A couple of days ago I talked about Donald Barthelme, “The School,” which is a story that I think everyone should check out. So after letting the story to stew in my mind I wanted to do an imitation of the story. Why? Well I feel that when you sit down to imitate a story you like and respect, you learn. A lot. The learning comes from close reading each line and trying to create similar effects. You learn elements of craft and begin to answer questions like, “what makes this story tick and how can I apply it to my own work?”
All of this comes from the idea of Deliberate Practice which has been discussed a lot in other fields but not so much in creative writing. I’m working on a series of post that will discuss possible uses of deliberate practice in creative writing but until then I wanted to share with you a demonstration of it: my imitation of “The School.”
Some things to keep in mind:
This is practice. It is an imitation. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s like peering into a language learner’s practice workbook.
You can check out the awesome original here.
“The School” Imitation
Yeah, I had the freshmen run up and down the stairs, see because I figured… you know, the only way to have a conscious healthy mind is, you know, a healthy body. The way they were looking in class was anything but healthy. And just when they started looking a bit better the administration files a complaint. Eighteen separate complaints for eighteen students. I don’t know why admin would care whether or not these kids were running up and down the stairs. So no, I can’t do that anymore which is a shame, you know? You’ve got these eighteen skinny Korean kids who for the first time in their adult life get a chance to change those jiggling calves into something, then bam, here comes admin. When I see them waiting for the elevator to take them up to the third floor, they look so, so down. Depressed. I’ve heard that muscle mass helps with happiness, and I’ve never seen a college freshmen here who looked anything other than depressed especially when they’re looking at their photos on their phones.
It wouldn’t be that much of a big deal if a week earlier they hadn’t shut down sugar anonymous. But that, you know, had failure written all over it from the beginning. I mean being anonymous in a country like Korea is hard, you know, shame culture and all where just about every pedestrian and street interview on the tv news are just these blurred circles and Micky Mouse voices, because everyone know everyone’s business and your opinion can get treated like the opinion of the whole family and requires public shaming and all. It was something you could take easily on the chin because, you know, what do you do when culture comes barreling into a room like one of those grizzly bears up over in Alaska?
With the mantra thing, yeah I’ll admit that one got a little out of hand, so I had to shut that one down. They really got into it, you know, like we have with the pledge of allegiance or a Tony Robbins event. It was incredible to see them implementing this whole NLP thing, talking to themselves about getting fit and looking good and feeling good, walking around with good posture all through out campus. What spoiled it was somehow the audio program got a virus. I’m not really sure when the students started walking around reciting prayers universal peace and monetary equality and some other things from the communist manifesto, but we heard it and we shut that down. Sabotage cross our minds, I mean, hell, we got commies to the north and commies to the west, so yeah. Well, at least everyone got a good laugh and stopped listening to it when we changed it to Smooth Jazz.
Of course we expected the raffle to fail, that was no surprise. Those things only work if you pay money and offer money, not offer to do something like lose Kilos. The students were memorizing dialogues about raffles and lottery scams and you know, we try to make those dialogues come alive and all that other pie in the sky teacher stuff, and well you know. Way too high in the sky.
How the students found the cocaine is beyond me.
How do you find any drugs in a country that will throw you in jail for twenty years for even a trace of weed, it wasn’t even like they knew what it was. One of the students claims that it’s a new weight loss and study help. Like powdered red ginseng. The thing was that at the time, kids were smuggling in powdered sugar after we shut down all the vending machines in the dorms and all the cafeterias went healthy. Finding bags of powdered sugar was not uncommon, but this time it was a bag of cocaine in class. What’s worse is that I had just shown them one of those bootlegged copies of Breaking Bad. It was a unit on drug culture in the developed world part of the whole globalization thing, you know, the bad stuff in the outside world. It wouldn’t have been so bad if only one or two were bouncing off the walls and speaking English ESL class really fast but Korea is a sharing culture. It was the thing to do for a few days until I figured it out. What was I going to do? Tell the Dean? The police? I gave the leftovers to the business school.
And then there was the news about the school beauty contest being shut down. Too many contestants, including Im-Ho from our class, being hospitalized for malnutrition. That one was a head scratcher. It wasn’t clear if it was from anorexia or bulimia, the hospital never said. The class took it pretty hard, since they thought Im-Ho could’ve lost a few more pounds. He didn’t have a six pack, more like a single packed drum. The students started murmuring about the efficacy of the school. I mean, there’s a lot of things I’m not on board with, but there’s a difference between small tweaks needed and whether or not the whole system needs to be tossed out. It was just all so sudden, kinda like jumping into a cold pool. You freak out at first, then you adapt. I mean the mandatory health checks and calorie counter cards and food diaries are all things that are just different. Then there was the kick in the groin: the designated weight to age ratio.
Most of us didn’t make the cut. I didn’t make the cut. At 34 I’m supposed to be 73 Kilos. I’m 86kilos and 185cm. If I don’t cut by next week, then I lose my job and have to report to fat camp. There’s going to be a lot of appeals, because only a week isn’t enough to even schedule a surgery. While it’s stalled in the courts most of us should be able to take care of it. Yeah, I wish the teacher union had lobbyist like those guys.
When the news came out we had a discussion in class. They asked me, how much do we need to lose to be healthy and beautiful? And I said, I don’t know. I wish I knew. They asked isn’t it the people who define what is a healthy body and life? And I said, no, certain people using their special knowledge of health and fitness and style define what is healthy and people. Then they said, but isn’t beauty and health a construct of the opinion of each individual rather than the dictate from the patrician class?
I said, well, yes, maybe.
They said, this sucks.
Yep. I said. Yep.
They said, could you please take off your shirt, and dance sexily? We require a demonstration of self-acceptance, we feel lost.
Don’t feel lost, I said and didn’t tell them that I often feel lost. And then I loosened my tie and unbuttoned the top button. The students were whooping. Then there was a knock at the door, I opened the door and the organic pizza man walked in. The students roared in glee.