Introduction to this Stone Soup Writing Activity

Winning a medal in a sporting event requires physical strength. It also requires concentration. In “A Definition of Happiness,” Ted concentrates on winning. Win, win, win, he thinks with each stroke. While swimming, Ted also thinks of the “humiliation” of losing. Finally, Ted stops thinking, apparently loses an awareness of his body and where it is, and so he ends the race in a manner he hadn’t dreamed of.

Project: Write a Story About a Race

Unlike Ted who thought only of winning (and his fear of losing), create a character who is aware of his or her body, of how it feels, of where it is going. Make your readers feel what it is like to be an athlete moving quickly. If you are not very athletic yourself, use your imagination. If you write about a swimming race, make us feel how your character pulls through the water, reaching, reaching, stretching arms, kicking legs, feeling the water rush by.

Maybe your character will win. Maybe your character won’t. That doesn’t matter, but give us a character who enjoys working hard, moving fast, and being strong.

A Definition of Happiness

By Ted Nelson, 11, Weybridge School, Weybridge, Vermont
From the September/October 1985 issue of Stone Soup

The tent flew up in a flurry of movement. I hurled my sleeping bag and cooler to the ground and watched the rain making patterns on the pool’s surface.

My mind kept flitting forward to the race, and I kept reminding myself where I was.

“O.K. Ted,” I would say, “you’re here, at the race, the valley championships.”

As I lay on my sleeping bag, I tried to keep my mind on the book I was reading. Every time my mind skittered away, I would run over to the rankings hanging on the bath house wall. Every time I did this I would say to myself, “Just one more time Ted, one more look.”

A voice suddenly blared over the loudspeaker, “Boys ten and under, twenty-five yard breaststroke, report to the bullpen.” I walked over, not feeling the ground under my feet.

The next thing I knew, I was on the blocks and swimming for dear life. I felt like a machine, saying over and over, with every breath, “Win, win, win.” I hit the end of the pool after what seemed an eternity. I was sure I had come in last. I clambered out of the water to have one last look at the pool. Then it hit me. The other people were still swimming! I was so happy I almost skipped over to the tent. The rankings said I was seeded second.

Time swept me up in a wave that kept telling me, “The first three places in the finals get a medal,” again and again.

I barely heard the P.A. system blast out the race number before I was over at the bullpen. At the bullpen, time slowed to an interminably dragging pace. My feet felt like lead as I slowly carried my body over to the blocks. Everything was as if I was watching it in slow motion. I could hear people cheering but most clearly I heard a steady cheer coming from my team.

As I stepped on the blocks, I don’t know why, but I was thinking, My parents will love me no matter what.

I flew off the block at a speed of a horse bursting from the gates. I kept thinking of my humiliation if I lost this race, the race. I saw someone pulling ahead of me and closed my eyes, not even bothering to think anymore. I hit the wall in my final plunge. I struck the wall, clambered out of the pool, and practically flew back to the tent.

I got the medal a little while later. I must have looked like a pouter pigeon, strutting around with my chest stuck out. But that experience was, and probably always will be for me, a definition of happiness.

About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea, and I have continued to publish Stone Soup for all these years.
I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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