Every Monday evening I take my niece to her gymnastics class. While she flips and flops, rolls and wiggles, I amuse myself for the next hour with any of a variety of activities. Usually I take my netbook along, doing research, copyediting, or just surfing the Net. Sometimes I bring needlework. A couple of times I brought hard copies of poems I was screening for a poetry contest.
Tonight I’m working on an “on location” nudge on my netbook. I sit along a narrow counter that lines the picture windows looking out on the enormous gym where several classes are taking place. The others seated along this counter are reading newspapers and books, checking phones and Blackberries, having a bite from the snack bar, or coping with siblings of those out there poised on parallel bars or bouncing on trampolines.
Of course, I could just sit here and watch; it’s quite a show. The gym is a living patchwork of activity, or maybe jigsaw puzzle is more accurate, with mats, bars, lanes for running, various sets of bars fitted together so everyone can work without interfering with anyone else. In the case of my niece’s class, they change positions about every 15 or 20 minutes. Sometimes my niece is way across the gym so I can barely see her tiptoeing on a beam or being coached to turn a cartwheel. Other times she’s smack in front of me. Then I’m self-conscious about being a distraction, because my niece makes eye contact, pulls faces at me, mouths things, and generally doesn’t pay as much attention as she should.
No matter what I’m doing, I find the buzzing of the gym doesn’t intrude on whatever I’ve brought to work on. Maybe the glass windows create a sense of at least mental distance, with sounds blocked out. (Not that there’s not plenty of noise. The snack bar area buzzes with its own activity, and although the voices aren’t loud, the din seems to reverberate against the corrugated metal ceiling, above which other spectators sit, looking down on the gymnasts.)
There’s so much here to inspire a piece of writing. The overall scene is rich in visual detail, but it would also be effective to zero in on one gymnast: Her stance on the beam, her concentration, her fight to maintain her balance after a back flip, her persistence in trying again after she falls to the rubber mat.
There are the young gymnasts like my niece, just learning and not necessarily eying a future in competition. They work at their exercises enthusiastically, though, and several look as though they might have promise if they wished to continue.
The teachers are worth studying, too, patient and supportive, carefully showing the youngsters how to flip over a bar or roll backward down a padded ramp. The teacher/coaches of the older students seem more animated, more forceful, but no less supportive.
Visually, it’s also interesting to view all the different ways the students are dressed, especially the girls. The younger ones are butterfly-bright in colorfully patterned leotards, their long hair pulled back into ponytails. Older girls dress according to their team: some in black shorts with black t-shirts lettered in white, high school-age girls in black leotards with half-open backs of metallic fabric. The boys, no what their ages, all seem to dress in shorts and t-shirts (or no shirts at all).
Prompt: I don’t want to post a photo of the gym for security reasons, so use your imagination to picture the scene based on details I’ve provided above. (If you’re familiar with a child’s gym, draw on your own impressions.) Choose some aspect of the scene, either one I’ve describe or one of your own. Be creative in exploring your subject. Make it strictly descriptive, if you wish, or examine the characteristics of the students or teachers in their drive to master skills.
BONUS NUDGE: Perhaps you’ve spent time waiting while a child, relative, or even a friend completed a class. Describe that experience. What did you do to entertain yourself? Were there many others waiting as well? Describe these various characters and how they spent their time. Work plenty of sensory details into your writing. If the scene inspired you in some way, explore that and tell the reader what you thought or learned.