Sunday, January 27, 2013

Small Change

When I joined the workforce at the age of 12, there were only three generations: children, grownups and old people. Generation X, Baby Boomers, Millennials, Generation Y; today there are so many subsets that I suspect to the survey-addicted, people are no more than boxes to be checked and accounted for, but not realistically relevant.

In the beginning I worked for change. I still do, but rather than in my pocket I want change in the world I am part of. It was enough to know that I was working toward two goals. One was to earn money to support those things parents either couldn’t or shouldn’t pay for, like hobbies and movies and such. The other was to put money away for college or to buy a car or to takes young ladies on “dates.” Looking at this paragraph I see several things that are anachronistic, at least if what I read in the papers is accurate. That seems to include dating, as opposed to “hooking up.”

Now there are so many sub-divisions of social status that it would seem irrelevant to even have birthdays, which in my youth were part of the definition of category. You were a child until you went to work, a grown-up when you had a full-time job, and old when you were . . . well, when you were “old.” One of the first steps to adulthood was getting a social security number. You didn’t get that until you had your first job (mowing lawns didn’t count). Today I understand that the Social Security number comes with the birth certificate, so I guess even infants can get jobs if their parents want them to. I hope not.

It was clear to me, and to my generational cohort (to give us a more scientific designation), who was in charge, who had survived long enough to be listened to, and who was still learning how to  change the world (date to be determined).

I was a child, then a grown-up, and now (if you ask), I’m happy to tell you the changes you need to make.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Living Well, Dying Well

What is a good death? It is what we all hope for I think: painless, easy, quick. We want that for ourselves, and we should certainly want that for those we love. To suffer to death is to deny the goodness and happiness of life, of living. Painless, easy, quick: it is what I would want, should I have a choice.

Sometimes those left behind decry not having the opportunity to say goodbye, but then again, neither did the one who left. But to wish that another person had lingered, had given advance  notice of what was about to happen, seems to me very selfish. It is the very opposite of living well and dying well.

There are no certainties in life except death. We all know that surely at some time we will cease to be; no more a physical presence in another’s life. For most of us that remains an unknown until the moment it happens. The only way we can prepare is to live as if that moment is in front of us now. Because, of course, it is. You cannot know the future, you cannot prepare for that final moment except by admitting that it is to come, and live accordingly. I think the most important thing one person can say to another is “I love you.” Say it truthfully and often.

The survivor has lost only one. The one who dies loses all.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Building Character(s)

When a writer (this writer, anyway) creates a character, the process begins with some sort of model. It can be oneself, which will bore both reader and writer, or it can be based on another real person, or simply the characteristics the writer has identified in “all of the above.”

Characters attract readers because they are true; you can find the model in someone you know or know about. Readers identify with the people in a story when they can find a connection or a response they would understand. The reverse is true, too: a character has so many or such strong negative parts that the reader is repulsed. If that is what you want, that’s great. If you are trying to make a player in your story one the reader will root for, then you must be aware of what they seem to be. And of course, it is absolutely necessary, I believe, that every central actor in a story have some flaw, some negative that makes him or her less than a god. We don’t (in general) like our heroes to be gods because then everything is too easy, too uncomplicated to make a good story. A god-like human isn’t really human.

Writers are observers first, creators second. The writing process begins with a “what if” sort of thought process. What if the hero is unaware of being a hero? What if the situation the hero finds himself/herself in is too demanding, or strong, or negative? It can only be too strong if the character isn’t up to the task, and can’t find it within to do what is necessary to succeed. And success may be measured in so many ways, like survival or reward or winning the one he loves (or losing the one who is really the cause of the problem in the first place).

You see what I mean, I hope: finding a storyline is only part of the writing task. Finding the people who can carry out the work is the most important part because who they are sets up the way the story works.

To the five “Ws,” writers add the three “Is”: Invent, Interpret, and Improve.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Rattling Around In My Head

Sometimes a week will go by and I haven’t written anything I want to share, at least in whatever form my writing has taken that week. Last week was one of those.

We’ve been busy here with winter: clearing snow from the driveway and trails we need open, cutting, splitting, moving wood from the wood pile to the outdoor furnace. No, we don’t heat the outside (but it’s an appealing thought). The furnace is outside, heating water that warms the inside – it’s a country thing. Later this week the prediction is for 50 degrees and sunny, and that will be welcome, but the work won’t end until maybe June. All of that takes time and energy and distracts from writing and even thinking about writing. Having a running chain saw in your hands, or operating a log splitter or even packing wood on the truck and then unloading it by the furnace are not tasks you can do with half your mind on something else. At least more than once. Unless you are a slow learner. I’m not.

So whatever story I’m working on at the moment gets less attention than I would like to give it, and whatever other things I’d like to write about don’t come to the surface. I am working on a new police story, and it was finished (I thought) a couple of days ago, but somewhere between driving to or from the woodpile, or perhaps running into town to resupply some part of our pantry or workshop, the whole story changed. One of the central characters underwent a total “re-do” as I was driving somewhere, and that, in turn, pointed to changes in at least two others and a slight modification of the storyline. It’s what happens to writers.

Now, with a warmer week promised, and a pretty good supply of wood ready to burn, I’m ready to go back to work doing the hard part: re-writing. It’s what happens to stories as they evolve. No matter how many times I start a new story, no matter how well developed the idea is before I begin to write, there will always be changes to make. It’s part of the way I work.

Life here seems to revolve around three things: writing, outdoor work, and getting together with friends. It doesn’t matter what season we’re in: those are the points of our compass where we live.

And people ask: What do you do in the country? A lot!