In one of my classes we were given the homework assignment to find a story in the news that we thought would make an interesting story (it could also be based on something we overheard, or something someone told us). I chose this article about solitary confinement in American prisons, written by one of the Americans who was kept in solitary confinement in Iran. The title of the article (“Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons”) pretty much says it all.
The next assignment we got was to write the ending paragraph to the story that we would write based on the article. We were given some freewrite time during class to do so (most of the writing we do in the class is freewrite style, which I obviously love, since that is totally my bread and butter). This is what I wrote:
Sometimes when you’re making a smear on the wall, there are times when you vomit. Then there are the times you’re so run down that you lie for days and not do anything with the maggots crawling all over you. The rain is coming in through the window and I’m lying on the floor with maggots all over the place.
The fly keeps buzzing. I look at the streaks that I’ve made on the wall. In some places it’s thickly clumped together, crumbling into pieces on the wall, thick like plaster. In other places it’s thin and streaky, like I didn’t stick my hand into myself deep enough, didn’t get it covered enough. I press my hand against the wall and smear my hand down, down, down. The trail gets longer and longer. I’m a painter; I’m a creator. The sound of steps in the hallway keeps getting louder and louder. I close my eyes and then for just that one minute, there’s just this, the streak on the wall and the light touch of the fly on my hand.
I drag my hand down, down, down until the smear is all over the floor. It’s on the metal bed legs and frame. It’s on the windowsill and the fly is on it and it’s by the hole in the wall where all the scraps of paper are kept. There is yelling in my ears and pressure on my head, fists and a black stick raining down on me, but I keep dragging my hand and the smear keeps getting longer and longer. It’s everywhere now; the whole cell is one big long brown yellow smear and there are flies and there’s nothing but brown and yellow smears dotted with specks with the concrete walls underneath. I cram my hand into the corner as tightly as possible, trying to get the smear in there as well, because I want to get at every last single bit. I want the whole walls to be covered. I don’t want a single speck of concrete looking at me.
The smear is going to get longer and longer until it goes down the hallways and underneath the heavy grey steel doors. It wil go down the gravel path that the dark green trucks roll over every morning, carrying blindfolded men dressed in orange. When they get out of the truck their feet won’t crunch gravel anymore; it’s only be the smear; it’s all there ever was and what ever will be. They’ll be sinking into it up to the ankles and knees and chest, no longer orange but now just brown. The smear will go all the way down to the highway and it’ll cover all the white and yellow lines that tell you what side of the road to drive on. It’s all over the signs and the trees are covered in it, limbs heavy, black clumps dropping down onto the ground like rotten ripe fruit. The smear will keep going and going until it goes all the way up the driveway of my house, and that’s where it stops. It stops in front of my house with the dirty white crumbling paint. That’s where it’ll linger, looking inside, at the pink and white lamps on the tables, the silver photograph frames, the china shepherdess.
Writing is FUN! The other topics that people brought to class were all fascinating. My favorite was an article about a man who discovered that his grandfather’s walking stick was made out of human bones, all Holocaust victims (apparently his grandfather was a Nazi). The son had then spent years trying to track down the relatives of the people whose bones were in the stick. Other topics that people shared included an advertisement for a job working as a human scarecrow and a story about the Nigerian president’s wife and the way she disappeared for months to get plastic surgery.
I guess the lesson (and perhaps the point of the activity) is that if you look for it and if your mind is open, there’s something to write about everywhere.