This is the first part to a writing exercise I learned in a fiction workshop. The point of this exercise is to find some object of personal meaning or value to you, write out all of your personal attachment to this object (how you came by it, why it’s important to you, etc), and then write another story about the same object that has nothing to do with your personal relationship with it. Not only is this then a great exercise for creating a story, but it also helps writers to detach themselves from their work.
This is the non-fiction portion of that exercise. The fiction part should be out this Sunday.
There is a magenta frog which sits atop my printer. Only its top side is magenta; its underside—all the way up to its lower jaw—and the area around its stickered black eyes are beige. Between the magenta and the beige a thin, red piece of fabric runs; it serves as a mouth, or possibly lips. The frog certainly doesn’t appear anatomically correct, as it sits almost a foot high. It stays seated perpetually—could it jump, the height would be tremendous. Its skin is made of some velvety material, and the webs of its feet are seamed in. The frog’s nostril holes are two black knots. The frog is cheaply made, and would not have lasted the past six years had it been owned by a child.
The frog was won for me six years ago, by someone I was dating at the time. We broke up when I returned to Saint Louis, and he moved to Orlando. We were at Adventureland, just outside of Des Moines—it was a double-date with our friends, Alyssa and Eli. Alyssa had been my best friend since junior high; Joe, who won me the frog, had known Eli since they were children.
I didn’t care much for theme parks. They brought me no nostalgia, since my parents had never taken me to any, and half the rides upset my stomach, gave me a headache, or both. The heat did nothing to help with physical comfort; everyone was un-sticking pants and shorts from the insides of their thighs. While I still had fun with my friends, it wasn’t any wonder that we ended up in one of the cheap game sections of the park. That’s where I first saw my magenta frog, seated in a pile amongst its orange, lime green, and other magenta brethren. I was not enthralled at first sight—a magenta frog was not something I absolutely had to have.
Still, I had and have a soft spot for frogs. The thing about frogs—while they’re not very attractive creatures—is that they represent a state of fully reached potential. If tadpoles represent transition or transformation, then frogs are the fully realized state of that process. They are the end product, the super ego, the zenith, the thing that can live in two worlds. Plus, I liked stuffed animals. Needles to say, I wasn’t opposed to the idea of having a stuffed frog.
The game to win the neon-colored zeniths was simple. In a wading pool were various plastic clockwork fishes, also of unnaturally bright colors, which were perpetually opening and closing their mouths. They pedaled counterclockwise. The object of the game was to take a “fishing rod” (a plastic stick with a plastic ball dangling from the end of it) and catch one of the plastic fish. Each fish had a number on their underside; the more frequent “1” got you a smaller, even cheaper frog that only came in puce green while the exotic “2” got you one of the larger frogs. Eli first tried to win a frog for Alyssa, but—not being a man of great patience—failed, and fished a “1.” Alyssa (who’s always taken great pleasure in publically emasculating her now-husband) decided to prove herself an independent woman and win “her own damn frog,” and left Eli with nothing but a crushed ego and a non-magenta stuffed amphibian.
Alyssa had a good strategy—she simply waited for someone else to catch a “2” fish, and then waited for that fish to be thrown back in. While this was a sound strategy, she failed at the execution by being unable to catch a fish.
While Alyssa struggled with this, I’d decided to throw in my own fifty cents and win my magenta frog. I was in the process of following Alyssa’s strategy, when Joe offered to win the frog for me. Now, I was and still am an independent young woman perfectly capable of winning her own frogs. Even back then, I knew catching a plastic fish had to be easier than Alyssa was managing to make it look. But no one had ever tried to win something for me before—and for that novelty, I handed my fishing rod over to Joe.
To my satisfaction, Joe also used Alyssa’s strategy. He won me the magenta frog just minutes after Alyssa had obtained hers. While Joe has since won me other useless trinkets—including power beads to a disgustingly patriotic bear—there is still something special in that frog. That magenta frog, which sits on top of my printer, represents the first time that somebody was acted with chivalry upon my behalf. In this day and age carrying a person over water or mud, or winning them some sort of prize, is the only time people can be chivalrous. Those are the only actions slightly above good manners and common courtesy that are open to us.
Four-and-a-half years after the events represented above, Joe and I started dating again. We’re still going strong.