or…the adults’ writing
So – this entry might seem like an indulgence. You may be following the blog to gain an insight in to how Let’s Think can work for students in KS3. The last post hopefully showed just how powerful the process can be. But I feel I would be disloyal to the group of adults who are just as much a part of our Let’s Think in Lockdown community. They too did their homework.
But I’ll pare down the commentary. 5 versions are included here for your own perusal and entertainment. What we discussed was the insight each piece of writing gave to our thinking during the sessions. What echoes of other reading experiences could we hear? What had we chosen, however subconsciously, to bridge in to a new creation?
The Soldier’s Story (or The Bridge meets Brokeback Mountain)
Unlike other boys of seventeen who longed to hold a gun, Jonah Ford preferred the feel of a pencil, along with a clean leaf of creamy-white parchment from his father’s paper mill.
He was the last of four brothers, and when war finally broke out, it was decided the three elder boys would continue to work grudgingly in the mill. Jonah however, being deficient of the qualities his father considered suitable for business, would make himself useful by joining the confederacy, and helping to win the war.
“Do him some good,” Daniel Ford said to his wife. “Kid damn well needs toughenin’ up, anyhow.”
It was a warm spring afternoon, the very day Lincoln was inaugurated. Jonah was sitting in the shade by the river listening to the wet slapping of the mill’s water wheel, and secretly sketching quick, expert lines on the paper in his lap. His subject, unaware of being observed, was the young manager of old man Salinger’s farm, Eli Wallace. He was chopping wood, shirtless, on the opposite bank of the river, while Jonah was absorbed in the process of capturing the way the muscles of his torso tightened at the apex of each axe stroke.Jonah heard his father bark his name. Eli, hearing it too, looked up from his pile of wood and spotted Jonah watching him from the shadows. The man grinned as Jonah looked away quickly, stood and stumbled down the path to find out what his father wanted.
Sensitive, artistic Jonah (who wants to draw on his father’s paper rather than make it) would become the soldier on the Bridge. He would hold a gun to the woman who had the affair with Eli that he wished he could have. A tragic twist of genius.
The Boatman’s Story (or Prisoners of Geography)
By 1860 Brownsville was a town of nearly a thousand people. It had begun as a crossing over the Wilson River on the most direct track from Columbus to St Louis. Though the river was wide and deep, the banks were firm and sloped gently on both sides. They were perfect for landing people, horses and goods. Settlements had grown up on both banks and landing stages had been built. As the town grew, the boatmen made a good business taking people and their goods across the river.
Eventually, money was raised to build a bridge across the river – a sturdy wooden structure wide enough to take a horse and cart. With that the boatmen soon weren’t needed and, by 1860, only one boatman was left. His name was Todd Swift. He was in his sixties but still strong. He was bitter about losing most of his business and he was always looking for ways of making money. It was said he would transport people privately, at any time of day or night, if they didn’t want to be seen publicly crossing the bridge.
The official view of the town’s folk was that “Todd’ll have to make his peace with God for the choices he makes.” But when it suited them, they all used Todd and his boat without hesitation. And they trusted him. Todd was good at keeping secrets. He knew more about the underbelly of Brownsville than he cared to mention. Gossip did not interest him, he knew to shut up, listen, nod, and pocket the bucks.
Todd had to answer to no one. He’d never married. He was engaged once, but she died, in the fall of 1820, they said it was the yellow fever. The pastor had told him to place the love of God on his heart, that way, “when a heart breaks, the words of our Lord will fall in and heal your soul.”
By the beginning of January, Todd, had stopped praying
We explored how much context matters – and characters who are a victim to their contexts but who refuse to lie down in the face of it. We might not entirely like Todd Swift, but he would get inside you. We’d be strangely and uncomfortably on his side.
The Bridge’s Story (or All the World’s a Stage)
The Bridge of St. Christopher was an unusual, ramshackle affair. It was long, a little soft and creaky in places, and covered at both ends. The middle was open, a perfect place, one might have thought, for romantic trysts on summer evenings, with good views on both sides. How easy it would be to whisper sweet nothings there, with the sandhill cranes fishing lazily by the bankside, and the thick woods beyond. Except that the bridge was so old and decrepit, and so far from the newer part of town, that few people tended to stray on to it now, unless they had particular business on the other side. Semi-abandoned as it was, the covered ends had a disconcerting quality, particularly at night, when the moonlight would shine through the wooden slats in the walls, and seem to populate the shadows. In the mathematical centre of the bridge, on the north side, was a stone statue of St. Christopher, still recognisable after all these years, though his eyes and mouth had been hollowed out by the weather. This gave him a look of suspicion where bland kindness had used to be, and an air of carrying his walking stick like a weapon.
Up until the Civil War started, St. Christopher’s had been so much less frequented than the new bridge, which was a mile or so further down the river, but when the new bridge had been blown up, much of the local traffic had been diverted. Buckling noticeably under the burden, it was, so the locals agreed, no longer a structure upon which to linger. One sped across as fast as one could, particularly through the shadowed ends. As the war rumbled on, and the battle- lines drew closer, serious questions arose of how long the bridge would survive, or remain open. An air of phantom life hung about it.
A detailed stage set – and every aspect of its detail implied something of the world this was set in and foreshadowed the action on the horizon, from the hollowed out face of the statue of St Christopher, to the clandestine possibilities of its covered ends and its ghostly decay.
The Lover’s Story (or Scandi-Noir in Oregon)
Eli chewed a straw as he watched the stooping silhouette scurry away from his house towards the bridge. He sighed with boredom and loathing. There had been a time when their secret trysts had thrilled him, but those days had gone. He had always had a tendency to tire at regularity. He spat the straw out and yawned. He was not much of a god-fearing man, but as of late he had begun to feel a strong pull back towards the house of God. A few weeks back a vision had presented itself to him. As he had hung about the premises, resting his back against the white wooden structure, a radiant Madonna had emerged before his squinting eyes. In hindsight, the rendezvous had kept growing and stirring within him to epiphanic proportions. Just as he felt his thoughts meander back to that fateful Sunday, a light flared up against the night sky and a sharp bang tore through the air. It had almost sounded like a shot. Eli grinned. The soldier had held his word.
Talk about the hidden lives of learners….this was written by the kindest, gentlest, least judgemental family member. We talked of how this made perfect but gruesome sense of the lover refusing to give the woman the money to cross the river by boat. She was now excess to requirements and Eli’s new found evangelism made the dismissal of her life all the more horrifying.
The Reader’s Story (or Death of the Author)
Picture this. It is dusk.
The moment is framed by the deep blue blanket of the star scattered sky. Move your eyes towards the earth and there flows the river – its quiet force more audible at this, the dying time of day. Striding the river sits the bridge of rough-hewn stone, built like a handshake to link two neighbouring towns.
Come closer. Let your eyes become accustomed to the failing light. There is a figure on the bridge and yes – to the right your eyes are caught by the movement of another figure approaching the bridge with some haste. More shadow puppets than people, but there they are – the one stock still, the other drawn towards it like a magnet. As inevitable as clockwork.
What can we tell of them? What can anyone tell of anyone from their silhouette… their stance, their gait. The figure on the bridge appears unnaturally still and straight and tall. Is this confidence we should assume? Fear too can breed a stillness. But the straightness of the back suggests this figure wishes to exude a confidence, and the breadth of the shoulders would suggest this is a male.
The figure approaching the bridge is more slight, perhaps a female. Its nimble gait leans toward the future, stepping with care but determination.
Or perhaps we have already begun to deceive ourselves. Perhaps this figure has made the passage across the bridge so many times, that it knows to watch its footfall on the stony path. Perhaps what we read as determination reveals no more than familiarity with the path and inside the shadow puppet of this soul beats a frantic heart.
“It’s like the narrator themselves isn’t really sure what’s going on.” said our 12 year old “the way we all had a different story in our heads.”
Cognitive Acceleration through storytelling.