My husband snapped this photo with his cell phone as we were driving away from my parents' house in Eastern Kentucky.
"Life moves too fast. Slow down. Your destiny awaits you."
Wise old fellow.
I was on the edge of the passenger seat.
"Stop! Please! We have to get a picture. You have to take a picture!" I exclaimed, twisting in my seat to get a better view, willing the owl to stay put for a minute.
I am notorious for my bad camera skills and for my overall nervous energy, which was sure to startle the owl. Aware of my limitations in this area, my husband stopped the car, rolled down the window, and patiently, quietly took the picture. He handed me his phone, and I checked to make sure we didn't need to get a second shot. The owl was still sitting there when we slowly drove away.
This was going to be the BEST writing prompt EVER, I thought. I couldn't wait until first period Monday.
When the kids arrived, I had the owl, and his words of wisdom, projected onto the screen at the front of the room. I was almost smug...no need for writing prompt web sites, forget the book of photo prompts, or the cute box of individual story prompts I had ordered from a teachers' catalog. I had, almost single-handedly, procured a prompt that was sure to inspire the BEST writing EVER.
"Is that a stuffed animal?" one kid asked. "It looks like a stuffed animal."
"It reminds me of Harry Potter," said another student.
"Did you notice the message?" I asked...long pause.
"Take a look at the sign he's sitting on," I encouraged...still nothing.
"Could one of you read the signs for me?" I asked. Of course they could read the signs. They are in seventh grade.
One of the kids read the signs.
"It's saying we need to slow down and not rush toward our destiny, right?" a student asked, rather flatly. "We get it."
"My husband actually took this picture," I said. "We actually saw an owl sitting on top of a Destiny Lane street sign, which was on top of a Slow sign...because we were on a curvy road...in the mountains..." Tough crowd.
I gave the kids a few more minutes to write; but none of them seemed inspired by my inspirational photo. The kid who thought it was a stuffed animal was still not convinced that it wasn't a staged shot.
Later that day, I wondered why the photo had not produced the BEST writing EVER...or very much writing at all for that matter. Maybe it was because it was Monday or because the lovely Barred Owl really did look like a stuffed animal. More likely, though, it was because I clearly already knew what I wanted them to write. I startled them away by smugly assuming they would take my lead and go...where?...straight to the obvious. I led them down a narrow, straight path directly to the answer. The prompt was too confining. Perhaps if all thirty of them had been with me that day, if they could have seen, firsthand, the wise old owl on the road sign; then they would have been inspired. Sometimes, I realized, it's the moment that prompts the writing, not the writing prompt.