Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Thursday, November 15, 2012
This is my last blog for a while. I wrote it some time in the later ‘70’s. It seems an appropriate way to close down for a spell. I may get back to blogging after a time out.
(the posted version seems to have some spacing problems between words that I can't change)
n Hi there, Mrs. Moody. Ready for your first creative consultation?
n Oh my . . . well, I suppose so, Mr. Beardsley. I . . . I don’t know if this little piece is what you want, but . . .
n No problem, Mrs. Moody. Throw it out to me, and we’ll see how it flows. Give me your first line.
n (clearing her throat): “Hey, Leroy. Drop the shades and watch that cat zap up the tree.”
n Mmnnh. First of all, Mrs. Moody, a basic rule in writing is to know your reading audience, and how you can communicate. Now before we get into your line there, let’s see if you can give us a catchy lead-in statement. The principle character here seems to be a cat, right?
n Well, one of the characters, you might say.
n Mmnh. Let’s see then. What motivated the cat?
n I hadn’t gotten to that yet.
n But you must. How about . . . how about a dog?
n That’s what I’m trying to . . .
n OK. Now take a step backward into the plot, and try again.
n How about, “Leroy! Ain’t I told you to get that damn dog out of the house?”
n Er, maybe you could move ahead one step. Who is looking at the dog and cat?
n Leroy and his friend Jefferson.
n All right. Give Jefferson something to say, like “See the dog.” By the way, give him a name . . . Spot. Now try again.
n Well, I hadn’t given this much thought. “Hey, Leroy. Old Spot’s chasing cats again.”
n No no, Mrs. Moody. Children can’t take in so much vocabulary when they are beginning to read. Simplify. Simplify and clarify. Now, please, Mrs. Moody. Let’s give it the old professional try. Remember? Write and re-write. Right?
n Yes sir. Simplify. You’re perfectly right, of course. Let’s see now . . . “See" . . . oh I have it: “See Spot” . . . uh . . . “See Spot run.”
Great! Now your juices are flowing! Keep on. Repetition is effective. Run it past the kids again for emphasis.
n “See Spot. See Spot run.” But Mr. Beardsley, don’t you think . . .
n You’re doing fine. Now introduce you protagonist. Don’t you think you should identify these characters by name for the kids? How about Ginger for the cat? I once had a cat named Ginger. . . she got mangled by a Beagle and . . . but excuse me. This is your story. Keep your style consistent, remember. Now, you’re on your own here for the next line, but keep it simple.
n You mean like this? “Hey Leroy. What’s your cat’s name?”
n No, no, no, Mrs. Moody. Keep it simple.
n Uh . . . “See Ginger” . . . uh . . . “See Ginger run.”
n Now you’re on to something. Action words . . . keeps things hopping.
n But Mr. Beardsley. I have trouble thinking in direct terms. Do I have to get rid of the line I had to begin with?
n To be frank with you, Mrs. Moody, that line has to go. No kids can get through it. Another rule: clean out the excess. Remove the garbage from your writing. Nothing is too good that it can’t be left out of a story. You’ve got to let go. Now, try some free association.
n Well, here’s how I might try it: “See Spot. See Spot run. See Ginger. See Ginger run.” Now, um . . . um. . . Oh, I think I’ve got the swing of it now. “See Jane. See Jane run. See Dick. See Dick run. See Mother. See Mother run. See Father. See Father run. See . . .
n Stop right there, Mrs. Moody. Don’t over-write. Know when you’ve come to the end of your plot. Leave them hanging. Don’t resolve.
n Yes. Oh yes, Mr. Beardsley. My, what a great help you’ve been this morning. If it weren’t for you, no telling where I might have gone with that story.
n That’s what I’m here for. See you next week, Mrs. Moody.
Friday, November 2, 2012
A flash fiction episode, not to be a continued story:
It happened between Rocky Road and Orange Sherbert . . . my most memorable counseling opportunity. It happened this way.
I set up office where she corners me beside frozen desserts. Her litany of pain is familiar: the bad hip, high blood pressure, “sugar.” Today there is a new one, the one that has been hiding behind facades of facile reasons. “They fired me last week.” Her eyes brim, tears overflowing onto frozen packages of pie-crusts, fruit, cakes, which soon are swimming in briny sorrow.
Having learned to listen, saying nothing, I stand there while she enlarges the litany of injustices. Pizzas and thawing raspberries, floating in her tears, rise to the edge of the bin. Biscuits and pies spill over into aisles, as shopping carts edge through, their controllers oblivious, seeking the 20% off items for the week.
An hour later she winds down, blows her nose into the napkin she had tucked in her pocket, sighs and maneuvers her cart in and out of floating groceries as stock boys mop and shovel packages back into the bins filled with near-frozen salt-laden pools of tears.
As she moves away, I think of all injustices – of centuries, millenia, of stifled, oppressed victims. My thoughts take form and crowd the supermarket aisles. Buyers and clerks cannot pass through. We are all blocked, and a crushing force of old wrongs begins to pour from the shoppers. We fall to our knees in grief and anger, our despair alive in songs of lament. The wail creeps through openings in offices and check-out counters, pours through automatic doors into town. Memorable moment. Unprecedented.
Sunday, October 7, 2012
I was five, and had spoken rudely to my mother when she scolded me. Cora was there that day, and was ready to pounce. “Don’t you speak to your mama like that! You better tell God you’re sorry. . . Go on. Now. Tell God.”
I wasn’t sure how to go about making such an apology. My parents had not explained much to me about God, even though they were Southern Baptists! I went outside, looked at the sky, figuring God must be up there somewhere, and saw a cloud shaded with darkness. Maybe that was God frowning at me? I scuffed my feet in the Arkansas dirt for awhile, and then looked up quickly. “I . . . I’m sorry,” I said as fast as I could, and ran inside. It was a strange encounter with God, only later to be more carefully defined.
Theologians might put that incident under the rubric of “Repentance.” My unschooled mind would not have defined the moment as anything but a way to say “I’m sorry.” It must have been significant for me, however, because 74 years later I still remember it. I’ve even used it as a sermon illustration at times, but the major actor in the scene turned out to be Cora, not me. I credit her as the one who introduced me to God, even though it was to the God Who Judges.
Not long after that, my next-door neighbors, the Catholic twin sisters three years older than I, attending parochial school, informed me that the trees and all that was in our back yard belonged to God. Thus I learned of God the Creator. For several days after that, I wandered through the yard pointing to each thing: “This is God’s tree; this is God’s bush; this is God’s grass; this is God’s dirt.” I was becoming a theologian.
My next encounter with God was when I entered first grade. Miss Briggs, our teacher, began each day with a story from a book of Bible stories for children. One day she read about Samuel’s call in the Temple. Samuel, a little boy, was awakened one night by repeatedly hearing his named called. Thinking it was the old priest Eli, the one he was apprenticed to, he would run to answer. Finally, Eli told him it must be God, and to answer with “Speak Lord, for thy servant hears.” When Samuel heard the call in the night again, he answered as he had been instructed, and received God’s call to him and the message of what he was to do in response.
That afternoon I was again in my favorite spot, the back yard, when I heard ever so softly, “Jean! Jean!” I answered with the words Samuel had used in the Temple, but finally realized the sound was only a breeze through the trees. Again, however, I heard, “Jean! Jean!” and answered, “Speak Lord, for thy servant hears.” But this time it was the sound of a truck in the distance. Once more came the voice, “Jean! Jean!” and my answer was again that of Samuel’s. I then discovered it was the swish of small branches rubbing against each other. Thus ended my Divine calling for that time.
It was 37 years later that the actual call came to me, not as a voice speaking my name, but through an inner sense, and this time I recognized it as valid. I answered by enrolling in divinity school. Since then my journey has been in response to what I understood was God’s message to me. It may not have come to me at all. But it was why I continued believing in what I was doing, and in some manner keep on doing but in new contexts.
I sometimes ask myself, (but no one else), if God still calls in the middle of the night, or while I shuffle and glance upward toward the dark clouds. The answer does not come. I’m no longer five years old, but now I continue life acting as though I know I’m under a call, even though it may be a fantasy. It’s better than the paths I did not take.
In his sermon titled “The Calling of Voices,” Frederick Buechner says, “You hide your face in the little padded temple of your hands, and a voice says, ‘Whom shall I send into the pain of a world where people die?’ And if you are not careful, you may find yourself answering, ‘Send me.’ You may hear the voice say, ‘Go.’” Just go.
And so I did.