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Welcome to our book talk of Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Although first published in 1974, the book remains influential and entertaining for burgeoning and seasoned writers. Anne is the kind of writing friend you want giving you advice. She's honest and practical. Join us in discussing the chapter "School Lunches" today. Remember, reading the chapter is not a prerequisite for adding to the conversation.
Okay, so this is my poopy first draft about school lunches as assigned in the chapter:
Lunchtime at Hudnall Elementary School was an orderly affair. Tables folded from the wall of the auditorium, where, besides eating our lunches, we watched the Dodgers play in the World Series and learned folk dances, which meant touching boys. Nothing so scintillating happened during lunch. Each grade was assigned a table, the boys sat on one side, the girls on the other. We didn't jockey for position to sit by our friends. We stepped into our seats in the order we stood in line.Back in the classroom, the kids who bought hot lunches had lined up first. Because a 25-cent lunch was a luxury, I squirmed in my seat at the hot-lunch students seemed to have descended from Mount Olympus, so confident were they. On the days my harried mother pressed a quarter into my hand and I lined up with the privileged few, I stood taller, felt the inclusion. I bought my lunch maybe three times a year.The rest of the time, I ate the very same thing every day. While my fellow students munched onthick sandwiches of American cheese and deli meats with lettuce on white bread, I ate a bologna sandwich on wheat bread smothered with Miracle Whip, no lettuce. Also included, on the bottom of the bag to prevent my sandwich from being squished, were the requisite bag of celery and carrot sticks and a pithy apple. Mom used those plastic bags with the fold-over closure, so the sandwich was dry around the edges. Other students munched on Cheetos, Bugles, or cookies. I tried not to drool. Some kids carried 8 cents to buy ice cream for dessert. They sat on the patio, fully visible through a giant window, chasing rivilets of chocolate down their arms. I drank tepid milk from a plaid Thermos.We raised our hands to be excused. Our plates and lunch bags were examined to see that we'd finished eating. We lined up silently to go out to noon recess. Who kept this order? Mrs. Zolatell, built like a pawn on a chess board. She carried a whistle and the power to make disruptive students sit on the bench during recess. I've always been a little chatty. That fact landed me on the bench--just once--where I cried for 30 minutes, and then threw up.
According to Anne, now that I've completed my poopy first draft, I have the
option to delete or revise, or to tip the memories over like a box of buttons. There might be something shiny and useful in there. I won't be writing about pithy apples soon, that's for sure. I ran into Mrs. Zolatell several years later, and she stood nearly a head shorter than me. By that time, the angst had drained out of me. I just found it creepy that they allowed her out during the day. Yes, yes, of course you're right. The interesting part is me losing my lunch. I missed a student council meeting. I hated being thought of as the kind of kid who would have to sit on the bench. I wanted to be good. Hmm. There's an interesting "button." How far would a character go to protect their reputation?
Is it too late to confess that I hate writing exercises like this? None of this dreck has anything to do with what I'm working on. And my writing time is so precious that a game like this seems foolhardy, wasteful. Okay, so it was fun to remember the lunchroom. The fresh faces of Nina and Ginny and Larry and Ivon are in front of me as I write this. And I feel downright lacsidazical. Maybe I do need to loosen up and play a little more.
Do you work this way? Do you do writing exercises, just follow the writing butterfly through a memory, to find something golden to enrich your writing? Can you convince me to give it a try?
So what did you carry in your lunch bag?