I Love Homework

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I’m in the second semester at the University of Chicago’s Writers Studio. We have a great teacher—Kevin Davis. During our first night he had classmates interviewing each other for 10 minutes about a memorable holiday moment, and then he asked us to write a scene about it. He’s big on research so he wanted us to add a little to flesh out the scene.

I’m not sure I did Sarah’s Christmas any justice. She certainly did  mine. But it was nice to break out the old interviewing and research skills again and fascinating to use them as a tool to create a scene. Scenes are a great way to move a story along. Breaking down essays this way is enlightening in more ways than I can say. I look forward to using this and those lessons awaiting me in my future work.

In the meantime, here’s Sarah’s memorable holiday moment, edited after great input from the class:

On December 26 Sarah stirred up some magical memories in her Minnesota home, allowing the joy of the season to spread over the Ashley family for another full day. Sarah Ashley, a 27-year-old content writer and actress now living in Chicago, hasn’t missed a Christmas at her childhood home in Minnetonka, eight miles west of Minneapolis. She doesn’t make the trek solely because it’s the big birthday bash for over 2 billion Christians around the globe, but because it’s her sister’s.

This holiday marked Claire’s 25th, and to celebrate her quarter-of-a-century, friends and family gathered on the 26th for a dinner party. The Ashley’s eight-foot Christmas tree and holiday decorations sparkled in the family room as Claire’s 10 girlfriends, a handful of 21-year-old brother Graham’s buddies and some family friends filled the house with chatter and laughter.

“It even snowed that night, like a pretty little veil on Christmas,” Sarah said, her blues eyes twinkling, too, as she recounted the evening.

The Ashley’s had the party end nailed. The dinner part wasn’t as firm.

“My mom doesn’t know how to prep for lots of people. I knew if I didn’t step in, it wouldn’t happen,” Sarah laughed, lovingly.

On the menu: homemade pasta and sauce with shrimp.

She commandeered the kitchen, appointing some to pasta boiling, others to sauce prep and the remainder to shrimp handling. Long-time friends, dressed for a party, bustled about following Sarah’s orders as she directed the meal. Garlic, tomato and basil joined the party, too, their scents floating through the house along with the pine. So engrossed in her efforts, at one point Sarah turned around to see all her line cooks quietly awaiting their next assignments. She laughed out loud, breaking the silence. Now confident there was no way it would come together simultaneously, the chatting, laughing and cooking resumed.

“Everyone was having such a good time, trying to cook fast, enjoying the evening. It felt like a scene out of a Nora Ephron movie,” Sarah said, her hands gesturing about as if she were replaying it in her head.

The partiers loved the meal, and Graham and his friends relished in the gaggle of 25-year-old women as much as pasta and shrimp. At the end of the night, the birthday girl and her friends prepared to hit the streets of Minnetonka. Sarah, who enjoyed sitting back and taking it all in because she had no friends to distract her, sipped her wine, content in playing her part in such a holiday spectacular.

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