Teachers Write 7.20.17 Thursday Quick-Write with Mike Jung

It’s Thursday Quick-Write day on Teachers Write, and your guest author is the fabulous Mike Jung. Mike is the author of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT, and the forthcoming THE BOYS IN THE BACK ROW. He’s also contributed essays to the anthologies DEAR TEEN ME, BREAK THESE RULES, 59 REASONS TO WRITE, and the forthcoming (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY. Mike is a founding member of We Need Diverse Books™, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his family.

I’ve spent my share of time in waiting rooms, as has anyone with the resources and good fortune to have access to health care, and they’re places with a distinctly complex blend of emotions relating to the past, present, and future all at once. A child waits for her very first dental appointment, knowing that her teeth were just on every previous day, thank you very much, not really liking the animated movie that’s showing on the TV screen up in a corner of the ceiling, and feeling nervous that her immediate future might include some drilling; a couple with matching white gold bands on their fingers sits on the edge of a waiting room couch, feeling the aches in their joints, clutching a bouquet of orchids in a long box and an oversized teddy bear, visibly impatient to meet their new granddaughter; a college student slumps in a hard plastic waiting room chair, staring blankly at his phone, hating his father for refusing to give up the cigarettes that gave him lung cancer, and drowning in guilt for feeling that hatred when his father’s on the verge of death.

Your Assignment: Think up a situation in which a character is waiting in such a room. Are they there for an appointment or an emergency? Are they there alone? If not, did they bring someone there, or are they arriving to see someone who’s already there? What might happen once they leave the waiting room? And here’s the pot of gold: when they sit down in that waiting room and start to wait in earnest, what’s the very first thought that goes through their mind? Spend a little time writing in response to this prompt, and then feel free to share a snippet of your writing for today in the comments if you’d like!

102 Replies on “Teachers Write 7.20.17 Thursday Quick-Write with Mike Jung

  1. Mike, Thanks so much for being here today. I have enjoyed your humor and the kernels of truth you share in your writing that is mixed with humor. You have a gift….and that you share it with middle grade youngsters makes you one of my heroes.

    I have a wip that’s seriously on the back burner. It’s deep, deep in the files and I haven’t worked on it in a long time. BUT, your prompt gave me a jolt and this passage rolled out almost “as is”. I did look it over and give it some edits….but it seemed to want to be written.

    The passage is not one that I would/will include in my wip. It’s from the point of view of one of the characters that isn’t telling the story. The mc is a teenage girl. This is from the point of view of her mother who took her to a pyschiatric hospital. So, it’s truly an exercise…..and a fun quick write for this morning.

    Thank you!

    I will never forget the first time I sat in the waiting room at Shadyside Hospital. I brought Kimberly in for suicidal thoughts….watched her consent to be there and helped a nurse take blades out of her phone case….the blades she used to cut herself.

    A nurse took vitals and then I was asked to sit outside. On my way out the door, I asked, Did I bring her in at the right time? For some reason, I was worried that I was overreacting….that she didn’t really need to be there.

    The nurse looked right in my eyes and said, yes. I felt relieved…and then washed over with terror.
    It was winter…there was some show on TV with cheerleaders. I think the sound was muted. I watched those cheerleaders and their sexy moves and kept thinking that Kimberly, who had just come out to me and her Dad, was attracted to that? My daughter, was attracted to sexy women? I kept watching the show. My face was folded in on itself as I was searched for clues to explain.

    I just wanted the answer to be no.

    No. she’s not gay. No. she doesn’t really want to kill herself. No. she doesn’t really want to cut up her body. No, she’s not so terribly fragile as I’ve seen her tonight. Just no.

    A mother and daughter came in with a rescue crew. The daughter was wrapped up in a fleece blanket. Chestnut colored hair fell out of the top. Her mom had her arms wrapped around her. We all sat in the tan waiting room with the muted television.

    The cheerleaders kept dancing and I kept seeing them as I thought my daughter saw them….objects of sexiness.

    Finally, after at least an hour, I took Kimberly upstairs with a nurse. This nurse was a man and looked like he played soccer. He was telling us the rules…no shoelaces…no drawstrings….
    Kimberly went off to another physical screening where they looked over her body and made sure there were no harmful objects with her.

    I went to a room to interview with the nurse. More rules….absolutely no exercise.

    But she exercises like it’s a medicine.

    The nurse looked up. He said, OK. I realized that I had missed more clues.

    That was just the door to the rabbit hole of psychiatric care for my daughter. It was just the first hour. The tan waiting room lied about how calm and even and ordered everything would be. The tan waiting room held me like that other girl in her mother’s arms, whimpering….soothing me so that I wouldn’t know what came next.

    I wish it was the only time I had to deal with its lies. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

    1. Linda, you play out the mother’s confusion and anguish so well here. I do hope that you bring your WIP off the back burner and continue. It is important.

    2. This is very powerful, Linda. I felt I was right there with them, and my heart is already aching for both mother and daughter. I wish so much I would know whether both will be alright eventually. I hope you will get back to your project. I will be looking out for it 🙂


    3. LInda, this is terrific, and don’t discount the value of quick writing exercises that explore the experiences of a secondary character – those characters need to be fully dimensional people too, and if/when you get back to that manuscript, this exercise may very well provide greater insight into your protagonist and enhanced depth for the story as a whole. Knowing that your protagonist is gay and just came out to her clearly homophobic parents provides immediate insight into her suicidal impulses, and knowing that the MC’s mother is just as clearly NOT making the connection between her own homophobia and her daughter’s pain is insightful on an additional level. This character unmistakably loves her daughter, and just as unmistakably judges her daughter in legitimately dangerous and destructive ways. There’s immense psychological and emotional meaning in play here. Well done!!

    4. Linda,

      WOW! WOW! WOW! That is all that I can write.

      You truly captured the emotion. My heart was sad for the mother. As the reader, I wanted to help her and tell her that she was doing the right thing. This is exactly what you want the reader to feel and want. WOW! Also, the flow between details and dialogue was beautiful. It moved the story along.

      Well done! Keep writing and I will KEEP READING!:)

    5. The line that really hit me was “She exercises like it’s a medicine.” Thanks for sharing this — you really did capture strong emotions in this piece. I’d read on if there was more!!

    6. Linda,

      This was very powerful. Your last section about the room lying to you was wonderful. I want to keep reading. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Linda this is very powerful. I was there. It brought back memories of my daughter admitted for anorexia. I kept telling myself she was sick. She had to have leukemia or something like that we could fix. Your writing put me back to that day. Well done.

    1. Here was mine I had finished before answer your Linda. It is funny how things happen.

      Angel sat in the chair in the corner of the waiting room.The heart surgery had gone fine. It was the stroke that took the life out of him. Each day she sat here was harder. She needed him. He couldn’t leave. She was just beginning to get better. Maybe he knew, and that was why he made her make her promise. If he died she didn’t want to live. He had kept her alive for the last year, no one else.

      The nurse came in to give her an update “You must be the granddaughter he talked about before surgery. He’s right, you are beautiful and your name fits you.”

      “Is he going to be okay?” Angel asked.

      The nurse looked at her. “He’s had several more strokes. If he lives then he might be in a vegetative state. I’m sorry the news isn’t better. He did tell me if I met you to give you a message. He said to remind you of your promise to him, no matter what happens. Do you understand it?”

      Tears streamed down her cheeks. “Yes, I do. He made me promise, no matter what happened to him, that I would eat. He has been the one who has helped me through the last year. He was the reason I started eating again. I promise Pampa I will eat even when I feel life is too tough.” Angel heard the the alarm down the hall and watched the nurse spring out. She waited, knowing what was coming. The nurse returned, “He’s gone. I’m sorry for your loss. Can I get you anything?” Angel shook her head, she picked up the candy bar the nurse had brought her hours earlier and took a bite. “I promise Pampa, I promise.”

      1. I agree with Heather, Sandra, this is very powerful stuff – coincidentally, my dad had a brain aneurysm years and years ago, and eventually passed away due to cardiac arrest, so I know what a terrible, complicated emotional wringer that kind of experience is for everyone involved.

        1. This was my father and my daughter. Those were the last words he said to her. He made her promise to eat. We can draw off of our own emotions and experiences when we write to make it more powerful.

      2. Hi Sandra,

        That was very emotional to read….I like how I could figure out the clues of anorexia without the word being used. And, I like an intergenerational story. The stress of a waiting room can be immense and you nailed it here. Thanks for sharing this….and thanks for the feedback to me too.

      3. Sandra,

        After reading Linda’s snippet, I read your passage and now I need a tissue. Thank you for sharing your writing.

        You have created a rollercoaster of emotions, which I believe is difficult to do as a writer. I felt hopeful that grandpa would make it. Then, I felt deep sadness that grandpa did not make it and left Angel alone. Finally, I felt happiness (and hope) that Angel was fulfilling her promise. You captured all of this with your details and your dialogue. You brought the characters to life.

        Also, I loved the name of the main character – Angel. Her name fits her character perfectly.

        Thank you again for sharing. Like Linda, keep writing and I will keep reading!:)

      4. Sandra,
        This was beautiful and very emotional. I need some tissues already! I love that this is us watching Angel rather than Angel being the narrator. You captured her emotions beautifully. I definitely want to read more, thank you for sharing.

  3. Hi Mike,
    Thanks for helping us with our writing today, and for today’s assignment. Here is my snippet:

    The key was to get an appointment out of town. I was nervous enough without any added stress, which for today meant avoiding any possibility of familiar, questioning faces greeting me. But, of course, rush hour traffic and questionable guidance from the GPS only added aggravation to my already racing heartbeat and sweaty palms.

    I was hoping for an empty waiting room, but the rows of hard plastic chairs were nearly full. I found a spot as far away as possible from the TV blaring news from the corner. Babies babbled, and sometimes screamed. Kids played on the worn carpet with plastic toys that I am sure needed a good scrubbing. The adult conversations all blurred together into a word soup, probably because I could not concentrate on anything but the thoughts racing through my head. I was barely distracted by the reprimands from parent to child across the room, and by the too-frequent phone calls that no one stepped outside to take.

    It seemed like everyone there was a party of two, or more. Some patients had brought entire families. Others appeared to be comforted by friends or maybe siblings. There were quite a few duos that were either mothers and daughters, or maybe grandmothers and daughters. I squeezed back tears as I watched them in intent conversations, or laugh pointing out items in magazines, or just sitting quietly. I thought that I was the only one waiting alone, but then I remembered I had brought someone. I felt my heart start to race again, realizing that after today I would find out if this someone is a boy or a girl.

    1. Kristin, I love how your last line reveals the reason for the trip to the waiting room. I am wondering why it had to out of town–why the secret? It makes me want to read more!
      Thanks for sharing!

    2. Kristin, this is terrific. The details around your character’s experience in the waiting room – hoping it’d be empty only to find it full, taking a seat away from the TV, painfully noting how many people are there with loved ones while she has to be there alone – feel visceral and true, and her experience is all the more saddening and envy-provoking since it’s happening in a strange and unfamiliar place.

    3. Kristin,

      I LOVED the last line. I need more – boy or girl? Awesome snippet!

      Your description brought me back to each and every time that I wait in a waiting room (especially at the pediatric’s office), which is often with four children. My favorite line – “Kids played on the worn carpet with plastic toys that I am sure needed a good scrubbing.” Again, the last line was fantastic and unexpected.

      Thank you for sharing.
      Happy writing!

    4. kristin, this was wonderful. I found myself worrying for her the entire time, wondering where she was or if she was going to be okay. I felt her nervousness! And then your last line was perfect. Great job!

  4. Thanks Mike for our assignment today!

    I am working on a chapter book and this assignment will help me work through a chapter. Here is my first draft of this chapter:

    The Waiting Room
    “Please go sit in the waiting room while the doctor talks to us,” Dad tells us for about the hundredth time this week. Mom smiles weakly under the oxygen mask and waves the three of us over for a quick, but very careful hug. Mom is so fragile after months of chemo!

    Struggling to take off her mask, “I love you plus one,” she whispers in my ear.

    “I love you plus” I start.

    “Jessie, please!” Dad interrupts.

    I send him my patented glare and run from the room before he can see the tears streaming down my face. Not knowing what to do, Jasmine and Jamie trail behind me.

    This waiting room, with it’s beige walls, strange art on the walls, uncomfortable wooden chairs, and a lone muted TV, has become the headquarters for team Franklin. Family and friends have filled this room to bring us food, hugs, and false hope. It has become our home away from home, since Dad is always here. He quit his job, so he could take care of his girls. But his focus is on Mom, I have been left to take care of the rest of his girls. I have a love/hate relationship with this waiting room. I love the reprieve it gives us from the machines attached to our mom. My sisters and I escape to the room and our books. We have never been closer or gotten along better. I hate that our lives have been reduced to this waiting room, because we ALL know exactly what we are waiting for.

    I have mixed feelings on the waiting. Do I want to continue to wait for the inevitable, spending our summer in this room? Stealing precious moments with our Mom, this is not how I want to remember her. Or do I want the waiting to end? Does that make me a terrible person?

    “Jessie?” Jamie questions as she takes my hand. My shadows remind me that I need to keep it together and be the big sister.

    By the time we make it to the waiting room, I have wiped away the tears and pull out Flora and Ulysses. Kate Di Camillo has been our savior on this journey through cancer. Hours in the waiting room on our own, we have burned through Because of Winn Dixie, The Tale of Despereaux, and Tiger Rising.

    1. Thanks for sharing this, Heather. A heart-breaking scenario. I found especially powerful the paragraph about the waiting room, starting with “This waiting room, with its beige walls”.

      All the best for the ongoing work with this story.

    2. Heather,
      This is powerful. Family and friends bringing “food, hugs, and false hope.” Wow, so strong. I’m sad, but I know the girls will survive. Great work.


      1. ISN’T THAT LINE GREAT? I mean, really, “food, hugs, and false hope” just slays me. Heather, you have some tremendously real emotional complexities at play here – the dad’s impatient, snappish behavior that hurts his daughter, almost certainly because he’s in such unbearable pain himself; Jesse’s quiet resentment at being passively shunted into the role of substitute parent; Jesse’s secret, guilt-provoking desire to have it all be over; you have a well of rich material to draw on here.

    3. The line that gets me is….love / hate relationship with this room. Oh, isn’t that the truth and all of it right there. Nice job. And, I cannot but help to also love the book titles you’ve woven in. Great job with that too.

    4. Nicely done, Heather!

      Thank you for sharing.

      First of all, there are so many questions, and the questions really lead the reader through the snippet. The questions also create the feeling of uncertainty that the mc is feeling. Second, I love the Kate DiCamillo reference at the end. A good book can take you away from your troubles.

      My favorite line – “I hate that our lives have been reduced to this waiting room, because we ALL know exactly what we are waiting for.” I like to share a favorite line with my students (from their writing), so they get a feel for what I believe is powerful writing. This one brings out so much emotion. I will be very honest with you when I write that I struggled to find a favorite line because I could have picked four or five other sentences.:) Your snippet is very impressive.

      Thanks again for sharing.
      Happy writing!

    5. Thank you for sharing your writing. This feels so real. I love all the questions that Jessie asks, even questioning if she’s a bad person for her emotions. These are all real reactions to these situations. She is worried about so many things and everyone else. I think you did a beautiful job capturing the raw reality of families during a time like this.

  5. Thank you, Mike for the interesting prompt. My students gobbled up Geeks Girls, and Secret Identities this past year. I am eager to read more of your work. This prompt was especially interesting to me because I have been meaning to write about some of my hospital experiences. I have a hospital bag that I have carried since it was a labor and delivery bag. It has since been on dozens of trips to the hospital for other purposes. Someone once looked at the ragged old thing and said, “Boy, if this bag could talk…” So here goes.

    We arrived at 3 AM. Susan set me down at her feet and pulled out her sweater and a book.  The sweater, she would use.  The book was a prop, to make her look busy.  It was chilly in here on the cold linoleum floor, and I could feel the vibration of her foot tapping anxiously beside me, her calm demeanor undermined by the subtle motion. “It won’t be long now,” she told him, absently kicking me as she turned her knees and body toward him. He was pale and his skin hung loosely on his body, like a boy wearing a man’s jacket.  

    The nurses had asked all the preliminary questions in triage, and Susan had dug out the bag of prescription medications that she had tossed into me as we rushed out the door. “When did you first notice the fibrillations?”  This was important, we all knew, because if it wasn’t caught early enough, they couldn’t do the cardio-version.   Susan and Kevin were calm throughout the process.  This wasn’t our first time in the ER, far from it.  We had a routine, but since it was the middle of the night, the kids weren’t with us this time.  No grubby hands searched for the change purse that held the key to the vending machine, or for just the right color crayon to fill in the spaces on the beach ball that they were coloring.  Kevin’s book had sunk to my bottom among the smashed raisins and ground up granola remnants , but that was OK.  He wouldn’t be needing it for a while.  Once he was in a room, he would choose between the book or a crossword.  He always did.

    1. hmmmmmmmmm. I love how the mc describes everything. I’m trying to figure out if this main character is a pet…dog or cat? Who is with the kids? If this is a pet—is the pet worried that the kids are alone and need their watchful eyes? Perhaps this in an intended mystery at this point?

      I like the descriptions of the ER. All very believable. Kevin strikes me as an under the radar but important character.

    2. Susan, thank you so much for the kind words about GEEKS – that book is near and dear to my heart, so it means a lot to know your students connected with it.
      Your writing exercise is fabulous for a number of reasons. One, this is a no-doubt-about-it exercise – it’d be hard to write an actual story or book from the perspective of an inanimate object – but it’s a way of pulling back from any one character’s POV and using a clearly defined, clearly limited omniscient POV instead, which means you can explore the setting, the characters, and the action from a completely fresh perspective. You’re using the bag-as-character to shed light on the actual characters in the story (or on yourself and your family, if this is truly autobiographical memoir), and it’s really useful to develop your characters in that way. Keep going!

      1. Mike, I had fun with the exercise. For fun, I may continue using the bag POV for a few different trips to the hospital, birth of kids, longer stays for illness, the days leading up to hospice for a parent. That bag has seen it all, so it may help me to unpack (pun intended) my own feelings about those events. Thanks for taking the time to read my work. It is amazing to me how generous you all are with your time and talents.

    3. Terrific writing, Susan!

      I really enjoyed your description of where you got the idea for this snippet. Over the last few days, we have had some awesome lessons on research and it has got me thinking about how much of our writing comes from our own experiences.

      You really nailed the description of the setting and the emotion that usually comes from this setting. “It was chilly in here on the cold linoleum floor, and I could feel the vibration of her foot tapping anxiously beside me, her calm demeanor undermined by the subtle motion.” – I loved this line. Imagine the adventures that you can write through the eyes of this bag. The bag could carry secrets, magic, or even true tales (written as short stories). I also love how the characters interact with the bag. Very creative!

      Thank you for sharing.
      Happy writing!

      1. Thank you for the kind words, Andy. It was a fun exercise. It brought up a lot of feelings of sense memory though an inanimate object. Weird and interesting.

  6. For him, this had become the big outing to look forward to each week – what got him out of bed. Today, it was the gastroenterologist to discuss his IBS. Probably would end with a new med. He did like Dr. Houston better than most, except when he reminded him how therapy would help.

    I quickly stole a few glances at him, not wanting to be caught because that would start us arguming about me “staring all the time.” Was there any clue to his mood today? It’s 2:30pm, so the car ride had been quiet as he was still finding his way out of sleep. He chose the Alien chest burster t-shirt and the same old fatigue pants he’d worn since he got home. Hadn’t shaved. Hair looked alright despite not being combed. He was hunched over in the blue chair he liked best in this particular waiting room, staring at his phone, an all too familiar position. Then, looking down, I saw it: the “backfire” ankle charm bracelet, so called by his father and me. We had given it to him two years ago when he first moved back home, along with some clumsy, heartfelt words about how we could be his anchor for awhile. I can still remember the look of pure hate as he threw it across the room, spewing every swear he knew at us. “I don’t want you in my life! I only came home because I can’t afford being sick!”

    I didn’t remember what had become of the bracelet – but today there it was, delivering the sign I needed, the little silver anchor. It bounced a bit when he got up at the sound of his name and disappeared inside.

    1. Random association: my kids ALWAYS comment on it when I stare at them, and they’re only 6 and 11. Wonder what that’s going to be like when they’re teenagers…

      There are all kinds of fascinating emotional dynamics going on here. How did the relationship between parents and son become so fractured? How severe were the son’s struggles when he was living on his own, and what factors converged with the amount of force, remorse, and helplessness needed for him to move back in with his parents? He’s so deeply conflicted – a vitriolic rejection of his parents’ talisman of support that later yields to an openly visible display of that talisman; emotional shutdown, but with enough leaks in the emotional dam for his parents to know which doctors he likes, and why; and more. I want to know more. TELL ME MORE, GAH

      1. Thank you for your questions, Mike. It’s the first assignment I tried this summer because it connected so well to a character I am developing.

        This character is so complex. He dropped out of college with only one semester to go after a very challenging semester – where he felt rejected by everyone around him. This perception was made very real when the LBGTQ group he was in told him he was kicked off the board for refusing to be “ally-friendly.” This was because he had openly articulated his concerns regarding having a drag performer on campus at their pride week celebration, as drag is found offensive by many transgender individuals. Of course, he was told of his ousting during pride week celebration itself. As a young adult on the spectrum and recently coming out as transgender, this rejection cut at the core. It was the first group he had tried to really be part of….

        After a two weeks of hiding in his dorm and not attending class, he decided to leave campus. He broke in to the art department to get his paintings (an art major), then pleaded with a friend in a nearby city to come get him. Things only got worse… no job skills, no money for meds he needed for IBS and chronic migraines, and the constant calls from his panick stricken parents. He finally asked them to pick him up, with the condition that they could ask him no questions. They agreed.

        As stated, this character is on the Austism spectrum, incredibly intelligent but struggles severely with social norms; also, gender fluid and is out with his parents, who have accepted him, but still struggle with pronoun and name changes on occasion (used to go by she and Kristen; now goes by he and the name Kavren). He loves them deeply, though when he is with them he is bound by his past and the unspoken expectation he feels (21 years, needs to get some kind of job or needs to finished college/what he started). There is a sense that he does not accept himself – that instead, he jumps from health condition to health condition (which really do exist, but are exacerbated by emotional state), trying to find answers, avoiding looking inward. Living at home almost seems to paralyze him. He hates this, and projects this hate on his parents.

        Parents, they are just so confused and scared, are waiting for him to come to some new life conclusion. They aren’t saying much these days – are helping get him to the doctors (doesn’t drive), including them in their lives when he wants to be, but are doing their best to not put expectations on him. They wish he would accept more help, therapy, etc, but they just want him to stay alive at this point. They’ve (secretly) read some of his online threads and know he does contemplate how to end his life. It was much easier when he was a child, when he allowed them to “coach” him through social complexity. But, it is like they forgot he would grow up.

        There is also a younger brother, who seems to be excelling in life. Doing great at college, girlfriend, living life fully. Adam and Kav get along and Kav really likes Adam, who is an all round likeable guy. They have sweet childhood memories together… but Kav is jealous how it all comes so easily for him.

        The parents are planning on all of them going on a family vacation together in one month. That is why the mom is anxious to get a clue about his mood today, because she has been trying to involve him in some of the planning so he feels part of things, The story is really about this vacation and what transpires within and around this family unit.

        Wow. Maybe more than you wanted to know… I have a story outline and some parts of chapters written. I am trying to decide on which point of view, and may have it alternate. The mother character is also a poet, and I may use some of her poems. Kav’s art could also be featured somehow. I work on it, and then I get so overwhelmed at times by the dynamics between them all.

  7. Hello, Mike,
    Thanks for the opportunity to write with you today. The prompt fits my story, so I wrote a short scene with my character Bailey, whose father is in the hospital.

    Bailey sat on his hands, with his feet jiggling rapidly on the tile floor. The red stiff chairs in the waiting room were formed to some large generic body type, not Bailey’s. The back of his fingers were in pain where they were pinched between him and the red plastic. Bailey stared straight ahead, out the door, past the peaceful paintings, down the corridor toward the nurse’s station. Where is Mom? he thought. She should have been here by now.

    That morning he was sure everything would be all right. Mom said, “Hey, Mo, don’t worry, OK? Remember what the doctor said–he saw signs of improvement yesterday. Let’s just go with that.”

    But after school Mom called him at home and told him to meet her here at the hospital. The nurse in the suit told him to wait here until his mom came. Where is she? Bailey pulled the dry skin off his lower lip, flinched, then licked the droplet of blood that formed. He bit his lower lip and looked up at the ceiling, willing away the tears.

    1. Wow – I can put myself right in Bailey’ s shoes. I love the details you used to show his emotions without coming right out and telling us.

    2. This is really powerful, Denise! I love the detail of the pain in his fingers because he’s sitting on them- and yet, he doesn’t stop, does he? I feel his anxiety and worry. Poor Bailey!

    3. Bailey has as-yet-unrevealed depths that I’d like to know more about – all signs are that they’re intriguing. The fact that he’s willing to inflict or uncaring about inflicting pain on himself in these small but real ways indicate he’s got a lot going on, psychologically speaking. It could simply be fever-pitch anxiety and stress over his dad, or it could be something else. How old is he? What’s the setting? How far did he have to go to get to the hospital, and did he walk, ride a bike, take a bus, drive, or something else? He seems to be fairly young, but going to a hospital and waiting alone has real emotional impact on a person. Intriguing!

      1. Andrea, Jen and Mike,
        Thanks so much for the feedback. I really am thankful. Regarding your questions, Mike: I have absolutely no idea about any of them, that’s why I’m so thankful that you asked them. I will have to “ask” Bailey the answers. Thanks for the challenges. I’m loving this group!


  8. Good Morning –

    Thanks for the great prompt. I was actually in a waiting room just this morning. Here’s what I came up with:

    Mom tapped her right foot against the metal rung of the waiting room chair – a gentle staccato revealing deep anxiety. This was a call back session, but not the kind I usually hope to get. I’ve attended many a Broadway call back session, sitting in waiting rooms not too different from this one. Pale walls, thin carpet, plastic scoop chairs with metal rungs to tap my foot against. This waiting room, however, did not fill me with hopeful anxiety. This one filled me with anxious despair.

    Dr. McCann is an Alzheimer’s specialist, the third one we’ve visited together in as many weeks. This is our “call back.” After our first visit, Dr. McCann ordered a number of additional tests to “give us a more well-rounded picture”’ of what we might be facing in the months to come.

    A nurse opened the door to the inner sanctum, and asked us to come back. Smiling slightly, Mom reached for my hand. “Do you want me to come with you?” she asked.

    At a loss for words, I nodded.

    1. I really like how you contrast the acting call back with the medical one. And I really like the twist at the end of the paragraph!

    2. Yeah, that twist has a real jolt. Early onset Alzheimer’s has affected a good friend’s life in the hardest way, so I know what’s at stake for your characters. And BAM, right away we know a lot about your protagonist without having it spoonfed to us – a stage performer (and therefore probably not in a great situation in terms of health care coverage), probably single, probably on the younger side, which makes things that much more worrisome, and blessed with an attentive mother (who knows about her other parent, if she has one). A succinct and superb beginning, Diane.

  9. Thanks Mike for being on TW and for sharing this great writing prompt. Strange how I can only think about uncomfortable scenarios as if all my memories with doctors/hospital/waiting rooms bring about sad and scary images… Here is just a very short snippet:

    ‘Where am I going to find the money? Where am I going to find the money?’ like a broken record, the sentence kept running in her head over and over again, making her oblivious to anything else around her in the overcrowded waiting room: the stifling heat, the pungent odor of sweat, disease, fear and disinfectant that hang heavy in the air; the at times subdued moans of a human in pain; the other times loud wailing of a child; the blaring noise from the TV in the far corner of the room. She did not notice anything. Not the mosquitoes, digging deep into her skin or the sharp edges of the plastic chair cutting through the thin material of her skirt into her thighs. Not even the now dried blood covering her hands; the most striking evidence of the tragedy that had come down on her family…

    Thanks again,

      1. Thanks, Sandra, for reading my paragraph and for commenting. I so very much appreciate your feedback and am excited that it made you want to read more.


    1. Tanja, this is amazing. I so want to read more. The blood on her hands and the constant worry of how to pay for this–so powerful!

      1. Thank you, Heather. I actually have been continuing to think about this story and how it might go on. Maybe there will be more to come 🙂


    2. I want to read more, I want to know what happened. I really like that you started with the worry of how is she going to pay for this. I think this is a powerful opening. Waiting rooms can full of anxiety and tragedy and I love how you captured it here.

      1. Thanks Annie. It’s actually that first line that helped me to think about the whole scenario. I have heard so much over the past couple of days of people worrying about not being able to pay for a treatment. What if that treatment was needed for an emergency? Thanks so much for commenting. Warmly,

    3. This is very much how emergency rooms usually feel to me – chaotic, intolerably noisy, and thick. The clanging thoughts about money seem like an entirely natural reaction by someone who’s just suffered a tragedy and has seized onto one very real worry that just might compound the tragedy. The blood is a sharply visceral detail that clearly shows something very bad happened, but I’m almost as intrigued by the mosquitoes in the room. Where is this waiting room? I suppose it could easily be in one of many places in the United States, and we’re certainly not short on medical facilities that are hamstrung for resources, but the presence of multiple mosquitoes (which can present real health threats, of course) in a hospital waiting room is no joke. Where is this happening, and what ‘s the overall state of this medical facility really like? Well done!

      1. Thanks so much for your detailed feedback, Mike. I am so grateful! I am currently in Ghana where I have lived for many years before moving to Hong Kong. While there are many modern well-equipped and resourced private clinics, especially in the big cities, many people cannot afford these and will seek help in less resourced and less expensive places. It’s still a cash and carry system; you usually have to make a considerable downpayment upfront before the actual treatment. People then desperately try to scrape together any money they can get, also from the extended family. It’s heart-breaking… The more I think about this story, the more pictures and ideas come up in my mind where it will go next. Thanks again for this great prompt and your feedback. Warmly,

  10. Thanks, Mike, for the assignment. I do love a good people watching session at a waiting room as much as anyone. Plunking one of my characters down in that scenario helped me flesh out some things about his personality. Here’s a bit:

    I look around and I’m surprised everybody doesn’t have a crick in their neck all the time like I do. I have an excuse, though. I earned my neck crick fair and square. Well, maybe not fair exactly, but every punch I took was square enough to break my nose half a dozen times. The way these people have their faces buried in their screens, they’re going to have twisted up necks and backs far younger than when I got mine.

    The frizzy-haired woman across me looks up for a second. With watery eyes she glances at the clock, then back to her screen. Probably trying to take her mind off whatever it is she’s waiting for. Don’t even bother sitting up straight, lady. Your neck bones are going to hate you come a few more years.

    I’d look at the clock too, but there isn’t much point. Sometime soon she’ll come out in her white coat with her little clipboard and clicky pen. She’ll hand me the faded pictures I give her every time and she’ll say with a sigh “We don’t know who it is yet, but it isn’t her … sorry.” They know the drill around here as much as I do. Every single time there’s a Jane Doe, I bring the pictures, they tell me to wait, that they’ll let me know. And they do. Sometimes it’s an hour, sometimes it’s longer. So I don’t look at the clock because it doesn’t matter. I don’t have anywhere else to be anyway.

    1. Oh, my…..I was thinking hospital or medical waiting room (probably from the previous entries) until I got to Jane Doe and realized the setting. I like how the mc here is “real” to the reader. We aren’t going to be getting any pretentious descriptions. This is all real…all the time with this mc.

    2. Wow Nels. I can feel the desperation in your character, looking for closure or answers. Very powerful!

    3. Wow, Neis this is great! Your opening description of the crick in his neck is great. My initial thoughts were that he’s there for getting into a fight and now needs medical attention. And then I’m blown away with the Jane Doe. This was a powerful was to bring me into his determination, desperation to find her. Thank you for sharing!

    4. Nels, speaking as a person whose neck bones are exacting their revenge for a lifetime of hunched shoulders and defeated posture, I love this. You provide a strong, visceral snapshot of his earlier life that’s all the more high-impact for its brevity; your MC’s life-in-pieces thoughts are served well by his matter-of-fact tone and bleak sense of humor; and the knowledge that he’s obviously been searching for someone he loves who may very well be dead is like a right hook to the jaw, haha, see what I did there

  11. Thank you for being here today. Your suggestions are great, and while I’m new at admitting I’m a writer, I find myself adding rhyme, or humor to difficult topics such as anxiety, or illness. Here’s my attempt at today’s assignment.

    Itchy, old, and wobbly chairs. The ridiculous fish tank that does nothing to calm my nerves. After more than a few weeks of feeling like I”m falling off everything I sit on, I finally went to a Neurologist. Today……. The cat scan results. Why do I always think I am braver than I am? Why didn’t I ask my husband to come along? Shouldn’t he be here when I get the diagnosis that I have brain cancer, a giant brain tumor, brain bleeding, whatever I have, I know its bad. It has to be bad. How could I be dizzy for this long without dying. Hear pounding, I begin to text pray. “Hail Mary, full of grace. Hail Mary, full of grace. Hail Mary, full of grace. This works as well as the fish.

    1. I like this a lot, Maureen. The jumpy, anxious, doom-laden train of thought strikes me as fully real and fully relatable. There’s real humor here – your character’s definitely self-aware, and her assessment of how she’s coping with the situation has a light, deft touch of humor to it, which is great. She knows she’s struggling, she knows she’s jumping to the worst-case scenarios, and she’s being self-critical in a way that’s funny, but also very real. Great work!

  12. Thank you so much for the challenge to consider the view from the waiting room!

    Here is my reflection:


    Lessons from a Waiting Room

    I was in my early 20’s, serving in a ministry position, filled with what I thought were the answers to life. At an age where I thought I had accrued wisdom, and was ready to share my insight and knowledge, dispensing it freely, or forcibly, in an unsolicited manner. Obviously people needed what I had to offer, or so I thought.

    I was clueless.

    Fortunately I had a friend who mentioned that one of the experiences that most grounded him was spending time in a hospital waiting room. Hesitantly, I carried my sagacious self into a local waiting room and planted myself on the orange, hardened plastic chairs, observing the various interactions around me.

    An older couple, tired with years but patient from experience, comfortably waiting together. A blue collar gentlemen, paint strewn across his work boots, anxiously scrolling through his phone. A young college-aged woman, turning the pages of a magazine but not really reading.

    All of them waiting, likely for loved ones on the other side of that door. A door that years before, separated me from my own loved ones, never to return.

    In that moment I realized that I had experience, but no wisdom. I had empathy, but no connection. I had questions without answers.

    I nervously ambled over the the young woman and asked her what brought her to the hospital on that day.

    “My father had a heart attack this morning. They’re not sure if he is going to make it.”

    And though I was a complete stranger, I could relate. I sat quietly with her for a while, listening as she told me some of her favorite memories with her dad. Her worried eyes lit up with each story, the little girl with her hero. Her protector. Her dad. She didn’t really need any answers, at least none that I could offer. I got her a coffee, and hopefully gave her some connection, that grounded us both.

    1. Oh, I’m feeling such an ache reading all of these today! Your piece pulled me in and I realized your narrator’s feelings of shortcomings as he did. But then I admired his ability to see his plan through by comforting someone near him after all. So nicely done-

    2. Greg, you have a ton of details and grace notes that provide insight into both your MC and the characters he’s observing. The old couple, both tired and patient due to their age; the paint-spattered boots; the girl reading the magazine without reading it; wonderful. And the door that separated your MC from his loved ones permanently? BAM, that’s a high-octane delivery of emotional impact.

  13. Wow! You’ve been reading over my shoulder! This is the exact scene I’ve been working on in my WIP, a story about a 13 year old girl who worries incessantly about her parents’ health, as they are much older than most 13 year old girls’ parents. In this part of the story her Dad, who is 80 has just been diagnosed with esophageal cancer (based loosely on my own life with my husband). I hope you enjoy it.

    I knew this day would eventually come. Instead of enjoying a day off from school, I sit here and wait. Wait with my dad during his “treatment.” “Treatment.” What a word. It sounds like you should be getting something good – like Trick or Treat, “Little Miss (my cat) do you want a treat?” or “Let me treat you to dinner.” But whatever they are treating dad with it never seems good.
    Dad has cancer. Esophageal cancer to be exact. A five inch tumor they discovered during an upper endoscopy, which is when they put a scope down your throat, not to be confused with a colonoscopy, which they also did Poor dad.

    It took a lot to get Dad to the doctor. Mom really had to be a little sneaky. She made an appointment for him without him knowing about it. He used to have to go to the doctors somewhat regularly because he had a CDL license. Every time you renew it, you have to have a release from a doctor stating that you were fit enough to drive trucks. But here’s what Dad would do. He had several customers that he plowed for who were doctors, so when his license renewal came up he’d go to one of them and ask them if they could “check him over.” They’d check his blood pressure, listen to his heart, have him jump around a little, and then declare, “you’re fitter than I am!” and give him the release he needed.

    The last time he needed to renew the license, though, was in 2012. But there was a problem. All of his doctor friends were now retired and no longer able to give him the release form. So, one said, “I’ll get you in with a doctor at Dartmouth who can take you right away.” So, Dad went to Dartmouth and came home very unhappy. The doctor was Doctor Gina Gardner – which was her first strike. The doctor was a woman. Dad’s not chauvinistic, but he is pretty modest (he doesn’t even wear shorts in the summer). The idea of being examined, or as Dad put it, “poked and prodded” by a woman doctor was too embarrassing. Then her second strike came when she questioned why he had so many bruises on his legs. When he answered that he falls down a lot, she instantly became alarmed. “Why do you fall? Do you get dizzy? Do you lose your balance? Do you become light headed? Does this happen a lot?” He answered her, but his lack of patience was showing, “No, no, no, no, no! I work out in the woods, and I get caught up by roots, rocks, bramble, you name it. A person is bound to fall from time to time!”

    The last strike came when she found he had high blood pressure so she wouldn’t sign the release. He had to come back in a month with a lower blood pressure or she was going to put him on medication and if he didn’t take it, she wouldn’t sign the release.
    Mom knew right away why he had high blood pressure. He drank too much tap water. We have terrible water. Mom only lets me drink bottled water. Every year the salt used on the roads in the winter seeps into our well and the water becomes undrinkable. It’s the worst in the summer when the ground is soft and the salt passes through it easier. You can even feel it when you take a shower, your skin becomes tight and dry, like you’ve been at the beach all day. Well, even though it’s undrinkable, Dad drinks it. “It’s fine!” he says. “It tastes just like that stuff they sell for a couple of bucks in the store – Gatorade! No difference.”

    Anyway, when Mom heard about the blood pressure she made him stop drinking the water and in a month his blood pressure was normal, he got his release, and I knew he’d never go back to that doctor. There was one more strike against her. She wanted him to go for a colonoscopy. I didn’t know what that word meant – but I looked it up online, and I’m sorry, but I’ve got to agree with Dad on that one.

    During the winter Dad plows a lot of driveways. It’s a really challenging job, and the hours are unpredictable. This winter was a pretty rough one, and although Dad made lots of money, it took its toll on his health. He had a cold that started in mid November and early March it was still just as strong as ever. Dad was also taking lots of naps, which was so unusual, we probably should have known something was wrong the first time he did. Dad is always on the go. I worry about his age, but the truth is he usually can do more work in an hour than most men do all day. In fact, it’s dad who is called by most of my friends’ younger fathers when they have an electrical problem, or want to build a deck, or have a leaky pipe or for countless other reasons. He’s usually the first one up in the morning (5:00-5:30) and then heads to bed at exactly 8:00 after Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. But now he was breaking up his day with naps here and there, and not just one a day, sometimes two or three. Something was wrong, and Mom was determined to find out.

    So, she made THE appointment. Dad was NOT happy. It wasn’t with Dr. Gina Gardner, but with someone else – a man doctor. We were eating dinner when Mom dropped the bomb.
    “You have a doctor’s appointment on April 6th with Dr. Peter Johnson. I wrote it on the calendar,” Mom said nonchalantly.
    “I have what?” Dad grumbled back.
    “A doctor’s appointment. April 6th at 10:30 in the morning. I’m taking a half day at school so I can go with you.” Mom replied.
    “Nope! Just put cancel, cancel on that. I’m fine.”
    “Arthur, you are not fine. You’ve had a cold all winter long, and now I come home to find you in bed taking naps every afternoon, Something is wrong.”
    “There’s nothing wrong with me taking a nap if I want to. I’m 80 years old, I work hard all day. If I want to take a nap, I’ll take a nap!”
    “Dad,” I said, “Even I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself lately. Usually you’re up early, drink your hummingbird juice, and buzz around here like crazy, working on project after project. I think Mom’s right.”
    “You think I’m sitting on my fanny while you and your mom are in school all day?” I do a lot around here.”
    “It’s not that, honey,” replied mom. “We know you do a lot. But we both notice you seem tired a lot lately, and I think there’s a problem.”
    “I’ve got my Robitussin. It’ll kick it out of there. Now that spring’s here I’ll be better in no time.”
    “Well, let’s just check with the doctor anyway. Maybe he’s got something better than Robitussin.”
    “Dad, please…go!” I desperately implored. “You’re probably fine, but Mom and I need to know. I’ve got a lot ahead of me in life, and I need my dad.. Who will finish this log cabin you’ve been building for the past seven years? Who will teach me how to drive? Mom? You know how she drives!”
    “Hey!” Mom exclaimed.
    “Mom, seriously? Do you not remember the other day when you ran that stop sign and almost hit that poor guy walking his dog?”
    “She did what?” replied Dad.
    “Nevermind!” cut in Mom.
    “Anyway, back to what I was saying – who will cheer me on when I graduate from high school, and later college? Who is going to pay for college? Who will walk me down the aisle when I get married? And who will I beat in cards and watch Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune with and that hokey show, White Christmas every Christmas eve? I knew I was throwing out the ace card. Dad loved his traditions and he loved sharing them with me. I knew he’d never say “No,” to me.
    “Oh, all right! he said, but if it snows that day you’re going to have to cancel, cause I’ve got customers who will need to be plowed out. So don’t forget that!
    Mom and I both nodded to him and assured him that absolutely, we would do that. Fortunately he didn’t notice the sly grins Mom and I gave each other.

    And now, here we sat. The results are all in. Dad had to have those dreaded tests – the colonoscopy (if you haven’t looked it up yet, you don’t know how bad that is) and the upper endoscopy. And we had received the diagnosis. Stage 3 esophageal cancer. Dad had a five inch tumor in his espophagus, one of the biggest tumors his radiation oncologist had ever seen.

    “What’s your date of birth please?” The nurse asked Dad as we walked down the hall to the treatment room.
    “March second, nineteen-forty, dad rotely replied.
    “And who is this you have with you, Arthur? Is this your granddaughter?”
    “Nope! This is my daughter, Krisanna.”
    “Oh! Your daughter! (awkward pause) How nice! And how old are you, Krissana?”
    “Thirteen,” I replied. I’d been through this awkwardness so many times before. Hey if we have a president who is 71 and has a son who is eleven, why is it unusual for my 77 year old dad to have a thirteen year old? Get over it people. Things are different these days. Some families have two moms, some have two dads, some have single parents, some have grandparents caring for them, and some have older parents….like mine! The nuclear family has changed. Deal with it.

    “Well, here we are, Arthur. Please take a seat.” Dad sat down and within minutes had an IV put in. This made no sense. They had stuck him earlier to do some blood work. Why couldn’t they have done this before so they didn’t have to stick him again. I wasn’t the only one wondering that, cause Dad asked the same question.
    “Why can’t they just put in this IV out there and get my blood from it so I don’t have to get stuck twice? It makes no sense,” Dad asked.
    “Well, that would make sense, but the phlebotomists are not qualified to put in IVs, I’m afraid,” said the nurse. “But if it becomes a problem, and we have trouble finding your veins, we can put in a port, which we’ll use each week, but there’s a special team that puts those in, so you’d have to come in for another appointment for that, so we’d have to change some appointments around. Do you want us to do that?’
    “No, but what I’m saying is, why not put the IV in and then take the blood? It seems a bit backwards if you ask me.” Dad replied.
    “Oh, yes, well, I can see your point,” replied the nurse, now a bit flustered,. “But the doctor needs to see your test results before we start the treatment, because there may be problems that could stop the treatment or may require us to add something extra to the treatment.”
    “Oh, ok.” Dad said. He was giving up his battle, even though I knew that if we could make eye contact, he probably would have rolled his eyes at me, to indicate, “she doesn’t get it.”
    After the IV was in place Dad and I were herded off to the treatment room. There was a young looking bald woman already in the room, and she was to be Dad’s roommate for the day. She gave us a weak smile and then closed her eyes for a time. Dad sat in the comfortable chair meant for the patient, while I took a chair that resembled the chairs we sit in all day at school – navy blue plastic with butt air holes and steel legs. This was to be my space for the next four to five hours.

    This was Dad’s second treatment. He gets them once a week with radiation every day except on weekends. Once a week he has a long day in which he has his blood drawn, gets both chemo and radiation, meets with the radiation oncologist or his oncologist, and sees a nutritionist. He’s also been getting iron infusions. You see, when Dad went for that physical that mom made for him. he told the doctor everything was fine. Then when the doctor did the usual check, he found nothing and said, “You seem fine, Mr. Owen. Your blood pressure is good, your heart rate is good, you say everything is fine, so what are you here for?” Dad pointed to my mom. She told him about all of the napping and the chronic cold, so he agreed to do a blood count, although Mom thought it was mostly just to appease her. The next day, though, the doctor called up and said, “We have a problem, your hemoglobin level is down to 8.2, which is severely low (I looked it up on WebMD and found out that it’s supposed to be 12.4-14.9 gm/dL for men after middle age). Good hemoglobin levels are important because hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to all of the body’s tissues. I sound like a doctor, but believe me, after a while, you start thinking like one after being exposed to all of this for a while. The iron infusions were intended to help bring that hemoglobin level up, and they were working. Dad hates them though, because even if they do work, they cause him to become constipated. We won’t go into that.

    Radiation is quick and easy. I can’t be in the room when that goes on. No one can. But Dad has explained what they do. He has small dots on his body which are like tattoos. He is laid on a table and the beam from the machine is lined up to those dots and they zap him through with radiation. It takes less than 20 minutes to be in and out of there on radiation days. Too bad we live an hour away. I wait out in the waiting room while he goes through this. It wasn’t until after several trips that I made a revelation. I’d see other patients, all with their white badges that tracked their every movement, and some had big red splotches. One man, my favorite, had a huge splotch on his neck. I thought it was something to do with the tumor, but it is actually the radiation that is doing that. I wonder if Dad is getting one of those spots.

    Chemo takes time. Mom usually goes with Dad on chemo days because he’s too exhausted to drive himself home, especially if they have to give him extra anti-nausea medicine. She let me come today because of in-service. She has to be there for that cause she’s a curriculum coordinator and is responsible for some of the work the teachers will be doing today. So the plan is, I go with Dad to keep him company, and then she would get a ride down to Dartmouth with Ms. Carlson, the elementary school principal (thank God, she’s not hitching a ride with my principal, Mr. Wilhelm, I think he still suspects that I’m the one who let the hamsters out of their cages last week), and drive us home.

    Before the chemo is started the nurse administers anti-nausea medicines. There are three. One is a steroid. Don’t they always say not to take steroids? I make a mental note to ask mom about this later. Steroids can mess with the amount of glucose (or sugar) in your system, so they have to be careful to check Dad’s glucose levels for the day. If they are high, which they are today, the doctor orders an insulin shot as a protection. It’s not that dad is diabetic, but this tumor is making his diet go all out of whack. All he can seem to eat lately are strawberry shakes and mushy things. He loves custard and ice cream, pudding and jello, but can’t eat any kind of meat. Not even hamburgers which he would eat 365 days a year if he could. They also have him drink Ensure drinks which are high in calories (Dad only weighs 127 pounds), protein and vitamins. They stress that he’s got to drink a lot and try to eat more. If his weight starts to go down they may have to put him on a feeding tube, and that’s a complication we don’t want.

    Each medicine is hooked up to his IV line, and needs to be administered separately. Drip, drip, drip I watch the clear liquid leave the bag, enter the tube and eventually enter into my dad’s veins. The doctor said it could make dad sleepy, and sure enough, I notice his eye lids are wavering.
    Finally, the big guns arrive. You can tell. The nurse comes in with a throwaway robe on, carrying the bag of medicine that will gnaw away at Dad’s tumor. A second nurse, also in a throw away gown comes in. The first nurse calls out Dad’s name, date of birth, patient id number, reading it off dad’s bracelet. Then the nurses change places, the lead nurse with the bag of medicine, the other at the computer. The same information is repeated, and this time the name of the medicine is given, the dosage, and speed of delivery. When all is verifies, the second nurse is on its way and the first nurse hooks up the bag to the IV pole and connects it to his IV line. Each connection point is rubbed down with alcohol between connections, and the IV is checked to ensure the correct dosage is given. Then we sit and wait. Drip, drip, drip.

    I brought two books with me to read. One I have an assignment to read, but knowing I won’t be able t concentrate, I pull out my well-worn favorite, the one I’ve read at least six times – See You at Harry’s by Vermont author, Jo Knowles. I know that in a matter of a few pages I’ll be at that dreaded moment when the family wakes up in the morning only to find out the truth about Harry, and I’ll react as I always do. I’ll sob quietly into a tissue, tears for Harry, and for his family, but mostly, the tears will be for Dad. God, please don’t take him from me.

  14. Thank you for today’s assignment. I actually wrote it in a waiting room 🙂

    Molly slumped in her chair hoping that if she didn’t look up then no one would see her. Waiting rooms were never her favourite place to be, but this had the added risk of being seen. At a regular doctor waiting room she could be there for any reason but this waiting room was only for the crazy kids like her who needed a “feelings doctor” as her mom called it. The kid across the room from her looked pretty messed up, standing on the chair and hooting like a monkey while his mom tried to get him to sit quietly. Molly figured she wasn’t as bad as that. The door swung open and she looked down again, listening to the mom quietly telling her child to sit down while she checked them in. The receptionist’s voice rang out loudly asking for the health card, checking the address and then saying “Dr.Mullins will be with Katie soon. Please take a seat.”

    “Katie “ Molly thought. “That’s funny. The queen of her class this year and the girl who made her days a living hell, was also named Katie.”

    Glancing up quickly she caught a glimpse of dark brown shiny hair and a purple top before she was caught in the glare of fierce blue eyes. It was Katie!

    At first Molly was devastated, her mind rushing to think of ways to never go back to school. But then, caught in Katie’s stare, she saw something in her eyes that she had never seen before: fear. Molly realized that, although Katie now knew more about her than she wanted, that she also knew something about Katie that changed the balance of power in her favour. The question was, what was Molly going to do about it?

    1. I love this scenario! I’m wondering what will happen now that Molly has this bit of information about her nemesis, Katie.

    2. Oh, wow this is clever. I love the thinking and fear of Molly. There is a realization that made me happy for Molly. I want to keep reading. Thank you for sharing!

    3. You have a lot of room to explore here, Diana. It’s very natural that Molly would feel intense ambivalence and denial about needing to be there, and it’s also a natural starting point from which she can move along to greater self-insight, self-compassion, deconstruction of judgmental perceptions of mental health treatment, etc. And the fact she didn’t do what I kind of expected and feel kinship/identification/etc with Katie, but instead went right to how it shifts the balance of power and how she can USE this new info about Katie? Unexpected, in a subversive and terrific way.

  15. My story is a true story.
    My sister Chris is a nurse and was a smoker and during the winter she was shoveling snow and she was experiencing chest pain.  She ended up going to a cardiologist who informed her that she needed to have triple bypass surgery.  My sister Stephanie and I went to Yale the day of the surgery.  We were nervous and concerned.  We were the only ones in the waiting room when we got there.

    Shortly after, an older woman and a man sat in the waiting room.  As the woman was talking to the man she was scratching the side of her head.  That is when I noticed that she was wearing a wig.  As she continued to talk she kept scratching her head and I started to laugh because the wig kept moving up.  Her husband kept talking, oblivious to what it looked like.  I looked at Stephanie, and I saw a smirk and tears in her eyes.  I quickly got up and walked to the hallway while Stephanie followed me.  We were laughing hysterically. Tears of laughter were running down our face.  We eventually got it together and returned to the waiting room.  The man and woman had left.

    In the end, the operation went well.  It scared her enough to stop smoking.  To this day whenever one of us brings up the story about the woman’s wig, we crack up.

  16. Hi Mike,

    Thank you for an awesome lesson and the activity. I really enjoyed writing the scene.

    I looked back at my MG manuscript to see if I could tweak the waiting room scene, which is already part of the story. After making two little revisions, I decided to work on the chapter book series that I started two summers ago. I’ve been working on the second book, so I decided to write a scene for that manuscript.

    Here’s a snippet of the scene:
    Is she going to be okay?

    Will she ever be able to play hoops again?

    I’ve got more sweat on my forehead and in my armpits than I had during today’s game or the first time that I met Ms. Dean. In fact, every time Ms. Dean is helping me with my writing, I get really sweaty.

    “Sammy, I got here as soon as Christy’s dad texted me about the accident?” Mom comes rushing into the waiting room. “What happened?”

    I tell her the whole story about Christy’s awesome steal in the lane, her wild spin move at half court to get by the boy who looks like he’s in eighth grade or is the only fourth grader I know with hair on his face, and then her amazing drive to the basket for the layup. Her eyes are all wide.

    Time to tell her about the disaster. Her legs were moving so fast that after she laid the ball in the hoop, she ran head first into the padded wall. It actually looked kind of funny, but I left out that part. Because when Christy turned toward the bench her whole face was covered with blood. Yuck. My stomach is woozy just thinking about it.

    Before Mom can say anything, the doctor comes walking up to us.

    “Mr. Wellington, it looks like Christy broke her nose. The crazy part is she’s not crying or even acting scared. She’s tough as nails.”

    “She insists that she’s as tough as the boys,” Christy’s dad says while winking at me with a half smile on his face.

    “How long will she be out of basketball?” I interrupt.

    “About a week and a half,” says the doctor.

    Ugh. We’ve got the biggest game of the season against the Minoa Mustangs next Saturday.

    1. I agree, the voice is great. I feel bad saying this, but I smirked that your character thought the accident looked funny. I love that line, it is genuine. Your simple description of the mom’s eyes perfectly describes her lack of patience in the moment. I really enjoyed this, thank you for sharing.

    2. Andy,
      Yes. The voice that shows so much without telling us the details. This:”eighth grade or is the only fourth grader I know with hair on his face” – – just lovely. I want to read more.

  17. I’ve composed a very personal response to the writing prompt, which I may share later (as it may be a piece that I want to work with for a writing project that is not fiction). If I stray too far off topic focus on this post, simply tell me so or don’t reply. There’s been quite a bit of discussion in various venues about writing from only perspectives that you authentically know. — gender, race, etc.

    Some of you may recall the writing piece I posted last week that was set in a hospital ER. I wrote it just 24 hours after being in a suburban ER late at night til the wee hours of the morning on a Sunday night. I had actually contemplated pulling out of my personal commitment to this Teachers Write session because of how my fall had complicated my life. I was determined, however, to move forward at whatever pace I could muster each day.

    My initial writing piece wasn’t about what truly happened that night in the ER. By imagining, however, and then creating a story about how others might be experiencing their own complicated path thru this shared place and time, I might gain better perspective about my own life.

    So I opted to write about a woman from Africa, trying to get admitted to a US hospital with paperwork complications, who was more focused on being separated from her son still in Africa.

    Many might lambast me, a white middle class woman who teaches in a public school, for trying. But I also have my own pain from loss that I am trying to deal with. As anyone who has ever attempted to write poetry especially, you definitely need some distance from a painful experience, to turn it into words that will speak to readers on multiple levels.

    So I now have two writing pieces, partially started. How to decide to proceed? Thoughts?

    1. Barb, I have a plethora of interwoven thoughts about writing from a perspective that’s not our own – more than can be adequately addressed in a single blog comment – so on that topic, I’ll just say this: we all have the right to choose which story we want to tell, of course; we’re all subject to potential criticism for our publicly shared creative choices, which is as it should be; and it’s always vital to consider why we choose to write a particular story, and whether any given one of us is the person to tell a particular story, or if any given story is the right one for a particular writer.

      I feel very strongly that our best work is the work that incorporates our own emotional realities as honestly and vulnerably as possible; in that light, I’m much more interested in reading the very personal response you’ve chosen not to share here. That choice to not share, by the way, is one that I support 100% percent; you have every right to keep a story private if you’re not ready to share it, and I stand with you in exercising that right. Can I suggest an alternative? What if you use your comment here as the foundation for your exercise? What if your character is in a waiting room, thinking about how the complications of being there will interfere with a previous commitment to something (e.g. Teachers Write), and trying hard to find a way enough distance to manage being in that hospital, but not so much distance as to be disengaged from reality?

      1. Mike, thanks for all the time you have committed to providing such great advice unique to each of our posts. I found more release from my pain in my PT session yesterday afternoon, so I’m hoping to be more productive with my writing, including taking your recommendations.
        I have been committed to diversifying two school library collections, so I’ll be looking forward to more books by you and following We Need Diverse Books.

  18. Some really fantastic writing today in response to Mike’s thought-provoking prompt! I’d hang out in waiting rooms with all of you any day. Thanks for being brave enough to share – your work is inspiring lots of people who are quietly reading and writing along.

  19. Thank you for this prompt! I’ve spent a lot of time waiting in hospitals or medical buildings recently, so I tried to think up a creative “waiting” situation that my new middle grade book character might find herself in. Here’s what I came up with:

    My legs are sore, but there’s no place to sit besides the curb and I’d rather not get trampled. It’s probably been at least an hour since I got the alert and rushed over here. Me and two thousand other girls. Long enough for everyone to have run out of celebrity gossip and makeup tips and stories about how they got the most adorable picture of their cat.

    I keep watching the door, but I’m listening to a girl with short purple-black hair giving updates from her phone. Heat blasts up from the pavement. I wish I had a popsicle. Where are the ice cream trucks when you need them? Even my fingers are sweating, making tiny damp spots on the photo. I switch it to my other hand. I can’t shove it into my bag, because my chocolate chip granola bar will probably melt on it. I’m saving that in case I have to stay here through dinner. Assuming I don’t die of heat stroke first. Whatever. It would be worth it. I can already imagine the photo hanging over my bed, with Surina Silver’s actual signature on it. When my own phone buzzes, I turn it off. Sorry, Dad, but I can’t leave now. There’s no way I’m going to miss my chance to get Surina Silver’s autograph.

    1. Andrea, I love that we’re reading a continuation of your previous excerpt. I love her voice. I love that she’s waiting to meet Surina. Your description of the heat is spot on in my mind. Thank you for sharing!

    2. Hi Andrea, I loved the humor in your piece! It starts nicely vague but my attention is piqued when two thousand other girls rushed over, too- I know we’re building towards celebrity. I like the drama and angst, the little details of chocolate possibly melting on a precious photo, the lack of ice cream trucks when needed. . . Fun!

  20. Hey everyone, I’m only able to drop in and comment on your work sporadically – that pesky “having a job” thing, it’s always getting in the way – but thank you all so, so much for sharing your work. There’s a tremendous amount of honesty and vulnerability in the words you’re sharing; I’m honored and dazzled by the trust you’re showing in me specifically, and the Teachers Write community as a whole. I’ll do my best to keep dropping in as often as I can!

  21. Thanks for the writing exercise. Recently, I had to have an MRI for pain in my back. I decided to write about that. I hope I am not too late in the day, we are on Mountain Time.

    What kind of music do you like to listen to? says the technician.
    Classic rock, I guess.
    Okay, I am going to slide you in, and remember, you need to hold still. I will check on you, but if you move, we will have to start over.
    Maybe I should have taken the valium the doctor suggested. I really didn’t think about it being scary, but now I am having second thoughts.
    Lying on a narrow metal bed, the technician slides me into a metal-like tube for a Lumbar MRI. I am somewhat claustrophobic, but I think I can handle it. The machine starts with many clicking noises and then loud jackhammer in a tunnel sounds. The first thought in my head is I don’t know if I can do this! I try to concentrate on my breathing by taking deep breathes, but I am sucking in and out the same air which starts to freak me out a little, and the technician says “You are slightly moving around, are you okay? I try to concentrate on the music, but it is nothing I recognize. I try to concentrate on not moving, but this only starts to make my skin crawl.

    What can I do? I need to calm down. I resort to not opening my eyes, and thinking about being on a tropical island. I think about the ocean, the smells, the feel of the soft breeze and the sun on my skin. Finally, I am calm for the rest of the 23 minutes. I realize after it was over how vulnerable I am.

    1. Ugh, I could feel the panic growing in me as I read! You did better than I think I would in that situation! You captured that – “don’t think about it, don’t think about it” trick we try. 🙂 I felt like I was there with you. (Congrats on making it through- I guess we’re often tougher than we think!)

  22. I actually enjoyed this. Waiting rooms can be a room of happiness, worry, or sadness. I have been thinking about this all day. I thought of all of my different waiting room experiences, there are so many. Thank you for this prompt it has been an interesting thought process for myself.

    Why are hospital waiting room chairs so uncomfortable? You would think guests would be better suited in a deluxe recliner rather than out dated This End Up furniture from the early nineties. My head hurts, the pain is dull, but irritating. The fluorescent lights, the lack of sleep, and overload of caffeine are not helping. The room is full of my family. My mom is sitting with my aunt and uncle. My sisters are sitting with their husbands. My father’s six siblings and spouses are all here. I feel bad for the couple in the far corner of the room, we always take over the room. Bobby is sitting to my right reading or trying to read. I feel lost. I feel like I’m not really sitting here, like I’m having an out of body experience. Nothing is happening fast, everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion. Even my response rate to things is slow. Everyone is nervous, but we all know the reality. Death is hovering near. My father’s surgical oncologist comes into the room and asks for my mom. She instead welcomes him into the waiting room as if it’s her living room. We’ve been here for months, this waiting room was like our living room. The doctor politely asks the couple in the corner to leave “for just a moment”. The doctor sits next to my mom, he takes her hand. My breathing is fast, it’s hard to swallow. All I hear are the words liver, jaundice and palliative care. Bobby takes my hand as the tears fall from my eyes, getting caught in my glasses. I can’t see anything. I desperately want to curl into a ball and lie down, but these chairs are so damn uncomfortable.

    1. Wow – I really liked this. It captures the moment so well, and I liked the way you started with the chairs and came back to them.

  23. It’s quite funny that today was the day I took my 9 month old daughter to get her ears pierced and waited in the waiting room for almost two hours for something that takes 5 minutes. I take my girls to an ENT when it’s time for this milestone because I’m a control freak and I don’t trust a high school kid to pierce my kids’ ears at the mall. Hahaha
    As I sat there I wondered what Laney would think about this if she had any clue what was about to happen. What if she didn’t even want this done? What if even the thought of it being painful could send her into a full blown anxiety attack? What if she thought this was the most pointless thing ever?

    As we sit waiting, still waiting, I watch people of all ages come through the door. They can’t all be here for the same reason as me. I mean, that is a 70 year old man. He can’t possibly want to get some flashy silver studs in his ears. Maybe he’s going through a late-life crisis? Finding his inner rebellious boy?
    I just can’t seem to figure out what’s taking so long? We’ve been here over an hour. I’m hungry and tired and my soon-to-be-3-year-old sister is going to tear this place apart if we’re here much longer.
    Whose idea was this anyway? Surely wasn’t mine. I know my sister keeps telling me I’m going to have pretty earrings like her, but I’m not so sure I want those Minnie Mouse earrings. Do I get to pick? What all does this whole ear piercing thing entail anyway? It better not hurt because if it does, I’m moving out.

  24. Once again, thank you Mike and Kate for your expertise, time, and leadership!

    This is from a WIP- not a waiting room per se, but waiting for someone at a police station-

    “I’m looking for Randall Wilson,” I said to the man behind the desk. “I’m his daughter.”
    “Was he picked up tonight, hon?”
    “No, he came in on his own.”
    “He came to. . .inquire about the girl,” Haruki interrupted. “The girl they found today.”
    “Oh, the girl.” The cop looked at me closely. “You’re his daughter, you said?”
    Oh my God, enough already! I could barely stand in one spot.
    “Yes. Grace Ann.” I suddenly understood the need for people to pace when they waited for news. Any news. I felt like I was going to explode. “Is he here?”
    “Let me check on that for you. Why don’t you have a seat over there.” He gestured towards some cracked vinyl chairs by the entrance.
    “But we spoke to him. He said he was here. Wasn’t he here, Ru?”
    “Haruki nodded and took my elbow.
    “Give him a minute, Gray. He needs to check in. Come on over here.”
    He pulled me over to the chairs and sank down into one of them. He was pale and he ran a hand through his hair, leaving it standing on end. He cleared his throat and patted the chair next to him. “Sit down, Gray.” He doubled over, forearms on his knees, ready to wait it out.
    I perched on the edge of the seat, body buzzing, heart racing, but bounced up again. Where was my dad? Why isn’t everybody on this right now, it was on the news for Chistsake? It’s not like this place is full of activity; we were the only ones there. What was he keeping form me? What did he know?

    1. Jen, at the beginning of this piece, I wasn’t sure what to be expect or how to be feeling, but as it went on, I felt this building tension and anxiety. Wow – such a nice bit of writing! I really like how the small details, the cracked chairs,the paleness add to the tension. I especially liked the line “I suddenly understood the need for people to pace when they waited for news.”

  25. Today’s the day, the woman worries as she enters the neurosurgeon’s waiting room. The last four days have vacillated between feelings of euphoria (Dr. Livingston hasn’t called because everything is fine) and depression (she’s examining the MRI pics because there’s something majorly wrong).
    “Dr. Livingston will be with you in just a few minutes. She’s running a bit behind schedule today,” the receptionist tells her as she checks in.
    “Of course she is,” the woman impatiently thinks. “No concern for someone she’s already kept waiting.”
    She sits on a plush, over-stuffed lavender couch and looks around the room, knowing the mint, lavender, and muted grey and silver tones are probably supposed to be soothing and comforting to anyone there for the type of diagnosis found with a brain MRI. However, the color is doing nothing for her at this moment.
    Her heart starts beating faster. Were these spells MS? A tumor? How much longer?
    At that moment, a nurse calls her name. “Dr. Livingston is ready to see you now.”

  26. Thank you, Kate & Mike, for your willingness to help writers grow. Your feedback is greatly appreciated.

    She had been in a hospital waiting room before, but this… this was different. Uncomfortable. Unnerving. Maybe it was because of the uncertainty of the outcome. Maybe it was because of the nature of the procedure. Maybe it was because being in a psychiatric hospital had an unusually discomforting effect. This was not the typical hospital waiting room she was accustomed to.

    Today was the first of a dozen treatments her husband would face over the next four weeks. Questions and uncertainty crowded her mind as she waited out each endless minute. Would this really work? Would this truly end his suffering? Is is really possible that the joy and purpose and pleasure robbed by depression could actually be restored? Would he once again be able to live his life without being plagued daily by darkness and sorrow? She had her doubts. But doubts were better than the hope they had both already lost.

    1. Gail, I love how this brings up so much emotion. This snippet of writing makes me want to know more about the whole story!

  27. Hi everyone, wow, this is fabulous – so much heartfelt, complex, and deeply emotional writing from so many teachers! I’m thoroughly impressed with and appreciative of every one of you. I’m afraid I won’t be able to give feedback to all of these tonight – I feel wholly inadequate in the face of your collective efforts, and I apologize for that. I’ll do my best to keep checking in and responding as I can to your posts over the next few days, however, if that’s useful to you. Thank you all so, so much – I can’t even tell you how much you’re inspiring me. A lot. A lot inspired. Yes, I wrote those last two sentences, I is a professional writer…

  28. Ooo, I did not like this writing exercise. I knew immediately the life story I wanted to share, and as I wrote it, I could feel the anxiety building…

    I walked into the office and headed straight for the desk.

    “Hello there,” the receptionist greets me. “Have a seat. They’re getting ready for you.”

    I turned and sat in one of the chairs in the lobby. I grabbed a magazine and tried to clear my mind. I have a fear of shots, and was about to let someone drill in my mouth to take a tooth out. It was like my fear was moving from the outside where I could see it happening, to inside.

    I put the magazine down and my leg starts bouncing, my mind racing. I turn to look at my husband next to me and take his hand, hoping he’ll help put my mind at ease, but it doesn’t help as the anxiousness of being in that lobby are reading on his face as well. I know he’s there only because they were going to numb me and we weren’t sure if I will be able to drive afterwards.

    I take deep breaths. I can feel my anxiety rising. Hubby reaches over and starts rubbing my back, trying to help calm me down.

    “Stephanie,” the receptionist calls out.

    I take a deep breath as I rise from my seat, following her to the back and have a seat in the dentist’s chair, gripping the handles in anticipation for the procedure to come…

  29. She sits in the waiting room, hands folded in her lap. She wears a faded floral dress, her favorite. She looks at the couple holding hands, the man’s furrowed brow and the woman’s reassuring pat upon his hand. She notices the mother with her young child who bounces from coloring to climbing over the back of the blue cushioned chair and the father with his teenage son, the boy sitting with his arms crossed and his legs extending straight. Rather than contemplating why each one of these people is here, today, in this room of waiting, her first thought is, why am I alone?

  30. Clocks don’t tick any more, but the “tick, tock, tick, tock” in my brain seems so real. Surely others can hear it? Outside it’s pitch black except for one lone porch light shining. The game started at six; it’s 9:35. The kids should be home by now. Why don’t they have cell phones? Can’t call Danny; he’d be driving. For once, the tv is not on, no feet are pounding across the hardwood floor, and no one is singly along to songs only they can hear. BZZZZ. Cell phone notification provides a distraction, but it’s only an email. Nixle says there are two accidents close by. When, oh when, will they walk through the door?