Posted tagged ‘stories’

What Miracle?

December 20, 2016
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Future Santa in his sleigh?

Here we go, lying to our children. Again. About a jolly, ageless man in a red suit, miraculously popping down a billion chimneys or magically passing through walls to deliver gifts to all the youngsters of the world in a single night. Then, we’re drawn along as though by some magnetic power and forced to buy! buy! buy!

Things.

Why?

To step back from the frenzy is a) to see how ridiculous it is, or, more hopefully, b) to search for the deeper meaning in this, the last month of the year…in children’s Christmas concerts at school, in the music we only listen to in December, or in the opportunities at every turn, church, grocery store, street corner, to give to those less fortunate.

I was in a shop downtown with my six-year-old buying a present for a family member. Suddenly my son looked up at me and said, “Santa isn’t real. Magic reindeer? How does that work?”

I should have patted him on the back and sighed with relief. I should have told him the truth. After all, when the tooth fairy forgot to come the other night, and there were no questions about “real” versus “fairy” I had to wonder, are my children naive? Stupid? Gullible?

One of the books I bought for my daughter this season was A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I couldn’t resist taking a peek. In one scene, Smith’s main character has just delivered her first baby at age 18. She solicits her mother’s advice about how to give her daughter a better life than she has had. Her mother says:

“And you must tell the child the legends I told you—as my mother told them to me and her mother to her. You must tell the fairy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people—fairies, elves, dwarves and such…. and you must not forget the Kris Kringle. The child must believe in him until she reaches the age of six.”

“Mother, I know there are no ghosts or fairies. I would be teaching the child foolish lies.”

Mary [her mother] spoke sharply. “You do not know whether there are not ghosts on earth or angels in heaven.”

“I know there is no Santa Claus.”

“Yet you must teach the child that these things are so.”

“Why? When I, myself, do not believe?”

“Because,” explained Mary Rommely, simply, “the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination. I, myself, even in this day and at my age, have great need of recalling the miraculous lives of the Saints and the great miracles that have come to pass on earth. Only by having these things in my mind can I live beyond what I have to live for.”

Instead of responding to my son’s queries in that downtown shop, I allowed him the candy cane the clerk offered. I remembered the images I had as a child of a jolly Santa hurrying through the air behind his team of reindeer.

I can still hear those bells.

IMPORTANT: Libraries

October 7, 2016

IMG_4107Please, do not close libraries. My children have learned first words and important stories among the books and caring librarians of these establishments. We have spent countless hours of family time in libraries, made new friends, felt part of a community in this otherwise fractured and isolating world. The digital age can NEVER replace what a library does for a community. To be “lost in a book” is an activity, and event, a love that is essential for the intellectual needs of each and every human. A library is where we can all spread out, be drawn to the areas of our own interest, but rush back to each other to share pictures or words in respectful whispers….. Each of these activities teaches us something about being human than a computer never, ever could. We need the opportunities for not only literacy, but also for person-to-person contact that a library offers.

Lost in Winter

February 18, 2013

So this character walks into a library. He has unruly eyebrows, notable because he appears, otherwise, to be quite young. He is under thirty. Well, maybe thirty. Just.

He has never been in a library. Never in his life. Yet he is standing inside the door of this one, stories of thick books rising up eight floors from the open foyer, layers of heavy tomes, thin volumes in a series, wide opuses, extraordinary titles. He senses their grandeur without taking another step, without touching a single cover. He does something else he’s never done before: he strokes an eyebrow.

The eyebrows he attributes to the fact that he shaved them off once (okay, he had one shaved off when he passed out drunk at a party when he was eighteen, and immediately shaved the other so as not to appear lopsided. There is nothing worse, in his view, than lopsidedness. It is perhaps his biggest pet peeve).

He leaves the eyebrows alone because he’s found the more he tries to shave/trim/tend to them, the bushier they grow. Call them caterpillars, cattails, the frayed edges of rugs that have been vacuumed excessively, towels that should have been thrown out decades ago. They and his library moment are all you are ever to know about him.

Perhaps it was a sense of hibernation that drew him out of my imagination. The closeness of winter that stifles other meanderings. But as we all push through the centre of February, there’s a restlessness of spring around the corner that carries an eagerness bordering on madness. This is my sense of the world, post Groundhog Day, pre-thaw. My escape from adult responsibilities and routine is fiction. Mostly writing it. Is it an escape, or a moving into something more real than the mindless routine of seasons?

I got lost in the stacks the other day. My breath of fresh air in the basement of a library. I’d read a short story online by Joyce Carol Oates, In the Region of Ice (you can find it here: http://www.narrativemagazine.com/issues/stories-week-2012%E2%80%932013/region-ice). She’s got this theme of humanism in the story, so I had this on the brain when I walked toward the literary journals and got sidetracked by a title on the Social Science shelf, called Anthropology and Humanism. Learned about a form of music that I couldn’t really tell you anything about except it’s name (which was spelled with a K in the journal, and a C online, a tidbit that must have its own storied story), Karnatic, and that the article has already seeped into more than one story I’ve been writing, where music, the motion of the human body, culture and sensibility are all at play.

There’s a fiction in randomly coming across something new, and the meaning I place on it, to use in my next (current) story. But that’s also pretty real. Or maybe I just want to think so, as an escape from the endless cycles of earthy existence that carries me from one season to the next.

What’s on the page

May 23, 2012

So I’m taking this fiction writing course.

It happened sooner than I’d hoped. I was planning on trying to get into the one offered at MUN in the fall, but when this spring session came up, I submitted a story right away. And got in!

I’ve been to two classes so far, and it’s completely blown me away. But not in the ways I expected it would.

When I described it to my husband — how we move the desks into a circle so we can talk easier, and how we each have to critique each others’ work — he said I made it sound like an AA meeting. Believe me, it feels like what I imagine an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting would feel. Writer’s Anonymous, for people with this obsessive, ambiguous, addictive, hopeful or hopeless (either could apply) habit of writing all the time.

I sit there each week, palms sweating, my face on fire (I hope it doesn’t show), writhing in my own skin whenever it’s my turn to speak. I don’t know any of these people. And they don’t know me. Not yet. None of them look even half as uncomfortable as I feel.

But it’s good. Really. I mean, it’s a personal challenge, one of those, get yourself out of your own comfort zone things. As if I haven’t had enough of that in the last couple years with all the moving. But still. I think it’ll be really good for me to go through this.

I’m learning to have an even greater respect for all the published authors out there. This is not an easy stage. It’s one thing to sit at home, or in a coffee shop, or the library (or at the Y, which has become an extension of my living room, where I sometimes go and use the childcare in the mornings to sit in the lobby and write) and use all your spare time to write stories. Then re-write them, again and again and again. But it’s quite another to get over yourself enough to share your creative work with others. Others whose opinions really matter. But wow, if I can’t get over this, then how will I ever expect to try to sell any of my fiction to the world? It would seem I have a long way to go.

Another writer I know put it so perfectly when she said, in a Writer’s Confessions interview (check it out on YouTube, look up Claudia Dey), you have to believe that what you are doing is essential. Some days I hit myself on the forehead with that very worthy thought. That, and these two very essential words: KEEP GOING. I’ve heard some writers describe their process as being similar to pushing a rock across the floor with their nose. I imagine the rock is easier to move along sometimes. (When I say things like this, my husband shakes his head, asks me, couldn’t you have chosen a simpler career goal? I have to remind both of us that it’s not so much that I chose this, but that writing is just….what I do.)

Another thing I’ve figured out over the last couple of weeks, is that the great writers have mastered the skill of not just puking out their emotions all over the page. It takes exactly that, a fine tuned skill, to have full control over what you are saying, and how you are saying it. It’s a skill I think I could use more of in my life, as well as my writing.

So I’m taking this course. I need to be taking this course. Why? Because although I have a very supportive family, I’ve had very few people in my life who understand what it takes to become a published writer of fiction. My parents, for example (bless them for the unconditional support they’ve always offered me) would gush over a….grocery list I wrote, if I got them to read one. But that won’t help with my creative writing.

What will help, is the honest, unabashed critical feedback from classmates in a structured, supportive setting, led by a writer (Lisa Moore!) who I admire. Who cares about the cold sweats and hot cheeks. Because as a writer I know that what’s on the page, is what matters.