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Last summer came and went. I can’t quite tell how it happened, but I know I have written twenty five thousand words of my next book, Angels in the Forest, which is based on the life of my grandfather, Joseph King. I have also written about five thousand words of another fictionalized memoir, Friends, based on very recent events from my life.

I thought it would be easier, comes to my mind first. And then, how come I struggle with what I know so well? Intrinsically, one could say.

Today, after writing those twenty five thousand words of Angels, I come back to the beginning, and reexamine what have been already reexamined dozens of times.

What is the purpose of a beginning, anyway? Except that it has to be rewritten dozens and dozens of times to test the writer’s endurance. Is it to tell the reader what the book is all about? Or, perhaps to show how clever one is with words. Maybe it is a place where the writer should intrigue or even shock the reader?

As I was pondering all the different possibilities, I came across an article in the latest issue of The Writer’s Chronicle, In the Beginning by Richard Goodman, who asks: “What can, and should, an opening do, besides being irresistible?”

Irresistible? I said out loud in an empty room. Eureka, came to my mind next. Or maybe it was: Epiphany!

And here are some examples Goodman gives:

“Call me Ishmael.”

“It is truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possesion of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“None of them knew the color of the sky.”

“They threw me off the hay truck about noon.”

Each of these openings fulfills, in its own way, the task of being irresistible. Herman Melville, Jane Austin, Stephen Crane, and James M. Cain each do it in his or her own way, of course. Each first line has a compactness and confidence, a sense that there is more here and that the “more” will be worth your while.”

Goodman’s interpretation makes sense to me. Of course, that’s convincing. Finally, I want to say, and thank you!

Where should I start? What part of my story is irresistible? Let’s see, and a long pause, let’s see, and another pause. After a while the story rolls itself through my mind the way it always does, making space for nothing but itself.

Should I start with my grandfather swiveling in the garden with his arms up in the air, his eyes closed, telling me the story of the flying angels? Or, should I start with one of the arguments my grandmother, Angela, had with him: Stop telling her stories! She doesn’t need to know about the war! She is just a child! Or, should I start with my mother, her hands kneading a pastry dough, whispering to me, her face close to mine, Don’t listen to grandpa, he makes up silly stories. None of it is true, you know. Perhaps, I should start with …

What does it mean irresistible? I don’t really know, but I remember the feeling of picking up a puppy. It was the summer after I turned one in March. My steps were still shaky, the puppy’s steps were still shaky. But we found each other, and the puppy didn’t resist when I shakily picked him up, and held him not knowing what to do next.

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Your questions about remembering and forgetting and “re-creating” are ones that I’ve thought about too as I’ve worked through my poems and essays about my parents. An interviewer, Okla Elliot, once asked me the following question: “In Lightning and Ashes, you make use of what seems like direct family sources (such as the poem “A Letter to my Mother from Poland, October 4, 1952″). What portion of these source materials is rooted in actual familial documents, what part from family lore, and what part poetic creation?”

The answer to the question wasn’t easy, and I hope you forgive me for going on so long, but here’s what I said to him:

It’s a central question. When I started writing my poems about my parents back in the late 1970s, I was in grad school and very conscious of the ways memory can be manipulated and tricked out for various literary effects. My wife was working on rhetoric and the art of memory, and I was doing a dissertation on the postmodern sense of the self and how it plays out in fiction. One of the books I was writing about was Pynchon’s V., and one of my favorite quotes in that book came from what Pynchon said about Fausto Majistral and this character’s autobiographical writing. Here’s the quote:
“Now memory is a traitor: gilding, altering. The word is, in sad fact, meaningless, based as it is on the false assumption that identity is single, soul continuous. A man has no more right to set forth any self-memory as truth than to say ‘Maratt is a sour-mouthed University cynic’ or ‘Dnubietna is a liberal and madman.’”

The first poem I wrote about my parents is called “Dreams of Warsaw,” and it deals with their memories of the war and my own oldest childhood memories of my father’s telling me about the war. Right there, as the literary analyst I was training to be, I could see a lot of potential for complexity, layering, and manipulation of memory. There’s my parents’ years in the camps, my father’s retelling of that story, my mother’s retelling of that story, my childhood memories of their retellings, and then my adult attempt to place all of that within the context of my life and of course in the context of a poem.

Over the next 25 years, as I worked up the poems that went into Lightning and Ashes, I’ve had to deal with this nexus of memories, and it’s hard to say that there is a certain definite portion that is from actual family history, family lore, or my poetic creation. All three come together to varying degrees in various poems. There are some poems like “My Mother Reads My Poem “Cattle Train to Magdeburg’” that come almost completely from my mother’s telling in her own words about what actually happened. And the poem takes issue with my earlier poem “Cattle Train to Magdeburg” (based on my childhood memories of what my dad said about how she was taken to Germany by the Nazis) so that she in large part in “My Mother Reads” is trying to get at her own truth of what happened. When my mother read “Cattle Train to Magdeburg,” she told me what was wrong with my earlier poem, and I wrote it down. 90% of the poem is her words in
English about her experience.

There’s very little that I did to the poem beyond breaking her statements into lines and stanzas and cutting out one significant detail from her telling that I thought would cause the reader to ask unnecessary questions about what happened to her.

That’s one extreme. The other is the poem that is essentially fiction. The prose poem you ask about — “A Letter to my Mother from Poland, October 4, 1952″ – is not based on an actual letter. In fact, I never read any of the many letters written to my mother by her sister Sophie about what it was like in Poland for my Polish relatives after the war, after the Soviet takeover of Poland. I knew about these letters, of course.

As a child, I remember my mother receiving them. She was a private woman, and she could not share her grief with anyone. She would get these letters and take them into the bedroom and read them there, after closing the door. I would stand on the other side of the door sometimes and listen to her weeping as she read the letters about it was like in Poland after the war. I would beg her not to cry through the closed door. Toward the end of my mother’s life, when I would visit her to get her papers and things in order, I asked her where the letters were. I knew she had kept them and added new letters as they still occasionally came from Poland. I was shocked by her response to my question. She had destroyed them, all of the letters that came from her family in Poland.

The “Letter to My Mother from Poland” poem is my attempt to recreate one of these destroyed letters. The description of the hunger and poverty in the first stanza, the dreams of my grandmother who was raped and killed by the Nazis, the wish for reunion—all of that was invented for the letter, but the invention of course was never complete invention. My father would sometimes reference the letters when I was a child. He’d mention the poverty or the hunger or the loneliness of being separated from the family that my mother read about in these letters. These things were part of the truth of these letters, and I tried to get this truth into this poem and into the other poems I wrote about my parents.

There was a Polish writer named Jozef Mackiewicz who said that “Only the truth is interesting.” And I believe that, but the truth is sometimes hard to convey. Sometimes the truth has to get heated up (embellished, transformed, jazzed up).

For me, Tim O’Brien’s essay “How To Tell A True War Story” gets at something important about telling a war story. Sometimes the facts themselves just don’t convey the horror that you would hope they convey. Here’s an example: 50,000,000 people died in WWII. I can tell that fact to a hundred people, one after another, and they probably won’t react much, not emotionally at least, maybe not even intellectually. I need to tell them something more. I need to tell them about these dead people in a way that will carry the weight of 50,000,000. I need to tell about my mother and the letters she used to get from her sister and what they talked about, the death of their mother, the guilt they felt for being alive, the sense of emotional and physical hunger they were left with after the war, the yearning for some kind of spring that would give them peace from their memories.

I don’t know if this was what was actually in the letters my mother received, but it is the truth that they carried for her.
The entire interview appears at http://asitoughttobe.com/2011/12/25/from-the-ashes-an-interview-with-john-guzlowski/

In the research related to the book I am working on right now, Europe Without a Name, among other things, I listen — how did we live before the Internet, again? — to Polish music of the 60s and 70s, and it takes me a long time before I can gain my composure and write. How strange and comforting it seems to be? I am able to remember something the way I saw it as a little girl — or is it just my imagination?

I also look at old pictures of my family and I seem to remember — as I would put it, “exactly” — the day, the feelings, the conversations, the people.  I remember the way my uncle’s shoes bent and squeaked as he walked next to me. I remember the cotton fabric of my aunt’s (my mom’s youngest sister) summer skirt. And the bows on its front pockets. I remember how my aunt bit her fingernails, and how I thought that the habit was associated with the preoccupied mind of an adult. And how I couldn’t wait to become an adult myself. I even started biting my fingernails to speed up the process, but it turned out to be a futile experiment, because I could never remember.

What struck me today is a profound conviction that I am not interested in fiction anymore. That’s silly, I think, still getting used to the new idea. That’s all you do! You write fiction! No, not anymore, the other voice answers. What do you mean? I ask myself. Simply — I am not interested, thank you.

When I look at the picture from my childhood in this post (I am the girl in the bathing suit) I see the members of my family as people full of life — rich in experiences and feelings. I see them entangled in relationships, in politics, in religion. I see them making sense of their world.

This is a new idea to me, but I think I want to celebrate the life I know — do I? — rather than the life I can make up.

Here is a short excerpt from today:

Every morning either my mom or my grandmother fasten the ribbons in my hair very tight to make sure nothing moves during the day—looking disheveled is not acceptable as much as making noise with a spoon while stirring your hot chocolate, or not covering your mouth while yawning, or using a knife while eating fish, or criticizing the government in public, or not criticizing the government in private. Everyone knows that world without rules and good manners would come soon to an end, especially after the war. Someone has to make sure we won’t turn into wild animals, as my mother and my grandmother say. I am glad our cat is domesticated.


Blank page

Everyday is the same. I stare at a blank page and feel as if I have never written a sentence before. Nothing comes to my mind. I look out the window — the forest is still in the same place. I look at my neighbors deck and for some reason a past scene comes to my mind.

I see a one, maybe one-and-a-half year old child standing on a chair and leaning over the railing. My stomach tightens and a scream, get down, get down. The child smiles, waves to me, and leans forward again. Get down, I scream, and the child clearly doesn’t understand. I battle my thoughts — should I run around the house and knock on the front door? I can’t, I decide. I have to stay here in case the child falls down. I will catch him, I think. Finally his older brother, perhaps five year old get’s on the deck.

“Ask your father to come here and take the baby down,” I say.

He runs inside and after a minute or so, the father comes out. He takes the baby down, moves the chair, and thanks me. I go home, but still imagine what could have …

I stare at the blank page again. I am working on Europe Without a Name. I mostly stare at the blank page.

Today, June 14, 2012, I want to write about the day when I was six years old and my mom’s sister, Wladzia, a teacher in an elementary school took me to work. It was an embarrassing if not painful — yes, actually painful –but today funny and a bit painful, episode of my life. I am not sure where to start. I am not sure how to write.

Will I be able to write about it? I sit here, in my bedroom, with the door closed. I have a beautiful writing desk — a table from an European monastery, XVIII century, I was told.  I love my desk. The page is still blank.  I already had my breakfast, I have no reason to go downstairs! I did my laundry yesterday. I have no reason to check the dryer!

I stare at the blank page.

“Our lives are the sum of our memories. How much are we willing to lose from our already short lives by … not paying attention?” says Joshua Foer, a science writer, in his TED talk (posted below).

How much are we willing to lose? Foer asks.

If you want to live a memorable life, he adds, you have to be the person who remembers to remember.

Is that true indeed?

I am working on a fictionalized memoir with a tentative title, Europe Without a Name, trying to remember, trying to remember to remember, trying to pretend to remember, trying to forget, trying to pretent to forget, trying to remember to forget — in the end of every day I come out with a feeling of not remembering or forgetting but rather reinventing myself. What am I doing exactly by remembering or forgetting? Am I trying to believe in my personal myth — the story of my past I feel most comfortable with for reasons I can’t fully understand?

Not much for today, just questions upon questions.

Here is Joshua Foer and his Feats of memory anyone can do.



My father the Saint

That we could, as we do, live in the realm of eternal mirrors, working our way at the same time through unmowed grasses.

~ Czeslaw Milosz

It has been almost six months since my father’s passing. I still can’t grasp what happened, even though I know exactly what happened. All I can think of is the emptiness I feel.

I write to answer this question: How can one be whole again after such a loss?

Here is a working version of an excerpt about my father from the fictionalized memoir,  Europe Without a Name, I am plowing through right now.


My father the Saint

My father’s name was Jerzy, which is George in English, and he was the one who has slain the Dragon. Today people think dragons don’t exist, but back then, when my father was born, in 1937, many people still believed in dragons.

My father was named after Saint George the Dragon Slayer for courage and strength. For many years I had imagined my father the saint on a horse—the horse’s front legs up in the air, its nostrils wide open, its mane wild in the wind—and my father’s right arm raised, his hand grasping the long spear pointed directly at the dragon’s head. The dragon looks like a lizard, a snake, and a dinosaur at the same time, and with all the attributes assigned to those animals, it is the deadliest of all living creatures.  This fact makes my father the true and only hero in my life, until the day when I am told—I am in second grade when it happens—that the Catholic Church revoked Saint George’s sainthood.

“Why?” I ask dumbstruck.

“Why?! Because dragons don’t exist, stupid!” The person whose face escapes my memory is more convincing than I can bear.  I go to the bathroom, lock the door—the only door in the entire house with a lock—and cry.

I can’t believe the cruelty of the Catholic Church. I think of my father and I hope he doesn’t find out. For a while I entertain the thought of concealing the information from him but soon realize that I am unable to come up with a feasible plan.  I think of the consequences if he finds out and I imagine him sitting on the edge of the bathtub and crying like on the day when he came home too merry, with an enormous bouquet of blue lilacs for my mom.  He is apologizing to her, offering her the flowers, and after she leaves the kitchen—where all of it happened—dropping the flowers on the floor, covering his face, not wanting me to see, and going to the bathroom. He forgot to lock the door, even though it must have been his intention, to be alone, and I quietly sneak in. He is sitting on the edge of the bathtub; sobbing, his face still in his palms, and I embrace him.

“I love you, dad, don’t cry.”

Now when his sainthood was taken away from him, I sit in the bathroom and cry for him. I feel great emptiness in my heart, confusion in my head, and crying is not helping at all.

Who is he now? What about the courage and strength? How can he possibly go on with his life if everything that made him was suddenly taken away? Who will he be now? And most of all—can he still be the father to me he was before? And what about mom? Would she still love him without the courage and strength? And would he be able to love her the same way? Will he still be able to laugh and cry?

Many days went by while my father was getting used to being a common person, and even though he still performed the same tasks as before, when he was the saint in the house—preparing royal scrambled eggs for us on Sunday morning, taking us to the river for noble walks resulting in spectacular discoveries, and bringing splendid flowers for my mom—I couldn’t see him the same way as before. Something was lost and nothing was able to resurrect the angelic feelings I had before the Catholic Church decided on the change.

Although, I have to admit, I witnessed incidents that made me question the effectiveness and legitimacy of the downgrading St. George’s status. Perhaps it wasn’t as powerful as the Catholic Church wanted us to believe, I speculated with feelings swinging like a pendulum suspended between hope and guilt.

One of those incidents happened on a beautiful summer day. The water in the river was crystal clear, with tadpoles and shimmering rocks on the bottom. My parents, my baby sister, and I were having late lunch on the meadow next to our house. My sister and my dad were ankle deep in the water fishing for flat rocks; my mom was reading her Kobieta i Zycie, Woman and Life, magazine, and I was coloring in my favorite book. The book was very special, it was the first book that had all the colors already on the pages and they would become visible when touched with water. I had a small paining brush and a tiny container with water. There were no instructions on the colors, which meant that every surface, guarded by lines, was a surprise. The bunnies were white, brown, or gray, but you couldn’t guess it before the water touched the paper. The flowers were easier to guess, but not always. The daffodils, the lily of the valley, and forget-me-nots were easy, but the tulips were not, since they came in four colors—red, white, yellow, and purple. There was another difficulty – the more water you used the more dissolved became the color on the page. The secret lay in using as little water as possible, just to activate the pigment, but I could never manage that. For some reason I always used more water than needed, to the point of making the pages warp and turn into waves. Then I had to iron them to make them flat again.

Going back to the incident that made me question the decision of the Catholic Church. As I was discovering the colorful world of my book, something happened in the river. I was jolted up with my sister scream. She was crying the biggest cry, the one that makes the entire face disappear and all that is left is just the wide open mouth that reveals the uvula pointing forward, flattened with the force of the air pushed with unstoppable force coming from the lungs.

“Oh, my God!” My mom throws her magazine on the blanket the moment we hear the scream and runs towards the river.

I see her summer dress fluttering around her thighs, I see my father holding my sister, I see my sister’s mouth. Next I hear many fast words exchange between my parents but I can’t understand anything – it seems as if the entire world disappeared in the black hole in my sister’s head.

We have to go home now. My mom decides. I look at my book. The two open pages are wet but now means now. I carry my book, forearms extended in front of me, open and blow on the pages all the way home. My sister stops crying before we even open the gate but it doesn’t change anything, mom is still upset. I know it because she doesn’t say anything until we enter the kitchen, and when we enter the kitchen she says something outrages by mistake.

She meant to say: “Put the stools under the table.” But instead she says: “Put the table under the cabinet.”

The three of us stay still looking at the table and only my sister’s enormous blue eyes roll up to look at me and then at our dad.  My mom leaves the kitchen.  We can hear her going downstairs and then out the front door.

My father is very calm but I know that he is giggling inside.  He approaches the table, asks us to move the stools, and then turns the table up side down.  My sister and I are excited, even though we have no idea what is happening.  My dad takes a screwdriver from his “little tools drawer” and unscrews the legs of the table.  Then he slides the top of the table under the cabinet and then arranges the unscrewed legs on top of it.

After a while my mom enters the kitchen with an impetus of a still angry person but the missing table puts her steps immediately into a halt.

“What now?” She looks at my sister and me.

We shrug our shoulders and try not to laugh.

“Where is the table?”

My sister and I turn slowly around and point under the cabinet. My mom looks at my dad and I can see that she is melting, trying very hard not to laugh, even though her eyes are already laughing.

“You asked us to put the table under the cabinet,” my father says smiling.  “So we did.”

My mom looks at my sister and me and we both nod to our dad’s statement.

“Very funny, very funny.” Now she only pretends to be angry with us. “Put it back together or there will be no dinner tonight.” She tries to be stern.

“Whatever you say, honey,” Dad says smiling.

“Whatever you say,” makes all four of us laugh, and this is the moment that makes me think that the Catholic Church is not as reliable as I believed.

My dad is the saint again because he is the one who made everything better. The air is light, our bodies are light, the laughs are light, and the summer is light.  My mom is laughing, my sister is laughing, my dad is laughing, and I am overwhelmed with the angelic feelings I have missed so much.


Image in this post is from: here

I came across a short article in the AtlanticA Stunning, Dreamlike Animation About Escaping Gravity by Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg that introduced an amazing video by Filip Piskorzynski featuring the actress, Natalia Dufraisse.  Throughout the video, the actress was suspended above the ground in constant motion. And even though the technique used in this video was easy to recognize, for me it created an unforgettable spell and prompted me to consider the following suspension scenarios:


  • I see a woman named Julia who after years of visiting the doctor’s office found out that she is finally pregnant, and with twins. Even though at this moment only her eyes are showing the change, her entire body is transformed into music, into a poem sung by a lover, into a crystal clear river flowing down the mountain straight into lowlands and an open sea. Her husband reaches for her hand and brings it slowly to his lips.
  • I see a woman named Sandy hunched over her mother’s bed in a nursing home. Sandy’s mother has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for the past fifteen years. She is sliding her hand under her mother’s back to find the button that rolled down from her mother’s chest. Her mother smiles from behind her gray eyes and Sandy remembers the days at the lake.  She remembers her mother handing her another flat, smooth rock and showing her how to lean forward and to the side, how to throw the rock to make it skip on the surface of the water.
  • I see a woman named Susan who has been living in an abusive marriage for the past ten years. She looks out the window above the tree line where cumulus clouds have formed a wide passage through the blue sky. She hears her husband scream but she already knows that this is not about her being childless, or about her not being taller and slimmer, or about her not having enough of something she could never name. Her husband’s voice fills her skin up all the way to where she has to let go. And for the first time she sees herself opening the front door and walking out.


Here is the video.




Image in this post is from: here

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I still can’t write about it and I don’t know why. I know what I want to say … but it’s not enough to say it.  Perhaps all I can do is to wait for it to pass.  Will I know when it’s over?  I don’t know.

Here are two poems written in honor of my father.  Let them speak for me, for now:





by Robert Schubert

We hear of them,
these boulders:
Soothing sentinels
softening the strife,
holding back the hillside of harm, hurt and hell,
marking the shores of seas and streams and
patrolling the paths that wander
through the mazes
that mark our minds and hearts.

Full weight presses earthward,
their shoulders support us as we sit and stand
listen and laugh,
love and lose.

Their polished soft sides soothe us,
while the rough undersides rile us with reminders of reality.

And while death took the flesh and blood of your father,
the boulder remains:
A giant, gentle sentinel
standing sturdy, ready
should your spirit call.


The Loss

by Mike Clark

The loss
of a parent
who knew how
to hold his wife’s hand
teaches the lesson
that all of us
are searching a hand
to hold.
In parting,
we reach out
to the other
close to us
in this life
to comprehend
the precious instant
in what matters.

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In this video I am reading an excerpt from “To Kill the Other.” The reading took place at a friend’s house on November 19th, 2011. The excerpt pertains to the shipyard workers uprising in Gdansk and Gdynia in December 1970.

As a six year old boy, Marek witnesses his mother’s death. He learns that the people who killed his mother were the Russians. Later on, throughout his adult life, he searches for ways to revenge what happened to him and his family. Finally he finds the way: He joins the mujahideen in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. He feels that by joining the mujahideen he will find justice.  Will he?

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Veni, vidi, vici!

for my students, Fall 2011

by Danuta Hinc

When my students were in the preliminary stages, meaning, “familiarizing themselves” with Assignment #5 (writing instructions for experts and non-experts), one of my students from the A. James Clark School of Engineering, questioned the requirements of that assignment.

“Professor Hinc,” he asked in his baritone voice, “the assignment calls for 400 to 750 words.”

“Yes, it does indeed” I said, knowing that what will follow will be another, already familiar to me, tirade of precise explanations in which graphs, charts, drawings, and a mind-boggling calculus equations will be used as supporting points.

“Well, I think that we don’t really need that many words to write instructions,” he said to the perfect silence of the other twenty-one students in the class, whose faces were now turned towards him.

“Really?” I said, waiting for the calculus equations and seeing all the faces in the room turn to look at me.

At this point everyone in the room understood that my engineering student and I were engaged in a match and that the outcome was of the great interest to all in the room.

“Yes.  I can pretty much explain anything under 400 words.”  All the faces turned towards the baritone voice.

“Are you sure?” I said not knowing what to say.

“I am pretty sure,” he said.

“Well, in this case, we need to conduct an experiment.” All the faces turned towards me.

“Experiment?” The baritone voice clearly liked that word.  “What experiment?” he asked.

“You will see,” I said, trying to be as mysterious as I could.  I think even my eyebrows moved up slightly.  “We will conduct an experiment in the beginning of the next class, on Wednesday.”

“Okay …” The baritone voice was cheerful and confused at the same time.


“An experiment?  Why did I say that?  Now I have to come up with an experiment,” I was thinking coming up the stairs to my office.  “I can’t believe the things I say sometimes! Why do I have to make it difficult on myself?” I remember that “regret” was the first word that followed the questions.  The second word was “Jesus!” This is the one that comes to my mind habitually.

On the evening of that day I paced my house—admiring the autumn colors of the woods I see through the enormous windows in my living room, visiting the refrigerator in hope of finding something that needed to be purchased immediately, checking the dryer wishing to find clothes that needed to be folded—and nothing came to my mind.

To my disappointment, I realized that I was on an impossible quest to surprise my students, to engage them in something fabulously interesting, to challenge them, to make them happy, and—most importantly—to prove the baritone voice from the engineering school wrong.

I struggled way past my bed time and finally gave up.  I turned the lights off. A voice in my head said: “It’s okay.  It’s good to know when to give up.”  I took a deep breath and said to that voice: “I am not giving up, I am just going to sleep, you idiot!”

I was feeling myself dissolving into the warmth of my bed, drifting away into the place where my body, my thoughts, the air, and even the walls and the ceiling of the bedroom become one.  On the precipice of a dream a saw the walls of my room disconnect and float as geometrical shapes—a small square with an opening for a window, a gigantic rectangle for the ceiling, two trapeziums that supporting the cathedral ceiling, and a rhombus from nowhere that decided to join the other shapes.  They floated above my head in different patterns as if revealing all the different combinations of connections that exist within those shapes.

And that was the very moment when I realized that the dance of the geometrical shapes was the experiment I needed.  For a moment I was surprised how unimpressed I was to finally have it and then I realized the reason: I knew I had to get up and write it down because otherwise I won’t remember anything when I wake up in the morning.  “Jesus!” came to my mind.


The next morning I opened a Power Point, went straight into Shapes and chose Basic Shapes.  I arranged different shapes into a picture you can find here: http://tinyurl.com/6sbtye7

I would like to say that on Wednesday all my students were eager and excited in anticipation of the experiment, but the truth is that I was the only person exited because I was the only person who remembered about the experiment.  My students’ seemed slightly bewildered when they heard the word “experiment,” but when the baritone voice said, “Oh, yes, the experiment,” everyone seemed to remember our Monday’s match.

Here is the experiment:

I asked my students to pair up.  I asked them to sit back to back.  Half of the room faced the wall on the right and half of the room faced the wall on the left.  I gave the students facing the right wall a sheet of paper with the picture I prepared for the experiment.  The students facing the wall on the left were given a blank piece of paper (of the same size).  Then I asked the students with the picture to give instructions to the students with the blank paper to draw the picture they were holding.  The students with the blank paper were not allowed to see the picture; they had to draw it only on the basis of the instructions given by the students holding the picture.

After about 10 or 15 minutes everyone was done.  The results varied.  Some of the drawings were very close to the original, some of them were not, but all of them revealed one simple truth: giving instructions is not easy!  Or is it?

“How many words do you think you needed to instruct your partner?” I asked the baritone voice (he was the one giving instructions in his pair).

He smiled the smile of integrity. “Way more than 750,” he said, still smiling.

I didn’t need to say anything. I felt victorious!

“Professor Hinc,” called the baritone voice. “I would like to show you our drawing.”

“Yes,” I said walking towards his desk.

He put the drawing made by his partner on the original to reveal that the drawing was very precise.  The two pictures aligned perfectly.

“How did you do it?” I asked.  “It’s almost impossible!”

I turned to the class and showed them the drawing aligned with the original.  I asked if anyone else had such perfect results.  No one did.

“How did you do it?” I turned to the baritone.

“I gave him all the instructions in inches,” he said and smiled the victorious smile.

This story was originally published in “The Professional,” a newsletter of the Professional Writing Program at the University of Maryland, College Park.



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