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A couple of weeks ago, I signed up for daily writing prompts from a certain source. I was super excited about it, which I mentioned here. I didn’t even let the “Poetry Wednesday” thing turn me off entirely. But in the whole time that I’ve been receiving these daily emails, not once has a prompt actually inspired me to write about the word, quote, image, or question. Mostly, I want to write about why I don’t want to write about whatever the hell the prompt is. Today is a fine example.

“Journal about five things every person needs to grow into a highly regarded individual. Explore each item in a minimum of 100 words.”

I’m going to ignore the syntax because, well, this isn’t the first or the worst offense. What irked me about this was what a judgmental phrase “highly regarded individual” is. Highly regarded by whom? Is the criteria the same for everyone? If my idea of “highly regarded” doesn’t match yours, is there a wrong and right?

I don’t like judgment. It makes me feel gross… and I don’t know how to describe that, exactly, but I’m reminded of Han Qing-Jao in Xenocide – the way she explains how dirty she feels when she is consumed by the “voice of the gods,” which we, as readers, know to be her obsessive-compulsive disorder. How her skin feels greasy and contaminated, like no amount of washing will ever cleanse her. Maybe that sounds dramatic, but I do think that judging, or even being thought to judge, can cover us with a thin layer of sludge we can feel but can’t shed.

So, this “writing prompt” asks us what we think makes someone a “highly regarded individual.” I’m half tempted to make a list, and sub-lists – a whole freaking outline, and let me tell you, I loathe outlines – full of snarky opinions about what “highly regarded” means to me.

But I’m not going to.

Because I am starting to bop my apples, and this is a rotten one I’m gonna send down the chute.

(I wish you could see and hear the process I just went through before writing that last sentence. First, an image flashed in my head, and I knew it was from a book, because I didn’t see a picture; I saw words. I saw “apple-bopper,” in particular, and somehow my mind made the jump (or rather, jumps, because it took several) from that to Stone Butch Blues. I know for certain that I was brought to Jesse in the factory that first day that he saw Teresa, but damned if I can find my copy of the book to actually quote the passage.)

Anyway. Apple-bopping.

You know the phrase, “One bad apple spoils the bunch”? That’s how I’m trying to approach negative thoughts right now. It’s so easy to fall into a trap of negative thinking, and almost gratifying, because the path seems to always give way to two or three or five more openings. But why does thinking nasty thoughts make us feel good? It comes down to what we think of ourselves, whether we want to admit it or not.

Maybe being prodded to think about what being “highly regarded” means to me should send me into paroxysms of motivation and enlightenment and whatever else I’m supposed to feel when faced with the ability to achieve that nirvana of self-awareness. But, especially right now, when everything on NPR is about the GOP nod, and who should and shouldn’t be part of the EU and why, and a zillion other things I don’t even pretend to understand because I am a political dunce – what does “highly regarded” even mean,¬†and who am I – who is anyone – to decide who deserves it? You know who I regard highly? The mom working three jobs and supporting five kids on her own. The public schoolteacher who works countless hours before and beyond the daily bell. The mover whose arthritis is killing him as he rolls that dolly out of the van dozens of times a day but he can’t afford to retire just yet.

Rather than being inspiring, these thoughts make me angry. And all of them happened within seconds of reading the prompt. But I don’t want to sit in these negative feelings; I don’t want to stew in these problems without immediate solutions. I want to force myself to consider the ways I am inspired by these individuals, not the ways I feel sorry for them or angry at the systems that contribute to their hardships.

That mom? Damn. We’ve all gotta hand it to her – especially if she finds a minute each evening to check over mister man’s math homework, and congratulate miss thang for the A on her latest essay. And you know she does – she’s Wonder Woman. Moms like that seem to find time for everything.

That teacher? She or he lies awake nights, wondering if s/he’ll still have a job if this year’s students don’t achieve a certain score on the standardized tests, so there’s no social life. There are nights full of microwaved meals and checking work email and dreaming up a way to reach that one student who is really struggling with spelling. I know this; I have gotten emails from my kid’s teachers at 9pm, and on weekends.

That mover? He’s checking out his stock portfolio right now, hoping that some of the six-figure savings he lost three years ago can be recuperated with some strategic investments. He’s listening to the pundits and scanning the ticker and hoping against hope that he might recover enough to give his bride the retirement RV he’s been promising her for 40 years.

These people are my “highly regarded individuals.”

It was just a writing prompt. Something to spur some thought. I guess it worked.



6 Responses

  1. I just want to clap here, but that’s sort of hard to express easily online without coming off as sarcastic. The line about sending the apples down the chute makes me think of Charlie and the Chocolate factory, and the kids who end up sucked up down the chutes.

    • I’m actually a little embarrassed today at how strongly I reacted to this – man, why can’t I just be one of those kids who says, “What an uplifting prompt! I am excited to write about the traits I find inspiring in others!” Ah well. Maybe tomorrow :)

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