Extra Credit

Author’s Note: Inspired by the insightful creative guide, David Karpel’s recent work, I answered the prompt (before reading David’s rich, narrative responses). Here’s what emerged to the surface.

Homework: Descriptive writing for your journal. Spend five minutes on each (40 minutes total). Use each sentence or phrase to show. Don’t tell.

Due tomorrow. To be checked and graded.

  1. A messy room:

Towel on the floor. She had folded it up to soak up the coffee she had spilled on Sunday. Treated herself to an iced coffee at Westside, though there was a full pot brewing in the industrial-sized kitchen. She thought it might make things better. She knocked over the earth-killing, guilt-inducing plastic cup with her clumsy foot. She didn’t lose her composure.

A Duane Reade paper prescription bag – Sertraline and Bupropion. She picked them up at 3am the other night because Duane Reade’s pharmacy is absolute Chelm, and that is just about the only hour there is no wait.

A book she borrowed from Hebrew school. 200 pages she had to read last Wednesday night, for Thursday morning’s seminar. She managed. She had been working on her pokerface and puts it to work in the class discussion. She will return it Wednesday. Or let it sit, with the kindest and most eager intentions, until pre-Passover cleaning. But she will return it.

  1. A kind person:

Michal Negrin earrings, sitting in miniature, floral-printed boxes, atop a white dresser, cluttered with artifacts. That’s not the point.

“Anything for you, doll.” I complain I have no earrings. I never think to bring them back to the city.


“I can wait here with you until you dial the phone number, if you want. I can stay here.”

Please stay here.

“Of course. You’ve got this. What’s the worst that could happen?”

Why did I put my makeup on before I cried? I never seem to plan these things out right.

“Do you want to have a sip of water? Are you ready to dial the phone number?”

Thank you.

  1. Temper:

You are not entitled to standing ovations for being a basically decent person. I see the rage tingling behind your teeth, gritted tight, bursting dams against the pressures of your angry defenses. You are so scared. You know I can see you. You know I know you’re holding something back. Your animated smile, feigned and forced and fearful – a tantrum.

  1. A frightening situation:

The plastic snakes are so scary, even though they are clearly toys. The boys in second grade know the snakes send you into a panic, so they surround you with them, try to get you to touch one, to overcome your fears. You say you aren’t afraid, you just don’t want to. In time, they get over it. You are still afraid of snakes.

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The worst is when your mind trails off and imagines the most absurd yet vividly threatening possibilities; like standing in the shower, hearing a phantom fire alarm, and envisioning yourself trying to run out of the shower, slipping and falling, and the firefighters needing to see you naked. Sometimes it helps to remind yourself that our brains are really freaking intricate, with all these neurons and synapses and all firing off all the time; so there are bound to be some weird moments here and there.

  1. A depressing scene:

Someone crying alone on a train. Me, crying on the train, picturing what I must look like to other people watching me, crying on the train.

For some reason, the image of a parent giving a child a present and the child rejecting it, or even complaining they wanted a different color or flavor or version, makes me so sad and uncomfortable.

A puzzle piece left alone on the sidewalk, next to a recycling bin, by the roundabout, at the end of Arlozorov, in Jerusalem; next to an olive oil bottle, and a shriveled flower. A cat leaps out from somewhere you hadn’t noticed before. You have nothing to give the cat and besides, it is already out of sight again.

  1. The storm was violent.

You can’t leave your window open even a crack. Even closed, you can hear sounds of someone banging, rapping against the panes, wind and rain striking with angst. There is a blessing for moments like these. You stay under your covers, unfazed. You’ve always loved when it pours on Friday nights.

  1. The dog looked dangerous.

It roared, shouted, as if voicing a personal affront. It bounced and panted, preparing for battle. You stay still, observe. You kneel down on all fours, and crawl into the dog’s cage, sitting, waiting. It will only come when you stop wanting it to, when you stop setting a goal. And don’t fake it; the puppy can sniff out the “X” you’ve drawn to mark the spot, even if you’ve covered it. Let it go. 

When you meditate, it can’t be in the hopes of anything – being more productive, smoothing out your anxieties, anything – besides striving to meditate. Peace of mind is elusive. When I pray, I pray that I should be able to pray in truth, without getting in my own way.

Let the dog bark. Wait in its cage. make yourself at home.

  1. She is a good problem solver.

She asks me “What can you do in the next hour?”

“Shower, eat oatmeal, drink coffee, send two emails.”

I am a little more grounded.

She texts me later to check in, to plan the next hour and the next, bit by bit.


You don’t have to apologize to the other people at your table in the library for crying too loud, sniffling snotty, short sobs into your concert tee. And that boy you’re friends with on Facebook and pray across the mechitzah from, who you’ve only acknowledged in nods across reading rooms in the library – he doesn’t notice. He just got new headphones, and is listening to your favorite song. Probably. You should go home and do the same.


Your honesty and vivid, revealing details come through here. I do wonder where your mind wanders. I hope you’re okay. This is fine work for 5 extra credit points. Please complete the mandatory paper by Friday. You are already two days past the deadline. 

5/5 pts.