Friday, January 25, 2013

Oi! Ten Thousand Years Will Give You such a Crick in the Neck

Every year when my students are writing fiction, I give them an assignment to test how well they know the character they have created. In a scenario completely separate from their own story, they are asked to imagine that their character is with a group of people on a beach when...

Someone finds an old bottle with a cork in it. They all gather around to see what's inside, but the glass is cloudy. Someone else suggests pulling the cork, and as they try to pry it out, the bottle drops, hits a rock, and smashes. The next thing they know, blue smoke is pouring out of the shattered bottle. The group stands there in amazement as the vapor takes a form-- it's a genie!

The genie takes a deep breath and then speaks in a raspy voice. "What a relief to be out of there." He stretches and looks around, smiling at them. Then he shakes his head, confused. "But-- where is my bottle?" He spies the fragments being washed out with the tide. "Oh no-- everything I own was in there! That bottle's been in my family for centuries." His smile has been replaced by a frown.

He turns to the group and speaks again, his voice growing stronger with each word. "In return for freeing me, you may each make one wish. However, since you destroyed my home, only one of you will have your wish granted. Wish wisely."

They have to write how their character reacts to this situation. The task is further complicated by the fact that the "group" on the beach actually consists of other students' characters, all making competing wishes.

It's always interesting to read what my students have their characters wish for. In the majority of cases, the fictional folks are barely disguised extensions of the kids in my class, which is to be expected.

Many wish for unlimited wishes, but as I overheard one of my students telling another, "That is the most shallow wish EVER." Lots of others wish for material things; a few nice kids always wish for the genie to have his bottle back.

Year after year I preside over their fantasies, asking questions and clarifying the task as necessary, but I never engage in any wishful thinking of my own. Today was an exception, though. I'm not sure why, but in a brief moment of quiet I considered my own desires, and I knew exactly what I wanted.

I would just wish my worries away. Who needs another wish than that?

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