Temple on the Waters – A Writing Exercise

boynbook I went to work during my break to begin going through my stuff, tossing some of it and putting some of it in boxes, in preparation for my move to Florida. As is pretty normal for this process I had to keep myself from spending too much time reading through everything. As i was tossing papers left and right I found a folder with a couple writing exercises that I used to use with my 6th graders meant to help them with their writing. This one was called a Quick Draw Visualization Exercise and based on my notes it looks like I must have given this to a substitute to do with my students. The instructions and following story was written by moi over 12-years-ago, on March 5th, 1996:

INSTRUCTIONS: Please do not show the photograph or the title of this piece to the students until the end of the exercise. Read the following story with as much dramatic license as you are comfortable with (the idea is to put an image with emotional impact in their minds). After the reading they need to spend 15 minutes (max.) producing their picture of what they thought they’d heard. Emphasis that this is not about their artistic expertise but to help them develop their ability to get the ideas in the their heads on paper (visualization)—an important step to good writing!

I had no idea how long we’d been drifting down this river. I had dropped my compass and map into the water days ago. It was hard for me to trust the river guide, but I didn’t have any choice. I was tired and the days of endless rain made me want to curl up under one of the smelly canvas tarps to sleep the rest of this trip away. I was on the edge of getting mad because I hated hiding from the rain under this stupid tarp. I had gone into areas of this Asian country that I had been told to stay away from and now I was hiding from the rain and some very mean looking soldiers with big guns who were not particularly fond of nosy Americans with cameras. My mom told me that coming here was a bad idea. Thanks mom.

The river guide started chattering about something and he was very insistent about it. Part of me kept saying, “Just keep your head down and it’ll all go away.” But the guy wouldn’t shut up. If his blabbing didn’t attract attention then me sticking my head out to see what was happening wouldn’t mess things up either. I took a deep breath, anticipating the worst. Then I hesitated. I got my cameras ready. I figured if I was going to get my head shot off I’d at least try to get a good picture out of it. I took another deep breath and then threw back the tarp.

For a moment I was blinded by the sun. When I’d crawled into my hiding place the world outside had been filled with grays, and rain drenched drab greens. But now the sky was a bright shimmering blue with one or two pure white clouds scooting away from the sun’s brilliance. And on the water, the thing that the guide had been yammering about… rising out of the water on a beautiful white wooden platform stood a proud colorful Asian temple with a tall tower pointing up to the sky like a long thin finger. I just stood there for a moment with my mouth open, forgetting about the cameras hanging around my neck and whether there might be any solders hiding in the bush. It was all so different from what I had expected. And then without thinking I brought the camera lens to my face and started shooting.

The white platform had a railing all around it that looked finely carved and freshly painted. There were also stairs that led to the waters edge. The temple itself didn’t have any walls but just finely carved wooden beams holding up the red and orange and green roofs. It wasn’t just one roof like an American home and but in all four directions of the building there were three little roofs one above and scooted back from the other until they all met at the tower or spire that stuck out of the center of the temple. There were little pointy carved objects that stuck out of the crest or peak of all of the roofs. From this distance they looked like little carved unicorns. I could count ten of them on the edges of the roofs. The tower on the top of the center roof was as tall as the roof was above the platform. When I looked really closely I could see someone or someone’s statue standing in the center of the temple. I couldn’t see clearly who it was. Just then I heard the grunts of soldiers on the shore and dove back under my tarp. Then I spent the next endless hours crouched in the darkness praying that I’d get home to develop these pictures. jbb

(Click the link to see the original photograph that inspired the story)


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