I have just finished the book, “The 5 Love Languages,” and discovered that my happiness with Tom has nothing to do with any intelligence or effort on our part.
According to this book, people have different love languages-i.e. how we perceive we are being loved. In addition, we instinctively convey love as we perceive it. Thus, you can be conveying love all day long but if you’re using a language the other person doesn’t perceive as love, they’re feeling morose, unloved. Conversely, if your instinctive expression of love is the love language your loved-one understands, you have inadvertently stumbled upon the perfect way to let the person know he or she is loved.
Tom and I share our top two love languages. Our least favorite love language is the same as well. So, for fourteen years, we’ve been telling each other non-stop and effectively that the other is loved.
Another example of it being better to be lucky than smart. Or, to look at it another way, don’t go getting the big head over what has been given to you for free.
“I have written a novel about the commercial abuse of chickens.”
Every time this statement comes out of my mouth, I think, that is the strangest thing.
Yet, it’s true. Train Trip pivots on a drug scandal made possible by our “modern” methods of chicken raising and processing. The theme has grown in importance as the novel has been revised. It’s been so long since I began this novel, I don’t even remember how chickens came into it in the first place. But they’ve been integral to the plot (and humor) since the beginning.
Only as I worked on the novel—and worked on it and worked on it—did the really disgusting facts of commercial chicken production come into play. Karma twists and turns the plot, a little odd in itself since the characters are Bible-Belt Southerners. But rest assured: all works out well in the end. At least it does for the chickens.
Frequently, you read articles by authors who marvel at how “the characters just took over.” Never before have I read writerly advice to let the chickens take over.
So here it is: if you are writing a novel involving chickens, don’t be afraid to let the chickens take over. You might just wind up with a novel with a conscience.
I don’t know where you are—based on my blog stats, there’s a good chance you might be in Brazil or New Zealand or Italy or India or Britain—but whatever part of the world you’re in, it might be raining.
That steady downpour that makes you hunt a sofa, a blanket, a warm cup of coffee or tea.
You need a nap, really, a chance to drop off to sleep, snuggled on the sofa, stealing a moment of doing for yourself.
But what to do until sleep arrives?
The TV has become boring, and you’re too lazy right now to read.
Here’s the ticket: listen to this story. Or this one. Or if you are one of those folks who takes longer to drift off, give this one a try.
Seven minutes, eight, you’ll be done.
Turning over, yanking the covers beneath your chin, you’ll sigh in contentment. Sleep will descend, and your dreams will make you laugh out loud.
I don’t exit well.
Astounded, I stared at the blank space on the dining room table. Last time I looked, my train ticket had been lying in that spot. My “this is not a ticket” information sheet, too, just in case I needed it. Ahead of time, I’d dutifully printed both pieces of paper and laid them in their special place. Which was now blank.
This discovery came shortly after a frantic fifteen minute search for my glasses. Upstairs, downstairs, in my outside car—all in vain. Neither the essential glasses—I am blind as Elmer Fudd—nor the tickets were ever found.
Me, pawing through the trunk of the car, running up and down the stairs, scattering everything from my pocketbook onto the couch: this is not a pretty sight. A “melt down,” said my patient husband who, unfortunately, witnessed the entire thing.
Why is this? Why did I wake with dread this morning when I’m off to enjoy a fun weekend with my family? What about leave-taking undoes me?
First of all, I expect mistakes. I know I will forget something. When I was practicing law and left the office, the staff would count (“one, Mississippi; two, Mississippi”), waiting for me to reappear and retrieve what I had forgotten on my desk or to tell them what I’d forgotten to say or ask for the directions I’d forgotten about while rushing out the door. As a result, when something goes wrong happens, panic sets in: you always screw up this way!
Rushing, harried, frantic, panicked.
My problem, I think, is a life-long attempt to cut it too close. Sleeping until the last minute, ready to walk out the door at the last minute, leaving no time to compose myself and think: do you have every thing you need, such as your tickets? If the answer to that question is “no,” and it is time to get this show on the road, a meltdown ensues because I HAVE NO TIME, I’M LATE, THE TRAIN WILL LEAVE MY ASS!
Now, there’s an atmosphere that makes it easy to think.
I’m making a vow (publicly, no less) to quit that foolishness. No longer will I set my alarm to the minute, work on my stories up to the last minute. From now on, I will build in a buffer zone. A period of stillness, ten minutes at least when I sit and think, what is it you need in order to move on to the next thing?
If I can do this, maybe I will learn to honor the interstitial moment, the hiatus, the pause between one era of time and the next. Whether leaving for Jackson or leaving a beloved service organization or leaving one adventure for another, I can sit quietly and ask: what is it I need to take with me?
Oh—are you wondering how I got on the train with no tickets? These days, you can use your phone. Or, even better, you can walk up to the platform and the conductor says, “Name, please?” You say, “Prewitt,” and he finds your ticket on his own phone.
As much as I have promoted the free access to the stories—on this blog, iTunes, YouTube—one of the more popular vehicles for listening has been the $10 CDs. People listen in their cars; they use the CDs in their cars.
If you’d like to give a CD for Christmas, let me know. The CD has 4 stories—”Lucky Critters,” “Rollerblader for Jesus,” “Ain’t No Commies ‘Round Here,” and “Just Now.”
That’s 80 minutes of award-winning fiction.
LMK if you’d like to order one. I’d be glad for you to have it.
Only the Memphis School of Servant Leadership would:
* encourage me to leave the Mission Group (even though they wanted me to stay) because it was best thing for me
* tear up as I told them the time had come for me to venture forth on my own
* lay hands on me to bless my new journey
* tell me they expected me to change the world
* do all of this while spontaneously meeting on the front porch
* compose a Servant Leadership song as we met
* listen respectfully as i compared my journey to that of Reepicheep the mouse:
“My own plans are made.
While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader.
When she fails me,
I paddle east in my coracle.
When she sinks,
I shall swim east
with my four paws.
And when I can swim no longer,
if I have not reached Aslan’s country,
or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract,
I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise
And Peepiceek will be head of the talking mice in Narnia.”
Reepicheep the mouse, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis
* have formed me in such a way that I follow even where my heart does not lead
* tolerate my inappropriate laughter
* recognize the title to a short story in our talk, and offer it to me
* welcome as an equal member of our group a two-year-old
* identify as my means of leaving a “coracle,” which later I realized appeared in my quote
Always, in the past, I would call my daddy on Veteran’s Day. I called him on Memorial Day. I called, every once in a while, on December 7th when Pearl Harbor was bombed. I called to tell him thank you for a service that happened before I was born. Before I ever knew he would come into my life. Before . . .
He was only nineteen years old, too young to order a drink at a bar. But he was an officer in the Navy, ordering other young men around. Blame his youth on precociousness or growing up in Chapel Hill, a college town: he entered college at sixteen. When his education was interrupted he was only as old as many freshmen today. And there he was, on that big ship, in foreign waters, accepting salutes.
The typhoon raged. The ship, far away, felt only the after-affects. Swells tall as New York buildings loomed before their eyes. The ship climbed the mountainous water, its tip pointing to the sky until, shuddering, it began its descent. In the telling of the story, Daddy’s flattened palm points to the ceiling then flutters like palsy into a trough so deep it blocks the sun. My mind captures the shuddering of the behemoth ship, the shadowed point between the gargantuan waves, all of it caused by nothing more than energy rolling through water. I have never in my life set foot on a cruise ship, and I never will.
I cannot pick up the phone and call my daddy today on Veterans’ Day, the first of many anniversaries that will roll through this year of his death. Next, it will be only my mother’s voice on the phone singing “Happy … Birthday … to … you.” We will celebrate Christmas without him, and never again will I see his particular scrawl on a Valentine’s card or Easter card. Such is life. I understand the conversation continues, just in a different form. But, today, let me miss his gentle, “Thank you, I appreciate your calling. And how are you doing today?”
Thank you, Daddy, for your service.
If I knew every book I picked up would be as fascinating as the unpublished novel I just finished, I’d live each day with a readiness for the quiet moments when I could get back to the world between the pages.
Most books I read are not so fascinating. Many are poorly written. Or well-written with characters whose lives I could care less about. Or full of self-indulgent description that swamps the plot. Or sporting an affected difficultness that is intended to signal to the reader, hey, look how smart I am! Or written with realism’s lack of style that sags into BORINGNESS.
All of these disappointing novels were traditionally published. The agent-editor-publisher offers no guarantee I will be seduced into the story of the novel.
This novel—not yet published, never to be published, I don’t know the answer—beguiled. It had no dialogue. The plot was created by a patchwork of many, many vignettes that spanned centuries and continents. The story was “told.” An unidentified omniscient narrator presided and, every once in a while, mentioned the plot line was about to bend onto a new path. The description was so dense you needed a machete to hack through it.
Did I mention it had no dialogue? You understand no dialogue means no scenes, right?
And yet it fascinated.
My take away? Forget the “writing rules” (e.g. no unidentified narrators; the plot must pull us through the story; scene, scene, scene). Find your style, understand what you’re doing, know why you’re doing it. Then work it to the nth degree, take it to the utmost extreme. Work it, own it, revel in it, trust it, celebrate it. If you’re good enough at it, the reader will sigh with relief at the jewel she’s holding in her hands.
The face behind the voice.
Tell me if this is what you envisioned when you listened to the stories.
If you haven’t listened, click on a story then tell me what you think.
That first part—the man singing—that’s not me.
I’m the one talking.
The man and I sat down at the art table, staring at the chip bags we would turn into crosses, when he asked, “What led you to do this?”
I was preparing to give him my standard spiel about how the tragedy of 9/11 led me to make crosses from broken and found objects. But something made me ask, “Making crosses, you mean?”
“No,” he said, gesturing to the church’s fellowship hall full of currently homeless men and women eating breakfast. “What led you to come out here among the people?”
Earlier during the church service preceding breakfast, I’d been squatting on the floor in the crowded chapel, my back against the wall. All the chairs were taken; plus, I wanted to leave chairs for those who didn’t have access to chairs, beds, tables, etc. and couldn’t sit their asses down whenever they wanted, like I could. This decision put me at calf level to most of the group (except for the man who was squatting next to me). I knew it was where I was supposed to be; for several years now I’ve believed in—and responded to—the Christian call to form relationships with those pushed to the margins. But squatting there in the tiny, crowded chapel where folk slouched on chairs willing the service to be over so they could eat breakfast or maneuvered their shopping carts full of possessions through the narrow aisles or sneezed into their palm—the palm that would later be offered for me to shake as we passed the peace—I thought, “Christianity is too hard.”
Jesus hung out with the poor. The sinners, the tax collectors, the ceremonially unclean. The great unwashed, as it were. When we read this about him, we think, “Of course he did, he was Jesus!” But the clear implication is that Jesus hung out with people different from him. He chose to put himself with a group he wouldn’t otherwise have naturally associated with. People he was not used to. People he might have been uncomfortable around, particularly when he looked, not across the table at his friends, but over a jostling, crowded mass of folks. Maybe when that happened he had to force himself to begin: “Blessed are the poor.”
The men and women from the church service snaked past the art table, on their way to the fellowship hall. As they passed, we talked art. I explained about the chip bags; they gave me advice on what a cross was supposed to look like. They said good morning, their faces broke into smiles; they broke down from a clump of folks into individuals. One man, curious about the objects, asked why I picked them up from the sidewalk.
“To make crosses out of,” I said.
When he continued to wait for an answer, I added, “Because God is in everything.”
“Now that’s the truth,” he agreed and, satisfied, moved on down the line.
When the man said, “among the people,” I realized that I live my life in my privileged world and dip into service, believing I’ve left the normal world and encountered a special group of folks for whom life has not been kind. Really, I’ve left a rarefied world of safety, love, acceptance, regular meals, a hot bath, and such abundance that I can afford to select trash as my medium of expression. Crossing a chasm as wide as the one that separated the rich man in Hades from Lazarus seated on Father Abraham’s lap, I’ve entered the world of the people. Thankfully, when I crossed the chasm, I was greeted by those who smiled at me in the hallway while I made my insubstantial art.
Sometimes I get so frustrated by the pace of my writing career, I Google the titles of my novels to see if something is going on with them that I don’t know about. This is an insane activity, as the novels haven’t been published. The only place they exist—other than a mention or two in contests I’ve placed in over the years—are in my computer. Yet, my lack of control over the excruciatingly slow pace—snail doesn’t begin to describe it; a snail could have traveled to Mexico, attended Carlos Fuentes funeral, and traveled leisurely back to Memphis via Omaha—has driven me to such wacko behavior.
Novels, you say. Novel. I thought she was a short story writer? Well, you see that’s the problem. Before this venture, I was “the woman who wrote that book about making crosses.” I loved my experience of the cross book, and then it was time to move on. I next chose, in effect, to self-publish as a collection these short stories that individually appeared in literary journals, my desire being to introduce folks to my fiction. Do you feel introduced? Are you ready for the next thing?
Maybe my problem is an above-average need for attention and acclaim, fanfare and fawning. But here’s the honest truth: I’m ready for the next thing before most people are ready for me to be the next thing. I’m already skipping down the sidewalk, and they haven’t processed my last chalk drawing. I can’t help it. I’m ready to bop. I want the short stories to do their work and, well-loved, subside into the background.
Lord, did you see what that snail did with Burnt Water? That’s what happens when a snail gets too much tequila.
Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love (or craziness)