Two Prompts

In the vein of Choose Your Own Adventure and multiple choice:

Alternate Ending 

I might go back to Mr. O’Grady’s End Of The Year Speech and try two or three new endings. Or I might draft a story start  in my notebook and write A, B, C ending choices. Or I might take a fiction piece I’ve abandoned and find a couple endings. Or I might do none of that.

Because I may instead write around:

Chasing Pursuit 

Which I’ll let you figure out on your own.

Multiple Choice

When I was kid I read the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I didn’t fall in love with the books themselves but with the idea that I could go back to page 49 and decide to turn left instead of right. This may have completely screwed up my perspective on decision-making. Real life does not allow for so much page-flipping. But if Choose Your Own Adventure messed with my concept of linear living, the series also revealed a storytelling truth: You can go back and end it differently.

Isn’t “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood a kind of commentary on storytelling flexibility?

I’m not giving a complete analysis here. Not at all. I like the story though. The last time I read the piece I thought about Choose Your Own Adventure plus Multiple Choice. I want to try writing a multiple choice piece that tells a few stories, that opens characters to left and right at once. I want to write that because I can’t live it like that. I want the chance to go left and then the chance to go right, without left wrecking my chance at right.

Times like this, I see the appeal of reincarnation.

What I tried today is a baby practice of the kind of form I’d like to experiment with. I wrote a five questions multiple choice test. It goes nowhere, for all the directions it contains.

Please fill in the corresponding answer bubble completely.

  1. When your wife tells you she’s pregnant
    a. Cry because she’s crying and it will mask your panic
    b. Openly panic because the economy is shit
    c. Rejoice for children are blessings and your quiver is three shy of full
    d. Secretly hope it’s a boy this time
  2. Offered a promotion at work, in exchange for your sleep
    a. Take it knowing the raise will cover requisite gallons of Starbucks
    b. Do the math on minimum hours sleep necessary
    c. Realize your sleep is well in the red anyway
    d. Ask if refusing means you’re magically given eight hours a night
  3. The vacation you plan for your family is
    a. A road trip to your birthplace, calling it family history
    b. Two weeks of camping, mosquito bites and burned wieners
    c. One barely affordable trip to Disneyland because they’ll love you more later
    d. Staycation!
  4. After you leave your in-laws you
    a. Are silent the entire two-hour drive home
    b. Realize you drank too much to drive and hand the keys to your spouse
    c. Pray thanksgiving at marrying into such a lovely bunch
    d. Hope the kids appreciate your sacrifice
  5. On Saturday morning you have two early morning hours to yourself. You
    a. Get on the bike you’ve been meaning to ride all summer
    b. Spend thirty minutes thinking how the kids never sleep this late
    c. Make coffee and drink it while it’s still hot
    d. Go online to read the Times but get lost googling coworkers

Go write your own multiple choice test about anything. Have fun making things up.


P.S. Massive pain to format multiple choice on WordPress. Any ideas?


Mr. O’Grady’s End Of The Year Speech

I like Postsecret. Sometimes the secrets posted prompt a story start. For the sake of a go-to prompt, I may make Sunday Secrets one of my WP exercises. Here is the postcard and my story start:


I like Mr. O’Grady. He doesn’t try too hard. He probably doesn’t try hard enough. I’ve had him two years in a row for history class because I flunked sophomore year almost entirely. The only class I passed last year was Small Engines because I built one for a final project, to show I’d learned something. I didn’t really learn anything except that all the adults in your life go batshit crazy when you quit trying. Mom put me in counseling and I kept a journal and when junior year started, every teacher pulled me aside within the first month to say they believed in me, except Mr. O’Grady. He asked me how my summer was and when I didn’t say anything, he said, “Yeah, me too.”

By mid year I had a C average and Mom was trying to negotiate credit recovery so I could graduate on time. Everyone was really sensitive about how I’d feel if I had to stay in high school for a fifth year, even though I said forty million times I didn’t care if I had to stay for a fifth year.

“You say that now,” Mom said.

“I mean it,” I said.

“Okay, well at least meet with Mrs. Kubicek.”

Mrs. Kubicek is the junior-senior counselor, though I’m technically a sophomore until next week when the report cards come out. I did meet with her and said I’d rather stay an extra year than spend every weekend and all of summer doing online classes. She sighed and asked if there was a teacher I would enjoy working with, someone who might oversee my credit recovery. I said Mr. O’Grady and she pecked that onto her tablet. Later that week Mr. O’Grady asked me to stay after class.

“You want to work on some credit recovery?”

“Not really.”

He rocked back on his heels. Two years ago he’d gotten divorced and grown his hair out, but it didn’t look good. He was always putting his hair in a ponytail and then taking it out, smoothing it down again. “Then tell Mrs. Kubicek no. No sense doing this for them if you’re not into it.”

That’s what I thought. So I said no and Mom, who’d been meeting with her own counselor and must have been advised to let me choose my path, didn’t argue. She drank two glasses of wine and went to bed, but she didn’t say I had to graduate on time. I know it bothers her. My cousins are overachievers. We get emails with pictures of Troy at the state track meet or Tina playing first violin. One time I told Mom to take a picture of me sleeping on the couch and we laughed.

Today is my last final exam, in Mr. O’Grady’s class. I studied until midnight and then ate breakfast before coming to school. Eating breakfast is supposed to help you concentrate. I feel good. I have three sharpened pencils and a bottle of water. I’m surprised by how much I know. The multiple choice is easy. The short answer is easy. The essay is a bitch. But I finish five minutes before bell and turn the test in, face down. I sit in my desk and wait for bell.

Mr. O’Grady walks to the front of the room and clears his throat. “I wanted to say something to you,” he says. There are three minutes left between us and summer break. “You guys have been great this year. I think you should know that. Seventh period has made my day.” He takes his ponytail out and runs a hand through his hair. “Sometimes I hate coming in to school. A few of you know what I mean.” A couple of us laugh. “But I’d get to seventh period and think I’d made it and you’d come in and humor me for fifty minutes and we’d all get to go home after. I guess I want you to know that if I can get to seventh period every day, you can too.” The bell rings then and a few girls get up. Mr. O’Grady holds up his hand and says, “Wait. I also want you to know something I wish I’d figured out when I was your age.” The girls sit down again. “You matter more than you think.” We wait for minute but he doesn’t say anything else. The class starts to leave. A few kids say thanks to Mr. O’Grady. I’m on my way out when he says, “Kevin,” and I turn. “You do,” he says.


More Than My Chosen Portion

Another round of overthinking. I wish I were blind to my heart sometimes. This from my WP, an extension of previous posts and essays. I am near desperate to write the one that says I’ve got the whole thing figured out.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed I have a beautiful inheritance.
Psalm 16:5,6

There is a church song with a line in its chorus that says “Christ is enough for me” and when I sing it I want it. There are days when I am ready to abandon my nets and let the dead bury the dead. There are minutes when I see my stuff and my body as dust. There are shifts in my perspective when I get an eternal eye and want more than anything to follow the radical Christ who says I must be willing to lay down everything.

The state of my heart hammers me. The last few years have stripped me of pretense. I have no desire to play Christian. Instead, let me be refined so that I am. Still: I want what isn’t mine and am jealous to keep what I hold. I am afraid to lay down everything, unsure that Christ is enough.

I want more than my chosen portion.

I want what’s over there. I want what you have.

And in my relationships – I am not always a servant. I am not always loving. Sometimes I want your approval. Tell me you like me. Flatter me. Chase me. Need my thoughtful insight. Want my clever brilliance.

Tell me what you see in me is good.

In Christ, I am good. Whole, covered, free. Why do I seek more than my chosen portion? Why do I not trust that this marriage family place church work body moment is my pleasant place? I bang my head against these questions, again again again.

Here And Now Weighed More

I decided to challenge myself in June and write daily from a prompt. I turned nearly every prompt into a response to my personal life, essentially journaling with the lightest of constraints.

Here and now I am became a go-to.

Sometimes it’s like that. Not every turn at the page becomes a start. I show up, more in the spirit of Natalie Goldberg, taking my writing practice as meditation. I open on the page. I repeat myself, trusting repetition is inherently valuable. Writing the same ___ allows me a different kind of practice, a refinement of my thoughts, beliefs, opinions, emotions: open to sway, argument and resolution.

When I am generous with myself, I take this repetition as hopeful. I am unfinished. And unfinished is a beautiful adjective. But when I am harsh with myself, that same repetition makes me impatient. After ___ years I am still writing about ___ ! Like, when will I learn, forgive, accept, repent, enjoy, heal, turn! All of that lands in my pages too, the frustration that I am still dealing with ___, even if in a new context.

Selfish ambition

Let me return to hope. I am unfinished. Let me take heart in the process.

Even this is a revisit of a familiar theme. I keep writing about refinement, waiting for the better expression. Perhaps all my writing around refinement adds up to the better expression, illustrating process.


June WP prompts weren’t a bust. On the whole, June just wasn’t a month of fun writing. It was a month of necessary writing. And I am grateful for a pen and notebook to ground me in the here and now.