Monday, May 26, 2014

Telling the Right Story

     I was probably seven years-old or so the afternoon I realized I needed to work on my communication skills. My friends and I were playing in someone’s backyard when I suddenly remembered an exciting event from my day before. Without context, I blurted it out to my friends. Despite the authenticity of what was said, my tale was deemed untrue by the ruling that cannot be appealed when one boy announces it. I was met with an incredulous “nuh-uh!” And that was the end of it.
     The day before, I’d been in the neighboring town with my family when we saw the local fire engine, red lights rolling down a side street. My dad steered the Volkswagen Bus down to investigate. There had been a minor residential structure fire. By the time we got there it was pretty much over. My dad overheard folks standing around talking about the couch getting badly burned up.
     I don’t know what sparked my memory the next day with my friends. But as soon as I thought of it I had to share with them the incredible thing that had happened to me the day before.
     “There was a fire!” I exclaimed. “We went to it! The couch was badly burned!”
     By then, my buddy Chuckie had narrowed his eyes and was shaking his head, pronouncing judgment. I was crushed. I fibbed now and then. But this time I wasn’t. Perhaps it was penance for the lies I did spin. But I walked away from that situation wondering how I could have told the story better. In retrospect, nearly any way could have been better.
     Sometimes I will have a story and try to get it out, figure out how to tell it in the best way and it just won’t work. Often times it ends up as a blog post anyway. But sometimes it will be a fiction story I’m working on. There will be false starts, long pauses, and days where I wrap up my writing thinking that at least I got a few hundred words out.
     Now I’m a firm believer in crummy first drafts. It’s not only okay, it’s expected to produce a first draft that is little better than a bucket of butt-loafs. I understand that. But I’m working on my memoir and not feeling even the hope that it’s working for me. I started on it last year and felt good about it. Then I promised myself that when I was done writing Sidewinder last November that I would get back into the first draft of the memoir. January came and what I really wanted to do was fix up Sidewinder. It needed just a few things to close up a few plot holes. I went ahead and wrote a complete second draft. I wrote off and on and then in March the mojo kicked in. By April I was writing just about every day. And I was having a ball.
I finished the second draft of Sidewinder and felt great. A few people read it and had positive comments. Then, feeling the burdensome obligation, I started back on the memoir. I began again at the beginning. Some days went well and others didn’t. Most of the time writing it felt like swimming against a current. But I kept it up.
Then Prajna read Sidewinder. She liked it, but had a lot to say about how it could be a lot better. I told her what I really wanted to do was write another draft of it. That’s when Prajna told me something I really needed to hear:
“You’re memoir’s not going anywhere.”
Right away, Prajna tried to clarify that she meant that I wouldn’t lose it. The story would always be there. But I knew that she nailed it. The memoir’s just not happening.
Prajna told me what she didn’t like about Sidewinder. And I loved hearing it. I started thinking about how I can increase the tension, up the stakes, and sharpen this novel so it’s more plot-driven.
So what does it mean if I go back on my promise to myself and set the memoir aside for now? Yes, it means I am breaking my word. But it also means I am going to tell the story I have to tell now. The memoir was coming out in confused utterances, and sometimes I could see readers shaking their heads, not saying “nuh-uh, but worse, closing the book.
So the memoir is going back on hold for awhile. I can’t force it. It’s time to join the current and get back to work on Sidewinder. My plan is to try to write every day. I think I’ll read over my draft once more and stick notes on the pages. There will be some plot changes and some more stuff taken out. With a major re-write like this, I’m convinced that it won’t be the last draft.
So that’s the plan. My focus will go to Sidewinder. I may or may not post blogs on Monday and they may or may not be much more than updates on how I’m doing.
But when this draft is done, I will most likely be even more excited than when the last one was done. It’ll be like a fire. Thanks for reading.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Near the start of The Road

     I love today’s information superhighway. Thanks to YouTube, I can watch clips of Classic Sesame Street and TV commercials from Saturday morning in the 70’s. I recently listened to an album using Rhapsody Music Service that I hadn’t heard in probably 40 years. Back when I was young I would put a record on and just to sit and listen to. One of the ones was a record of singing nuns harmonizing with an acoustic guitar.
     It’s astounding to hear something again after 40 years. The lyrics make a lot more sense now that I hear them right. They make more sense, but they’re not as fun. One of the songs says “Walk in love with the wind on your wing, and cover the earth with the songs you sing”. They sang about wings. I thought they were flying. I pictured these girls flying high over rocky landscapes while singing. They flew so high and far they covered the whole world.
     The song began with the lyrics, “It’s a long, long road to freedom”. I didn’t hear the word “freedom”. What I did hear made less sense. It was some kind of made-up name that sounded like it belonged to a city in a fantasy story.
     For 40 years I remembered this song and never considered it meant anything other than an epic story of a journey. It was a long quest to find this magical city and you could fly to get there if you sang enough.
     That is what my young imagination came up with. Who could blame me for liking my imaginary world better than the real one?
     I don’t know where I got the image of the landscape you could fly over while singing. Maybe I had the song in my head while on a road trip to Sedona, Arizona. Whatever the elements were, the result was nothing like a bunch of singing nuns singing spiritual songs.
     Listening to the song recently and learning the correct words brought part of me back to earth. And it also showed me something that I think may be true for a lot of children. The imagination does not always take the path of least resistance. The most reasonable assumption of what the song was about didn’t matter to me. My mind took a different path. How many other kids are presented with a reality that they don’t fully understand or perceive, so they create their own fanciful reality to suit them?
     Now that I think about it, I know it’s not just kids who do this. I just described living in denial.
     God gives us a creative imagination. Young minds can take off with it. It couldn’t have just been me. Try striking up a conversation with a 5 year-old and see.
     One last thing I may have discovered when I heard the song the other day. As I mentioned, the song begins with “It’s a long road…” The idea of a road always intrigued me and 40 years ago that may have been the beginning of that enthrallment. Maybe it was, maybe not.
     As I work each morning on my memoir I’m straining to dredge up old memories that may be relevant to the overall story I want to tell. Some of them are not relevant, but still warrant a good looking over. It’s like organizing old photos and putting them in the correct order and seeing the progression of things. Who’d have thought singing nuns would play such a role?

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Stamp of His Soul

     I thought I had wasted time going into the 99 Cent Only store when they didn’t have what I needed there, but making my way back through the aisles, it was all worth it when I caught a glimpse of God.
     When I counsel other writers, the main thing that I believe they must know is that an artist must express who they are through their craft. I can’t abide any hopeful writer who asks for story ideas. I stress the point that the idea must come from the writer and that inspiration is everywhere.
One afternoon I saw a couple of kids walk down the street and go into a convenience store. One writer might look at that and create a story about a holdup. Another might imagine what the shopkeeper thinks of little kids and why. Personally, when I saw this, I wondered why the kids were friends and how far one might go to help another one out. My point is that who we are is expressed through what we create.
All my writing has thematic elements having to do with friendship, trust, and redemption. Read just about any fiction of mine and you will see it. This is because of who I am and what I believe is significant and true. I love creating characters that are flawed, because I am too. Everything I create, I want it to have the stamp of my soul on.
I went into the 99 Cents Only Store last Thursday to look for filler paper. I don’t usually like going in there because there is usually a long wait in line. I thought that if I got the filler paper, I would get myself a Big Hunk® Bar too to make it worth going in. But they didn’t have filler paper and I wasn’t going to stand in line just for a candy bar. So I turned and headed back up the aisle. Then I saw them.
A mom and daughter were stopped. I didn’t notice what the mom was looking at. But the little girl, who was probably 7 years old or so, was holding a large package of colored marking pens. These are the kinds of pens that come in a pack of about 50 with varying shades. The girl was holding them and looking at them with a face that held a wonderment of emotion. She was excited, joyous and determined. As I walked by, she glanced up at me and in her face, I saw the look of a person who is anticipating creation. With that creation, she was already feeling the adventure and love that the creator feels. She was ready to take those markers home. And regardless whether or not it was a self-portrait, the picture would show her.  It would be an expression of who she is.
I walked out of the store and wrote a quick few lines in the notebook I try to carry everywhere just for things like that. Sure, it was nice to see a little girl being happy, but outside the store, I could not escape a compelling thought. The joy that the creator feels for their creation, that is how God feels for us. If I’m going to believe in God and believe that he created me, then it’s the same way I create things. I put myself into them. When God created man in his image, who He is was put into us. That doesn’t mean we are gods. It means that we are God’s, made in his likeness. And I saw proof of that walking up the store aisle, when a young child of The Most High God looked at me with the same feeling God had when he made her.
I wish I lived in a world where it would have been appropriate to stop and ask the girl’s name and buy the pens for her, and a candy bar too. But the world is fallen, flawed. And yet we are still His, made in His image. I saw this myself in the aisle of a discount store. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

We're not Alone

     As soon as I noticed one, they were everywhere. It’s happened more than once. The first time may have been when I first got my Mustang. As I drove it down the highway, I saw more Mustangs. Hey, the world has more than just one. The same thing happened with my next car, and the one after that. I thought it was a funny little car phenomenon. But it was so much more than cars.
I was not prepared for the next phase of this. As soon as Prajna and I learned that we were expecting our first child, suddenly I saw pregnant women everywhere. What, had we started a trend? What was with all the moms to be around the mall?
It didn’t take much thought to realize what was happening. They had been there all along. It was only since we experienced it that we began to notice others in the same condition. It happened when I drove a different car, I was aware of what I was in and spotted more like mine. The same with pregnant women, we noticed them because we were mindful. Later in my life, I suddenly noticed how many people wore eyeglasses. It wasn’t that I was that blind without them, but when I started wearing them, I became aware that there were plenty of people just like me. The first time I got caught in the rain with them, I thought to myself, hey, lots of other people have this problem of rain spots too. Most recently, I noticed many other people walking with a cane. Up until just a few weeks ago, I had no idea people even did that.
We’re really not so different from each other. I can walk down the street and notice someone wearing the same kind of shoes as me, lots of people with eyeglasses, and even though my truck is an older model, I can spot another one like mine right away.
There are things only on the outside. When I stop to think about how alike were are in visible ways, it seems inevitable that we are a lot alike inside too.  
With all the people out there, there must be more who don’t care for raw broccoli but love it when it’s cooked well. Someone else in the world must think the sound of wind blowing through pine trees is the most beautiful noise in the world. I know there are lots of people who suffer from restless leg syndrome and tinnitus, maybe they wear eyeglasses and need to walk with a cane sometimes too.
But then go deeper down. How many people do I walk past everyday who have the same anxieties as me? Who else, when no-one is around, stops and takes a deep breath, thinking: Okay, I can do this… I hope. How many of us struggle with hurts, habits and hang-ups that we think that no-one else in the world understands?
Imagine if one day everything we kept hidden was displayed on a floating sign over our head that followed us around. If would be like the day I got my eyeglasses, but for everyone. Suddenly we would see that there are so many other people out there who battle addictions, suffer from anxiety, feel lost or confused, and worst of all, they think that they are alone and no-one understands. But if the day came that everyone had a sign saying what they struggled with, would there be looks of recognition? Would people stop and say to someone: you too?
There will never come a day when we have these signs displaying the burdens we carry. I think that the best we can do for now is be kind, starting with a smile or caring word. Doing anything to indicate that we also are weighed down with our own issues can help others connect to us. Because if I’ve learned anything on my road to recovery, it’s that I can’t travel it alone. And another thing, once I took that invisible sign that listed what was hurting me, and let other folks know what was written on it, those hurts were not as strong anymore.   
There are safe places to go to where there are others who have revealed what’s on their sign of hurts. That’s good news. But even better news, sharing the hurts with others, reaching out and accepting help, can begin the healing.