Seeing How it’s Done

Buzzy the FlyI’ve always been envious of Bob Rozakis being able to take off for six weeks each summer to teach writing and imagination as part of Johns Hopkins’ Center for Talented Youth program. He started working at the program at Goucher College here in Maryland so once upon a time I was a one-day guest lecturer, with Kate and Robbie as young guest students, as we were en route to Shore Leave. For the better part of the last 21 years, Bob has been teaching at Washington College in Chestertown over on the East Shore of the state.

Since he knew I was going to be teaching Creative Writing this coming school year, he extended an invitation for me to join him once more. Yesterday I made the trip and spent a wonderful day with him, his TA Shannon, and seven bright characters. The theme of the day happened to be about creating characters and he had them working from one prompt to another so before the day was done they had completed six assignments, taking the time to write and discuss them along with each one reading aloud, sharing their quirky, elaborate, and unique perspectives.

Shortly after arriving, Bob noticed that a fly had gone to heaven, sitting still atop the tissue box. Apparently, Buzzy, as he was known, had been flitting around the classroom long enough that the kids adopting him and even named him. Bob wrapped him in a tissue and was about to toss him in the trash when the kids protested, insisting Buzzy receive a proper burial. He agreed on the condition that each student write a eulogy which would be presented at graveside.

But first, I talked about creating original characters to be mixed into already existing universes, something I did time and again in my media tie-in novels. I briefly sketched out what Star Trek was all about since these middle schoolers had heard of the franchise but hadn’t seen the shows or movies (even the reboots). They then were challenged to create a character that would fit into the world of their favorite TV show, movie, or book. It was interesting to note how much of a struggle this was for them as most didn’t watch much TV and struggled to think of a film to use. I brainstormed with several to demonstrate how it can be done and finally all seven were at work on everything from Star Wars to American Ninja Warrior.

Having never gotten to know Buzzy while he lived, I took the tea spoon we had one hand and trooped out to a large tree when I dug his grave as the students spoke movingly about their departed companion. Bob spoke last and placed the grave marker you see here. He commented to me that you never know when you writing prompt will present itself and I should seize on these opportunities.

It was a wonderful experience and I stole a ton of his prompts and worksheets to integrate into my class, which I recently learned will be the last one I teach on B days, letting us all end the day on a high note.

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