"There is nothing more terrifying than a blank sheet of paper and how to begin." - Norton Juster, author of "The Phantom Tollbooth"
Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity of seeing Norton Juster speak about "The Phantom Tollbooth," creative life and writing. One thing he talked about is how, at the end of the day, he often stops in the middle of a paragraph so when he sits down the next day, he's not picking it up from scratch.
It made me chuckle through my sleep deprived haze as that was this story.
Because these stories are here for to help students understand the process of writing, there are things posted that are not necessarily stories I would normally make public. This particular story to me was the sign I needed to go home at 3 am during the 24 hour write in (there was something about the sentence "aI anct ‘stay ai=ke" that was enough to say that I had crossed into gibberish mode). This is one that started strong, faded as I did and came back a bit as I came back as well. Since I am committed to not editing this month, I can see the part that is "OK, so here's where I'm going to write about...." place holders. I look at this and see another much larger story here that will go on the white board under "developing."
Now that I no longer have sleep deprivation to blame, it's time to focus on the home stretch and get the last 10 stories written.
Danielle hated science.
She was never going to be a scientist, not like the news was always talking about a whole lot of women who were scientists to begin with. Also, it wasn’t like she was going to do much more in life than be a teacher, sales clerk or mother. If she stuck with retail, then science wouldn’t ever be a factor in life. Anything else would take too much work and work was not something she really wanted to do. So why did she have to do a science fair project if she wasn’t going to do science? What good did it serve by having her do a science project?
But there was Mrs. Duggan telling her she had to challenge herself and stretch her wings.
“Dare to imagine something different Danielle. We now live in a world where women can do whatever men do and still lead a fulfilling life.”
“Think about great women before you: Marie Curie, Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson, Joan of Arc…”
“Died from radiation poisoning, lost over the ocean someplace, drowned in the Thames, heard voices and burned at the stake. Yep, that’s certainly a crew of women to look up to all right.”
Mrs. Duggan looked like her head was going to explode.
“Danielle, you’re missing the point.”
“No I’m not. I’m not a science girl. I’m a sports girl and to ask me to do science is as crazy as asking Joan of Arc to take up knitting and raise llamas.”
“Which is not a bad thing.”
“It is when you have a direct hotline to heaven while trying to kick the future king’s backside to the throne.”
Mrs. Duggan sighed. Then she thought of something.
“What is Tommy John surgery?”
“It’s when a pitcher undergoes surgical reconstruction of an elbow ligament.”
“They take a tendon from the knee and then use that to fix the elbow. It has an 85-92% recovery chance, you take off a big chunk of the year in rehab while gradually ease themselves back into the game. Why?”
“That’s science for you, you never know when it might come in handy.”
“What do you mean?”
“You can do your science fair project on Tommy John surgery.”
“It’s sports science. That is, unless, you’d rather write about the physics of a slap shot or home run ball.”
“So you’re saying that if I write and present a report about Dice-K and John Lackey, that you’ll call it science and let me present it at the science fair?”
“I can do that.”
“Good. Now that’s settled, you have until the end of the week like everyone else.”
“Gotcha,” Danielle said as she turned to leave the classroom.
She turned and faced Mrs. Duggan.
“You need to put together a poster and full presentation.”
“Don’t worry Mrs. D, I’m on it.”
The day of the science fair arrived and Danielle was thinking of throwing up and going home.
The report was done. That wasn’t the problem.
It wasn’t hard to find reliable information on the internet about he surgery. Almost every major league site along with the CDC and AMA sites had plenty of information. On the baseball pages there were great debates about what all this mean to the Red Sox pitching staff. There were even reports of pitchers who had undergone the surgery and their stats before and after surgery.
The presentation board was easy. There were great diagrams, pictures, trading cards and things. Typing up a sentence or two to explain the illustrations, not a big deal and the layout was easy. The problem wasn’t even the five page paper that had to go with her presentation. She wrote that shortly after all the research.
The problem was the presentation.
In a crowd, Danielle could be the loudest voice. With her friends she could joke and come up with the perfect zinger that would make everyone laugh. But when she stood up there all by herself facing the room full of people, her voice got small and her throat got dry. Not only that, after the speech, she would have to stand by her poster and explain it, answer questions and pretend to be an expert.
So not only was science not her thing, but now she had to pretend to be something she really wasn’t: smart.
At least she had managed to convince her mother to let her dress comfortably instead of in the dress and fancy clothes, she convinced her mother that if she went dressed as herself she’d be better able to give her speech.
But walking into the school gym, it was taking everything she had not to run out the door and back home to hide under the covers.
It was Mrs. Duggan. She waved to get Danielle’s attention and Danielle realized she couldn’t escape. She had been seen, recognized and now she was being summoned. She took a deep breath and moved towards her teacher.
“Your board looks absolutely fantastic. I’m sure it will generate a lot of conversations. So I have you set up over there,” she pointed to a spot under the basketball hoop near by. “Basically the drill is just explain the board, answer questions and when the judges come by, they’ll ask you about what you did and what you learned. Just relax and be yourself and you’ll do just fine.”
Danielle rolled her eyes but dutifully took her spot. She wore a red t-shirt that had the words “Dice-K” on the front. The K had the rising sun image that is associated with Japan, but the center of the sun was a baseball. On the back it said something in Japanese with the number 18.
Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself for the next two hours.
People filed through the gymnasium, stopping and looking at boards, flipping through her printed report, asking questions and leaving comments on the clip board that was attached to the tables at each station.
When the judges came through, she recognized one of her old teachers. He was a big Red Sox fan and he talked to her about what she thought about the team’s chances were for the upcoming season. It was so easy to explain how Tommy John surgery worked and what she thought would happen for Dice-K as he came back this year and the prospects for John Lackey.
“I have to confess,” her teacher dropped his voice, “I hear this term all the time but had no idea exactly what was involved. It’s pretty big stuff isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Personally, I think it’s kind of cool that they tendon from the knee to repair the elbow. Of course it makes me glad that our pitchers don’t have to run for bases or master batting the way they do in the National League. On the other hand I’ve never been a fan of the designated hitter rule. I mean if Josh Beckett can hit home runs in inter-league play, then maybe it’s time for Bud Selig to acknowledged this is a 40 year fail.”
“I couldn’t agree with you more,” he said with a smile. “Good job here. I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised with the work you did here. Nice work indeed.”
Time flew past and before she knew it, the principal was on the stage and the horrible, screeching feedback that she seemed to use to get everyone’s attention at the start of all school assemblies.
“Thank you all for coming out tonight,” she announced before everyone cringed at the second round of feedback.
“While all of our students did a wonderful job, the judges have decided some kids did an extraordinary and… or…. Exceeded all expectations.
There was a polite round of applause from all the parents who were Iining the room.
She announced the honorable mentions, then the third and second place winers. She applauded like everyone else and watched as they ran up to the stage, grabbed their certificate and run back down to put the shiny, sati ribbon on the desk in front of their project.
It was then she heard the announcement.
“By unanimous agreement, the judges felt that this particular student has really gone above and beyond the scope of the project. Let’s hope her predictions hold true for this year’s Red Sox and congratulate Danielle from Mr. Mahoney’s room! Danielle, come on up and get your prize.
She stood there, shocked in the moment before one of her friends have her a push and she ran up to the stage to accept the certificate and ribbon.
Staring at the ribbon, she heard Mrs. Duggan whisper, “did you get radiation, disappear, drown or burn?”
“I’m good,” she whispered back.
Danielle still didn’t think of herself as a science girl, but maybe if she looked at the blue ribbon long enough, she’d change her mind about that.”