Ugly Middle Position


“How do you create a story?” The English teacher asked in the class. After listening to the answers from various students he said, “Imagine a character, give him a problem, and voila there begins your story.”

   The day’s lesson was John Updike’s story, Should Wizard Hit Mommy? In that story Jack tells a bedtime story to his daughter. It is a story about a skunk named Roger whose problem is his foul smell which drives away all his potential friends. “Children can be terribly insensitive sometimes,” the teacher said. “They are not as innocent as they are believed to be. Imagine our little hero being pooh-poohed by other children calling him Roger Stinky Skunk.”

   Jenny was sceptical as usual. Children, he said. Weren’t they animals? She didn’t like many things that her English teacher said in the class. She thought his views, quite many of them at least, were outlandish. He would say things like “Miracles are dying to be born in your minds; just change the way you perceive and watch miracles exploding like fireworks in the sky.”

   “You can all write stories if you wish,” the teacher was saying. “Just imagine a character and create a problem for him or her.”

   “You are my problem,” Jenny’s mind whispered. By ‘you’ she meant her teacher. “I shall write a story about you.”

   “The wizard changed Roger’s odious smell to the fragrance of roses,” the class continued. “The problem is solved. The story can end. But the story continues because the child to whom it is being told is not asleep yet. Or maybe Jack is not happy with the solution. So how do you continue your story?”

   “Create a new problem,” said the Einstein of the class.

   “Precisely,” the teacher said jubilantly as if Einstein had made a historical discovery.

   “That’s the problem,” Jenny’s mind whispered again. Precisely. “Haven’t you said a thousand times that there is nothing precise in life except formulas like a plus b the whole squared is equal to something? You are so self-contradictory! I’ll begin my story: John Sir is a contradiction of himself. Wow! That’s quite a thing to begin a story with!”

   “Jenny, you’re distracted,” said the teacher.

   She frowned. “No, I’m not,” she asserted.

  “Okay, tell me what I just said.”

   “Create problems,” Jenny said.

   “Fine. Do you think a skunk should smell like roses? A problem?”

   “Why can’t a skunk smell like roses if he likes that?”

   “Well, shouldn’t a skunk smell like skunks?”

   “You tell us to smile even when we don’t feel like smiling. If we can smile when we want to cry, why can’t a skunk smell like a rose?”

   “Awww, Jenny!” His usual histrionics again. She hated it. “That’s just the point, the ugly middle position that Jack finds himself in at the end.”

   The teacher went on. There is the fairy world of magic and miracles on the one hand, the world of the stories Jack creates for his daughter. Then there is the prosaic world of harsh realities where his wife is right now painting their furniture in spite of her pregnancy. Jack finds himself caught between the two worlds.

   “I’m caught between two worlds,” Jenny heard her mind whisper. “Between your drama and my reality.”

   “Inertia is the ugly middle position,” said the teacher. “Jack stands inert at the end, incapable of action. Action is what carries life forward. Pick up your brush, Jack, and paint your future, er... I mean, furniture….”

   “What action could I take when my dad left mom and me to live with another woman?” Jenny’s mind whirred. “You don’t know how much I long to go for a drive with him listening to the love songs he plays in the car. But he abandoned me. I’m so unlovable? And you tell me to smile all the time….”

   “If Roger wants to smell like roses, that’s his choice,” the teacher said. “He is in action, at least. Of course, he will have to face the consequences. Will other skunks accept him? That’s his mother’s question. When that choice comes Roger has to act again. Until then, Jenny is right, why can’t Roger smell like whatever he wants?”

   “Ugly middle position!” Jenny mumbled.

   “Yes, Jenny, you said something?” The teacher asked.

   “Is life full of ugly middle positions?” She asked.

   “Isn’t it? The problem is if you get stuck to inertia, my dear. You have to choose, you have to act, you have to go on.”

   Jenny stared at the teacher. A smile longed to bloom on her lips. But she suppressed it.

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  1. The teacher's solution is a wise one. Jenny will take time to come out of her ugly middle position. But she is lucky to get this teacher who can pull her out of inertia. Because life is not kind, a teacher like John is. Wonderful solution. Anyone can write a story if they know how to arrive at solutions for the problems they have created. How metaphorical is that to life as well! Genius piece.

    1. I'm obliged.i know this story may be a bit obscure to those not familiar with Updike's story. But I had to write it. Was relieved to read your comment.

  2. A fiction at eye's level and fact at head's level with a wonderful heart at its heart!!!

  3. Beautifully written! Lot to fathom!I would read it my daughter. Loved the characters and the situation!


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