Teaching Little Miss Opie

Always mind what you say — you never know who’s in your audience.

Back in the mid-’90s, I taught creative writing at Vassar College for the Summer Institute for the Gifted. The students were precocious middle schoolers whose parents had dropped a bundle for a couple weeks of learning. My job was to impart my love of metaphor, description and iambic pentameter — all of which, as an English major, I truly adore.

One afternoon, I launched into a soliloquy about plot, explaining that every protagonist has an obstacle to overcome. The obstacle creates tension and drives the story to its end.

Needing an illustration, I began to explain the plot of the filmĀ Apollo 13, which had just played in theaters. On the blackboard, I drew an Earth and Moon and small spaceship with flames, and I explained how the crew’s dwindling oxygen and distance from home was a major obstacle. The kids connected immediately, interjecting their ideas and answering my questions.

Later, after the class filed out, a camp assistant who’d been in the class came by to chat.

“That was great,” she said. “Did you see Bryce giggling while you were talking about Apollo 13?”

Bryce was a red-haired girl with piercing eyes, sort of a female Opie if you remember The Andy Griffith Show. That should have been a clue.

“No,” I said. “Why would she find it funny?”

“Well,” the RA said, “her dad directed that movie — you know, Ron Howard.”

Ah, yes. I connected her name in my head: Bryce Howard. If you’re a film fan, you know her today by her stage name, Bryce Dallas Howard.

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