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Roly Poly Head-Over-Heels

I grew up in rural Michigan, in a lower middle class community.   One would assume that my education was lacking, but we were lucky in the number of  incredible teachers who settled in our area.  My seventh grade English teacher, Miss Morpaw, was one of those inspiring educators. 

One morning, after we had settled down, Miss Morpaw held up a brown paper grocery bag.  She explained that there were several different objects in the bag.  Each of us would pull one out.  Up and down the aisles she walked, stopping at each desk, holding the bag so that the student couldn’t peek.  “Just pull out the first thing you touch.” There was a toy airplane, a Hot Wheels car, a plastic bear.  All very cool items to get.

When she stopped next to my desk, I reached in, closed my fingers like the claws in an arcade game and pulled out . . . a marble.  A stinking marble.  Not even a pretty marble.  It was old and scratched.  One side was dull blue, the other dark red.  A white stripe ran around it.  Ugly.  “That’s fun,” my teacher said when she saw it. 

After everyone had an item, Miss Morpaw returned to the front of the room.  “Describe your item.  Make a list of all the things you can say about it.  Use all your senses.”

I picked up my pencil.  Describe the marble.  Shiny.  Round.  Slightly scratched.  Red and blue with a white stripe.  I rolled it around on my palm.  Light in weight.  I sniffed it.  No smell.  Shook it.  No sound.  There was no way I was going to taste it.  That was it.  Five things.

“Now, write a story about your item, using those descriptions.”  I don’t remember the minimum word count assigned, but I know we had to turn it in the next day.  I fretted all afternoon about what kind of story I could write about that stupid marble.

At home, I pulled out my “inspiration” and started to write.  “Once upon a time there was a shiny, round, light in weight, slightly scratched, red and blue marble with a white stripe named . . .”   And I froze.  What kind of name would a marble have?  I tapped the eraser against my teeth. 

"Stop that," my mother said.  Then, "What’s wrong?” 

I told her.

She took the marble from me a rolled it across the table.  “Well, I’d call it Roly Poly Head-Over- Heels.” 

This from the woman who thought she had missed out on the creative gene.  She loved music, but didn’t play an instrument and never sang.  She read everything, but never considered writing.  She cooked wonderful meals for a family of six on a strict budget.  She made clothes for all of us, often designing the pattern herself.  But she wasn’t creative.  In a few seconds, she gave me a name that I’d been struggling over for an hour.

And the story spilled out after that.  I made my word count and more.  Not only did I get an A+ on the paper, Miss Morpaw told me I should submit it to children’s book publishers.  I didn’t have the nerve to do it, because my thirteen-year-old self thought that she’d missed out on the creative gene, too.

I’ve thought about Roly Poly many times over the years.  When I started writing as an adult, Roly was one of the early stories I remembered as being deemed “good”.  Maybe I should revisit the story.  See if I could do anything with it.  Who knows?   

Now when I doubt my creativity, I remember my mother--the woman who wasn’t creative--and I keep writing. 

5 Comment count
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Head over heels

I liked that.

It is sometimes similar with painting - by reducing the options, reducing the colours say, you find there are still infinite possibilities - but keeping on regardless is important too.

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Welcome to Redroom.com !

You were so lucky. I took Creative Writing in 10th grade and had this mean teacher who basically told me not to bother! I didn't write again for years. My friends and family kept telling me that my business or political letters were excellent. It wasn't until my late-thirties that I realized that my teacher was wrong. Like your mom, I never thought I was creative either. I can't even draw a stickman, but, I decorated our home beautifully and I cook extraordinarily. It's interesting how comments like that shape one's future, isn't it? Happy New Year, dear Debbie.

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to Mark, Anne and everyone on Red Room.

It is amazing to me how many friends have had that one negative teacher who ruined whatever creative endeavor for years. Mine wasn't a teacher, but well-meaning family saying things like, "I know you like that writing thing, but you have to be practical."

And the really amazing thing is how it can take only one other voice to change it. To make you realize that maybe you do have talent and creativity after all.

Here's to being that one voice for someone.

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Wonderful story. I can only

Wonderful story. I can only imagine all the wonderful things that marble experienced from the time it was bought shiney new at the Woolsworth Five and Dime to the time you wrote about it. Isn't it funny how inspiration finds us?

I grew up in small-town Alabama and I would match my teachers, grades 1 through 12, with teachers anywhere. I only hope the youngsters today get the same type of love, nurture, stimulation and encouragement that I got from my "Miss Morpaw."

Thanks for reminding me.

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Thank you, John.  Those

Thank you, John. 

Those small-town teachers were truly dedicated.