wording. But overall, this was a nice exercise to do in-between bigger projects I have going on. And it was a damn good one that made me to think and reflect on my experiences. Take some time this week and try this out. You won’t be disappointed.
*Credits to my AP Lang teacher.