Shame. Prompt #114

Woman Statue.JaneShame. . .

For this prompt, you can write about “shame” as a topic in general.

Or: Write on  something you are feeling shameful about. You can fictionalize your personal situation to write about a difficult subject.

Or: You can write about shame as character development . . . a character feature to be overcome.

Photo by Jane Person

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  1. Ke11y

    People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel…I’d feel ashamed, Marlene, if I didn’t thank you for making me feel I can write.

    I’ve learned you can tell a lot about a person by these three things:

    1-A rainy day,

    2-Lost luggage

    3-Tangled Christmas tree lights.

    I’ll write more for this prompt, but not here! Hugs

    1. mcullen Post author

      I love your precious comments, Kelly. Thank you.

    2. James Seamarsh

      Don’t know about (1), but (2) and (3), I’m ashamed to say, are very revealing indeed!

  2. wrdpntr


    Will sat at the back of the freshman Spanish class, his head down, focused on the textbook in front of him. There was a substitute teacher that Monday, an event that usually made his blood pressure climb. He didn’t like change or surprises, especially on a late-fall Monday very close to Thanksgiving. He could feel the tension in his chest rise though he maintained a pleasant expression. The energy wrought by the approaching holiday was palpable all over the campus. Why did everything have to build up before a break? Did the students have to pay ahead of time for their vacation with an increase in stress?

    Mrs. Arntson, his aide, sat in the back of the room. She was a quiet grandmotherly type with ginger hair. Will was grateful for her support, but mostly for the way she kept a low profile, rarely making contact with him in class. Instead, she followed along with the lesson, taking notes on her own copy of the handout, so she could review the material with him during study hall.

    Will felt ashamed of many things. The list was long. Mostly, he felt ashamed of his voice, which sounded a little like the deaf girl who’d sat next to him in fifth grade. He could make out her words easily enough, but they had a stilted thick sound, as though each one had been carefully wrapped in tissue paper. Her voice reminded him of a piano in desperate need of tuning.

    In elementary school, Will had been teased for this thick tongue of his. Now, the students mostly left him alone. They treated him decently, at least in class, but they didn’t engage him in their private jokes or across-the-room flirtations. He probably wouldn’t have picked up on their cues anyway.

    Will was proud of the way he could sit and focus, and do his school work for the whole one-hundred-minute period. It had taken all of his fifteen years to reach this new milestone. He teared up a bit at the thought of how much his mother had helped him work on his independence. But the list of shameful attributes still lurked, hidden in his backpack, pressed against his chest beneath his flannel shirt, in the hard-knuckled simian grip on his pen.

    Will’s left ear folded over at the top in a curious way, while the right one looked normal. What a word! It didn’t really apply to him, even if he blended in when the halls were filled between classes. His bad ear reminded him of puppies he’d seen with adhesive-taped ears, their owners training them to stay folded, as if this were a desirable condition. Will’s movements were a little jerky, his hair was cut too blunt, and his acne, while not extreme or revolting, stood out like a crimson rosebush among the garden of peachy flowers around him.

    Will’s spelling was atrocious and his handwriting resembled that of a third-grader new to the cursive alphabet. But he was proud of his ability to learn Spanish, and of the fact that he cared about this class. The teacher seemed to be a gentle young woman, as far as the substitute could glean from the photos strewn around her desk: she and her fiancé, clinking glasses with conspiratorial grins, and one with a group of girlfriends laughing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Perhaps she had taken a liking to Will, had helped him build a hanging bridge to ease his discomfort in her class. That’s the image the substitute held onto as she moved about the classroom, putting out fires started by the verb “ser.”

    She remembered her own elementary and middle school years. The onset of the tics, the incessant teasing, the cruel off-camera remarks on the playground when the teachers were out of earshot. Although her features looked normal, even comely, hers was a body that would not cooperate with her mind. It twitched and jerked and spent much of the day gazing out the tall windows, past the long poles hanging like dutiful sentries against the green plaster walls.

    Will’s challenges were different from her own. If anything, they were the antithesis of hers—he sat, rigid and still, while he did his work. He has a much stronger sense of self-esteem than I did at fifteen, she mused. What made them partners in shame was the quality of being different, the very sense of otherness they shared.

    Towards the end of the period, Will asked her for help with a few questions. His smile was a kind of handshake. They were in this together.

    1. mcullen Post author

      Gorgeous writing. So many memorable phrases: “as though each one had been carefully wrapped in tissue paper” and “his acne, while not extreme or revolting, stood out like a crimson rosebush among the garden of peachy flowers around him.” and “His smile was a kind of handshake.” And many more. Wonderful descriptive writing. . . realistic, I can see this classroom, see these characters and feel their pain. Really good writing. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Ke11y

      Absolutely beautiful piece of writing, touching, inspirational, and written with an elegance of hand and mind together. Bravo indeed.

      1. wrdpntr

        Thank you, Kelly.

  3. wrdpntr

    Thank you, Marlene, for the great prompt that inspired this piece. 🙂

    1. mcullen Post author

      You are welcome! I hope to post many more inspiring prompts! 🙂

  4. Kathy Myers

    This is a well written vignette about connections— a handshake if you will, between two people who can empathize with one another’s struggles. No shame in that.
    The piece provides a reflection of what is truly shameful: people who would mock another’s disability. I like the contrast of the visual detailed description over the undercurrent of emotions. It’s interesting that the piece starts with what can be a universal source of stress— Thanksgiving Day. Speaking of which… I think a real shame is the stores that lure people away from their once a year feast with promises of buying low cost crap. Shame on them.

    1. wrdpntr

      Thanks for your comments, Kathy. I have to agree with you about the working ethos around holidays!

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