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An update from our thirtieth Writing Workshop!

A summary of the workshop held on Saturday December 12, plus some of the output published below

This week William presented on the idea of the vignette: a focused piece of writing, often in the midst of another longer, piece, but that is somewhat outside time or narrative. A vignette adds color or shape, but doesn't necessarily move the story forward. After an introduction on the meaning of words (contrasting Humpty Dumpty declaring that words mean whatever he decides he wants them to mean with the codified wavelengths of colors, which simply are what they are), he showed some early photographs, pointing out that the photographic vignette is always presented in an oval: there is a focus on one thing, and no other context to distract.

The Writing Challenge: Write a vignette:
- a focused description of place - landscape, interior - or character
- a focused look at a scene that implies a story

The Participants: Charlotte K, Madeline, Lena A, Anya, Sophia, Georgia, Rachael, Lena D, Olivia, Peri, Tilly, Helen, Madeline S, Liam, James, Hera, Lina, Olivia, Janani, Margaret, Angela, Lucy K, Juniper, Samantha, Ava, Ma’ayan, Nami, Jonathan, Nova, Enni, Leah, Rithesh, Emi, Charlotte M, Emma.

Anya Geist, 14
Worcester, MA

Ships in the Night

Anya Geist, 14

Tick. Tick. Tick. The passing of mere seconds seemed eternal that night.

The sea was dark and still; its waves rolled peacefully, quietly. On its surface, the only motion exhibited was the dainty reflection of stars on the water, which twinkled much like their counterparts in the sky; and the horizon seemed invisible; the sea and sky were the same on this night. The air was warm and salty, perfectly neutral, perfectly tranquil. Not a soul was heard.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

And then out of that endless depth of horizon came a monster. Cloaked in thick smoke it glided silently, stealthily across the water. You wouldn’t have known that behind its black walls was a hub of activity, men in sailor’s uniforms who pushed the mechanical beast along. Men who pored over maps, and scrutinized enemy war plans. Men who worked fluidly together to prepare their cannons to fire.

Soon came another creature, another ship, similarly bloodthirsty, similarly silent, similarly hidden. But neither would be hidden for long. Neither would be hidden for long.

Peri Gordon, 11
Sherman Oaks, CA


Peri Gordon, 11

A star. A crystal, with a life of its own. White spikes gleaming, dancing, smiling in the sky. Teasing the moon, competing with the other nighttime jewels. Flashing silver, flashing gold. Brightening the sky for hours without tiring. Showing, disappearing, colorful, plain. Glimmering with life. Dappled with the colors of the rainbow, but transparent when you look right at it. Always changing, always morphing. Shining, glowing, ready for an adventure. Millions of these, twinkling, sparkling, winking at you. Dazzling us with flips and jumps and shimmers. Captivating; hypnotic; endless.

Elizabeth Hwang, 10
Great Neck, NY

Becoming a True Hero

Elizabeth Hwang, 10

Ruby was an 11 year old trained warrior. She had glossy red pinkish hair with beautiful soft, pure skin, and shining emerald eyes. One evening, she was lying down on her bed thinking about what she could do to be a better warrior. Then she heard her mother scream. She rushed over to her room and saw her intense, challenging master, a gigantic spider, who never backed down during a fight. He said, “Ruby, to show the true skills of being the next warrior and hero of our nation, you must capture the diamond of Everest and place it on the podium at the magical secret garden. This is found through the mystical white gates that will appear after you receive this powerful diamond to get your mother back. You will have three challenges. To pass the challenges, you must go against the giant sea serpent, retrieve the fang of the poisonous, purple spotted cheetah, and find the sacred golden leaf hidden in the village of Arcaria.”

The giant spider opened up a secret portal. This was no ordinary portal. It had a purple swirling entrance with pink sparks coming from it. In the middle, was a little sphere that was the color emerald, just like her eyes. Once again, he said, “ You must take that little emerald and say, mission start. Once you say it, the timer is on and you must race to finish these challenges on time. When you go into this portal, the battlefield will appear and you must face these three creatures to receive the diamond of Everest. And one more thing, you have until tomorrow afternoon to retrieve the diamond. If you don't make it, then your village will be in danger and your mother will not return.”

“What!” Ruby exclaimed. “That's not enough time! I’m just a child. I’m not ready yet. Why did you choose me when there are so many other warriors that are better!?”

“Rules are rules, you cannot disobey them,” said her master. “There is no need to answer you now. If you pass, I will give you the answer you seek. If you don’t it will remain a secret. Let this be a little motivation for you. I will send you off with one more tip, look at things around you. They can help you survive. Now go.”

Right when Ruby was going to argue to give a different warrior this mission. But she knew that he wouldn't let that happen, so Ruby grabbed the little emerald sphere, and yelled, “Mission START!” Ruby ran to the portal as fast as she could hoping to not waste her time. She was starting to get a little nauseous from all the swirling from the portal. As she walked closer and closer, the colors seemed to change from purple, to blue, slowly to green, then yellow, to orange, and finally to red. Scared, a little dizzy but determined, she got her weapons ready to face her first creature, the giant sea serpent.

Ruby emerged from the portal with her sword in one hand and shield in the other. When she emerged from the portal she saw almost nothing but blue salty ocean water. There was barely any land. She thought, I knew this mission wasn't going to be easy. She saw the giant scarlet sea serpent with its rocky back and spiky tail. She waited for the sea serpent to charge after her, but realized that it had a big wound on its tail that was almost the size of herself! Ruby wanted to help, but was a little nervous the serpent would charge if she got near it. “Hmm, oooh,” she mumbled. She breathed in and out three times. She carefully approached the sea serpent. She’d packed a big white handkerchief in case she got hurt. She decided to wrap it around the sea serpent’s tail. She thought it would help to relieve the pain from the salty ocean water. Although, not knowing if it would be big enough, she tried.

“It works!” she exclaimed. She thought, the sea serpent isn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Soon enough, Ruby became good friends with the sea serpent and they agreed that it would take Ruby to the next challenge. The sea serpent swam across the ocean with Ruby. When they found the portal, Ruby and the sea serpent had to say goodbye because this was her challenge alone and she could not have any help.

“Now this is the real challenge,” Ruby quietly said as she was getting ready to retrieve the fang of the purple spotted cheetah. Once again, she got her ruby, shiny, beautiful, and strong sword and her big amethyst diamond shaped shield ready and walked into the portal to the next stage.

In this new location, the arena was a big jungle with many vines, leaves, and trees. There were many random puddles of swirling, sparkling water too. The poisonous purple spotted cheetah face to face was not at all friendly like the sea serpent. The cheetah growled with purple poison dripping from its huge fangs. It charged at Ruby with all its might. Ruby, absolutely petrified, tried to dodge but dropped her sword. This time, the cheetah guarded the sword so Ruby couldn't reach it. Oh no, Ughhh!, I dropped my sword. What should I do? she thought. She quickly scanned the room with her 20/20 vision, and saw a long green vine reaching from one tree all the way to another on the other side of the battlefield. Ruby remembered that she had packed a big picnic blanket for when she needed to eat. Ruby quickly got the picnic blanket, jumped, threw the blanket over the vine, and rode across the vine to the other side like a zipline. She quickly grabbed her sword and tried to stab the cheetah but it was too fast. She missed. The cheetah tried to pounce on her. But with the speed of light, Ruby pointed her sword to the sky and stabbed the poisonous cheetah as it dropped to the ground.

Now is the hard part, she thought. The final step was to take out the poisonous fang. She tried pulling it out, but when she did, she saw purple streaks spreading from her finger to her hand. Without a doubt, she knew it was the poison. Right then, Ruby remembered what her master had said, “Look at things around you and they can help you survive.” She looked around and saw a tiny pond near the tree she was sitting next to. Ruby put her hand in the pond and all the poison went away. This is awesome, she thought. Ruby quickly put the magic water and the fang carefully into tiny bottles just in case she needed them later. Ruby looked at her wrist-watch. It was almost 3:00 am. “I’ve worked hard enough. I’ll wake up at 5:00 am and go to the portal for the next stage.” And with that Ruby fell sound asleep after a hard, unexpected, and tiring night.

“Yaaaaaaaaaawwnn. Today’s the day, the last challenge when I am finally finished with this mission. After all the hard work that I've done, it’s finally the las…. Oh no! It’s already 8:00 am! I was supposed to get up three hours ago! Will I even be able to finish the last challenge on time?” Ruby quickly grabbed her bag and rushed to the portal. Once again feeling a little less nauseous she went through the color changing portal that was starting to close. She ran faster than a cheetah all the way to the diminishing portal that would take her to the last stage.

“Yes! I made it!” she exclaimed. The portal took her to the village in Arcaria. It wasn't such a happy village. Everyone looked very tired and very serious about something. The streets had almost no cars and the sidewalks had about 7 people. Ruby walked around in a circle, trying to remember what she needed to find. 5 minutes later. . . 10 minutes later. . .  25 minutes. . .  30. . .

“Ah ha! I’m supposed to find the the sacred golden leaf hidden in Arcaria.” Ruby dashed to the people in the village. She asked everyone of them, they weren't the nicest people in the universe, but finally found a friendlier and more knowledgeable guy.

“It is guarded deep down in the middle of the village in a cave where every person that has tried to retrieve the sacred golden leaf never made it out. In the cave, there are three fierce bears that guard the golden leaf. One’s named Tom, the other’s named Bob, and the last one’s named Willy. I know, the names sound funny, but they charge after any person they hear.”

With Ruby knowing that, she thought she would never make it alive, but she had to, for her own sake and for the world’s sake. Ruby found the middle of the village and the cave, but was too nervous to go down. She had to make sure she was reaaaalllllly quiet. Just be calm, Ruby said to herself, and took off. She tiptoed very slowly though the trap door, and closed it quietly so the bears wouldn't hear her. When she saw the three bears, she froze. Lucky for her, the bears were fast asleep snoring as loudly as a lion’s roar. Ruby saw the sacred golden leaf floating on top of a tiny dais with beautiful pearl chains hanging on it. The golden leaf was much smaller than she had expected. It was almost the size of her pinky! Once again, she quietly tiptoed to the leaf and grabbed it as quickly as she could, just to make sure no noisy alarm would go off.

“YES!” she exclaimed . . . . . .  Then she saw the three bears growling at her. “Oh no,” she whispered. Ruby ran so fast she could barely even breathe. The three growling bears were chasing after her. So close, Ruby thought as she almost reached the end of the cave. With all her might, Ruby dashed out of the cave, slammed the trap door, and locked it as fast as she could.

“Whew,” Ruby said, super relieved. “I can’t believe I am the first one that made it out alive!” With that being said her master appeared.

“You have shown great skill, persistence, and determination. Please lay out the handkerchief you used for the sea serpent, the fang of the poisonous purple spotted cheetah, and the sacred golden leaf from the village of Arcaria.”

Ruby carefully did what she was told and the diamond of Everest appeared in her hand. Finally, her master opened up a portal and said “This will lead you back to your room. Hurry, you have only 5 minutes left to save your mother.” Ruby dashed away into the portal and emerged in her room.

How happy she was to be back home. Still holding the diamond, Ruby ran outside just like her master told her to, and the mystical, sparkling white gates appeared. She carefully walked in and a sudden rush of pink clouds that looked like cotton candy carried Ruby to the podium in the secret garden. Ruby placed the diamond on the podium. A beam of bright jade light shone upon her and swallowed her like a whale and transported her to the exact same room where she started. She spotted her mother in the room, and ran to her to help her up.

Once again, her master appeared. “I have come back to answer your question,” he said. “The reason why I chose you was because I saw the potential and skill in you Ruby. Now you have proven to be the best warrior in history by completing this mission that even the best warriors have never accomplished, not even me. That is how I turned into a giant spider. On my last challenge to Arcaria, I got bitten by one of the bears, and slowly turned into a spider by their viscous venom. I was lucky to have made it alive, but sadly failed my own mission from my own master. That is why I asked you to complete this mission, so I can show my master what a skillful warrior student I have,” he said proudly. “Now, because of this great accomplishment, I can turn back into my normal self. It is said that if someone you know well completes the mission that you have failed, the bite will heal, and you will return to normal,” he said. And then, with a sudden flash of rainbow colors her master was transformed into his human self. An older wise, trained warrior appeared. Once again he said, “You have completed the impossible, and therefore you shall receive the shining golden sword representing Leo the lion that triumphed over evil.”

Ruby couldn’t believe what was happening. The rarest, and most blazing, sharp sword was right in her hands. She said in an honorable way, “Thank you for the beautiful sword,” as she tried some movements swaying her new blade like lightning.

“Now I must go,” said the master. “I will go now to where I belong, but get ready for another day of training tomorrow,” he said with humor. “Everything will go back to normal.” And like that Ruby stepped into her room, went to the bed, laid down, and dreamt about her whole adventure of becoming a true hero.

Lina Kim, 10
Weston, FL

The Perfect Christmas

Lina Kim, 10

The room was bright and cheery this Christmas Eve; the fireplace lit, giving off a warm, soft aura, the Christmas tree covered in blinking lights and colored ornaments. The cat behaved pretty well on the whole, at least not ripping up the rug. The stockings hung on hooks, filled almost to the brim with presents from family and friends, a few presents under the Christmas tree- the children could not ask for anything more! The snow piled up outside of the window, velvet curtains pulled back so the family could see the snowman the children had built earlier. The star at the top of the tree sparkled and glittered. Lights were strung from the doorway to the wall to the window, across the ceiling, left and right. It was truly a wonderful Christmas.

Nova Macknik-Conde, 9
Brooklyn, NY

The Vignette Inside a Vignette

Nova Macknik-Conde, 9

‘Vignette. What is a vignette? Why does it matter so? Why must we write one? Vignettes are not poems, vignettes are not stories, vignettes are, simply, vignettes.’ RetirW thought. Soon, RetirW’s dreaded writing teacher everybody said was named Sir came, his wooden leg clunking against the floor. Then Sir leaned over RetirW’s desk with his short, blond hair bouncing over RetirW, Sir’s face chiseled out of stone, a permanent sneer. Sir peered at RetirW with Sir’s one eye, an electric blue eye that was drooping in its socket. “WELL, BOY, WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FOR ME TODAY!” Sir either didn’t have an inside voice, or he always yelled at everyone. Sir snatched the page from RetirW and read aloud:

‘Vignette. What is a vignette? Why does it matter so? Why must we write one? Vignettes are not poems, vignettes are not stories, vignettes are, simply, vignettes.’ RetirW thought. Soon, RetirW’s dreaded writing teacher everybody said was named Sir came, his wooden leg clunking against the floor. Then Sir leaned over RetirW’s desk with his short, blond hair bouncing over RetirW, Sir’s face chiseled out of stone, a permanent sneer. Sir peered at RetirW with Sir’s one eye, an electric blue eye that was drooping in its socket. “WELL, BOY, WHAT HAVE YOU GOT FOR ME TODAY!” Sir either didn’t have an inside voice, or he always yelled at everyone. Sir snatched the page from RetirW and read aloud:

Ma'ayan Rosenbaum, 14
West Newton, MA

The Waiting Room

Ma'ayan Rosenbaum, 14

My head pounds, my heart aches, my mind is filled with dread, on the brink overflowing, dousing me in icy cold liquid more repulsive than the dried and crusted blood on my blouse. And as I rock melodically, methodically back and forth on the edge of my cold blue seat, fluorescent bulbs and linoleum floors cast a spotlight on the others trapped in this panic room, this torture house. A man scans the screen of his phone with a beady, urgent gaze, fingers flying across a texting keyboard, sweat soaking through his business suit and seeping into the wrinkles of a sunken face. The glittering pink ribbons in the hair of a little girl begin to fall, but she notices not, tugging on a jacket sleeve, craving motherly attention from the dazed, hollow figure beside her who clutches on to intricate rosary beads for dear life. People paced in anxious strides, babies cried, nurses came and went. An aggressive lack of sleep turns the paging of doctors over a loudspeaker into a lyrical birdsong in my lulling mind. My red, pained eyes scan the tearstained faces, and as our gazes lock, eerily fixated on one another, for a moment we are a unit, together as one, thinking, hoping, praying, waiting. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Everything stops, then starts again, and I shake my slumped body out of oblivion. I need to do something, tap my foot, pull my hair, pick my skin, anything productive to stop my mind from catastrophizing to take me away from counting the seconds, minutes, hours that take drag on and on painted a dull black clock mocking me with all the passing time.

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