Another year bites the dust. Another page turns in the story that is our lives, each new day a crisp, blank leaf. What will we write on it today? Tomorrow? Next week?
Each small disruption to the smooth progress of our lives is its own story arc. Some days, the crisis is a dropped egg, others it may be an illness or a lost job. Or perhaps we’ll win the lottery—which brings uproar of its own kind. In each case, we have decisions to make, solutions to implement, a path to follow to the resolution of this new adventure. What we decide, which path we follow, teaches us new things about human nature, and our own natures, as it tests our mettle and gives substance to our unique plot.
As writers, we are specially equipped to wield some control over the script we live. We’ve learned to think actions through to their consequences, to be inventive as well as effective in solving our problems. We can recognize tragedies and differentiate them from mere bumps in the road. We can measure events, good and bad, against the big picture, the complete story arc. And, while we don’t know the details of each climax, we know a climax will come. We know we can affect the resolution as surely as a single word can affect an argument. Things may not always turn out the way we want, but we can always take something valuable away from the experience. Eventually, we will arrive at our final Resolution having written the greatest story of all time—our own.
My wish for all of us this year is that we strive to avoid being swept away by circumstances, whatever they may be, that we exert control over the course of events where we can, and that we grow more competent, confident, and compassionate with each new experience.
May we all have a peaceful New Year. Happy writing!
A true story.- N.K.
I never would have gone into the the front room. I was seven. At seven-- in 1959-- little girls took the rules seriously. And Rita's mother had a rule: no children in the front room-- ever. But it drew me like a siren's song ....
What? Oh. The Christmas tree. In the darkened room it glowed with an ethereal light. It took my breath away.
Most of my friends had Christmas trees. Even my Jewish friends had Christmas trees. They called it a Hanukkah Bush--with a wink and a grin--but a decorated tree in the front room in December was a Christmas tree, and we all knew it.
Well, Rita Freed was most definitely Jewish.
"Reformed," she'd proclaim whenever the subject came up. I wasn't sure what that meant in terms of Jewishness, but I thought it might be like the difference between being Catholic like me or Episcopalian like Gramma--pretty much the same thing, but she could eat meat on Fridays and not got to Hell. In 7-year-old practical terms, I figured it meant Rita could eat cheeseburgers, maybe even with bacon.
And have a Christmas tree. That was something else Rita proclaimed. That eight foot, white-lit, blue and silver decorated confection obscuring her picture window was a Christmas tree.
"Why?" I had to ask.
"My parents don't want me to feel different."
"But you're going to celebrate Hanukkah tonight, aren't you?"
"Sure. The menorah is in the dining room. We'll light it before supper when my Grandmother's here. We'd better go play in my room now."
It was getting close to five o'clock when we finished putting away Rita's toys. That was a rule everyone's mom had. Toys had to be put away before a guest went home. We headed for the coat closet. My father would pick me up in a few minutes on his way home from work, so it was time to say "goodbye" to Rita's mother and wait outside.
I don't know why I did it. Somehow, I forgot all about the rule and found myself in the middle of the front room, spellbound by that wonderful Christmas tree. Up close, I could see the silver ornaments. They were nothing like the cheap glass balls we broke and replaced from Woolworth's every year. They glowed warm in the Christmas lights.
"They're antique. My grandmother owns an antique shop, and she buys them in Germany," Rita whispered. "She wants to meet you." Rita gave me a nudge on the arm, and I turned away from the tree.
A small-boned, sharp-featured woman was enthroned like a queen in an upholstered armchair. Her blue-gray hair and large-stoned jewelry sparkled in the tree's white lights.
"She doesn't speak English. My mother translates for her."
It wasn't unusual for any of us to have at least one grandparent for whom English was a second language, me included, but I'd never spoken through a translator before. Rita's grandmother held my attention while we observed the formalities through Rita's mother, who seemed no more than a disembodied voice. They made it easy.
Everyone smiled, and I turned to go. My father would be there soon.
"Wait. My grandmother wants to ask you something."
I turned back to the regal lady. She slid up the sleeve of her sweater, exposing her forearm, and showing me the slightly wrinkled skin on its underside. Oddly shaped blue numbers, faded and blurred, made a line as long as my two palms side by side.
"Do you know what this is?" Rita's mother's soft voice was the only sound in the room.
I'd seen this before in the documentaries my father watched on television. I remembered the lines of people, Jewish people, being herded like animals. Everyone knew what had happened to them. This elegant lady had been one of them. One who had lived. It wasn't real on television. In Rita's front room, it was.
I looked up into Rita's grandmother's eyes, a blur through my tears. I nodded, and dropped my gaze to the crude tatoo.
"What a nice girl." A different voice, but in my consternation, it didn't register.
Rita's grandmother sat back in her chair and pulled her sleeve down into place.
I blinked my eyes clear in time to see her smile at me and nod.
"Time to go," Rita's mother said.
I was dazed as I took a last, puzzled look at that beautiful Christmas tree.
In the hall, I buttoned my coat to Rita's excited whispers.
"My grandmother spoke to you! She hardly speaks to me!"
I understood, then, that I'd been honored, but my confusion was stronger than my appreciation.
"Rita, after what happened to your grandmother, how can you have a Christmas tree? Doesn't she hate...?"
"Jews aren't allowed to hate," Rita intoned as we went outside and closed the front door behind us. Besides," she added with a mischievous grin, "why shouldn't we have a Christmas tree? Jesus was a Jew."
Blunt Force is an unpublished poetry collection that delves into many issues and concerns of our times.
All my life I’ve been in a battle with they.
You know who they are. They are the self-proclaimed authorities who make the pronouncements that rule our lives. They include our families, community, peers … everyone, it seems, but us.
When we were children, they declared us attractive or plain. They determined we were smart or “slow”. They judged our decisions, our ambitions, our talents worthy … or not.
If the aggregate verdict was kind and supportive, we accepted their judgments and knew we were beautiful, smart, talented, and headed in the “right” direction. We were lauded when we did well. When we strayed from the golden path, our misstep was considered “a learning experience” on our road to success.
But what if the consensus was less than complimentary? What if, through repetition and lack of strong dissenting voices, we were taught to view ourselves as unpleasant, incompetent, misguided, and unlovable? What if, no matter how pure our intentions, how great our achievements, we were always found lacking?
The problem is, once proclaimed, their judgement is stamped upon our self-image. Time and experience may change the picture beneath, but that stamp obscures our view of who we really are. Their outdated, if not completely fallacious, perception is our reality.
We have but two choices. We can accept what they assure us we are, or we can recognize the truth of our own worth. Perhaps we will be disappointed we are not as wonderful as we thought. Perhaps we will struggle to remember we are not as hopeless as they would have us believe. But whichever path we choose, there is something we must consider -- to a multitude of others, we are they.
Sand and surf or
ice and snow,
there's no place
St. Nick can't go.
Reindeer prance and
sleigh bells ring.
to do his thing.
Toys and games are
in his sleigh.
Elves have worked
hard night and day
to make each child's
wish come true.
How good were you?
In a lemming-like fashion,
We stumble from reform to reform
One step forward two steps back
Our race to justice mired in a Kobolds.
Politics and war games
Our daily breakfast and all things marshmallow
If you don't believe in liars and creeps,
the unsuspected invaders are the enemy
I’ve resurrected my blog SCRIBBLES. Uh huh. If you’ve been around awhile, you’ve heard this before. Hope springs eternal and all that. But this time I mean to keep up. So far, I’ve posted a story, two poems, and two blog essays. One essay was even shared on Facebook (thank you so very much!) I’m getting a little feedback, which is wonderful encouragement to any writer. Nothing worse than wondering if anybody’s out there reading and at least considering what I’m writing.
I’ve never felt like I’ve had much worth saying on a blog, so it soon gets neglected in the face of P&S or another project or crisis. But now I have a project worth blogging about, a book nearing completion combining some of my poetry and photography … and a unique point of view—poems for people who hate poetry. That’s the subtitle of Seascapes, to be published in spring / summer of 2018.
If you’re so inclined, check out Scribbles at http://nkwagnerwriter.blogspot.com/ I'll keep you posted about Seascapes there.
My husband is a YouTube addict. He loves the “how to” videos, especially the ones which begin, “After hours of frustration, I realized the instructions are all wrong.” These videos are absolutely indispensable when you need a helping hand and don’t have a 12-year-old around.
But if a little bit is good, my husband tends to go whole hog.
There’s another genre of video he watches which has gone from annoyingly stupid to mildly entertaining in my book: conspiracy theories. Have you heard about the US military base on the dark side of the moon? What about the underground alien city in Antarctica? Is the Bimini Road really a part of Atlantis? Did cannibalistic giants with double rows of molars hunt early Native Americans? If you like to write fiction, YouTube is a treasure trove of ideas.
It’s unlikely I’ll believe in Sasquatch until I meet him (despite the t-shirt our grandkids bought Grandpa for his birthday), but if someone wants to throw around free story ideas, I’d be a fool not to catch a few. After all, lots of people seem to be interested.
I've spent an eyeball-crossing number of hours lately looking at pictures, scanning for the perfect few thousand pixels to inspire my poetry. The neat thing is the more I look, the more I find. Take the following two images, for example:
The first is a typical ratty stretch of Southeastern US seashore, sun bleached and storm battered; nothing remarkable. Plenty of atmosphere, but no story here.
Wait. What's that in the upper left quadrant? When I crop out everything else, what I find is interesting--a half-buried wooden staircase leading ... nowhere. Perhaps these steps connected to a long-ago boardwalk beach access. Could it have been stairs to a deck of a no-longer-existent house? Who used them? What happened? Who knows? Whatever its original purpose, its present condition evokes emotion, speaks to me of transience. And leads to a poem. Later, it may spark a story.
A writer looks at life this way, searching out the tidbits, the vignettes, that exist within the larger, mostly boring canvas of everyday life. It's why we keep our eyes and ears open. It's why we often appear to be distracted. Our outer selves may seem listless or disconnected, but our brains are in overdrive, isolating, probing, making connections (the more improbable the better). This is how the creative process works. Inspiration is in the details.
N.K. Wagner is Executive Editor and Publisher of Page & Spine.