March 2018 . . . .
Talking with Young Writers
Never miss an opportunity. If your grandpa is going to fry chicken after church dont sleep in. Get out of bed and clip on that tie and go to service. Afterward, grab yourself a thigh and an ear of corn and some butter-beans and dig in.
No, its not new advice. We let things slip by us too often, I think. Imagine ourselves exhausted just frazzled, worn down to the bone. I get it, I really do. Youre tired of the grind, and the rancor that surrounds the grind like a clinging miasma. You just want to do what you must, and when its done or over get back inside without getting too dirty, sit in your chair, watch your shows or flip through your postings and then sleep. Wake and do it all again. If opportunity knocks, maybe if youre quiet, it wont bother you. Some other time, perhaps. Not right now.
Opportunity isnt a robo-caller that will keep annoyingly dialing until you answer. It passes like a comet; once in a while, or not at all. Never often enough for us to lose our curiosity in what caused the moment all possibility and flash with a valuable prize at the core. But sometimes curiosity and laziness, like a sad cocktail bordering on despair, are a tough scale to tip.
And just in case youre thinking that its easy for me to say this, because Im ___________________ (fill in the blank with whatever hyperbole you use as a measure of success), well, I know of what I speak. I am a notorious non-attender. And not just of things most of us dont like to do (like going to the DMV or the grocery store or to get a haircut, but good things, too!). What they now generally name social anxiety, I have in double-handfuls. Would I like to go to a birthday party? I would. How about an extra concert ticket would I like it? You bet. Meet up for dinner? Indeed.
But as time marches on between the invite and the event my eagerness wanes, passing like a pop-up thunder-boomer with sound and foolery but not much in the way of useful rain or cooling temps, so that the idea of actually tripping the light semi-fantastic percolates in my sad little brain into pre-regret, and any actual enthusiasm withers like honeysuckle in a drought. In the end, only guilt or a not-so-gentle nudge gets me out the door.
I volunteer at my local elementary school, where I am a judge for their annual Young Authors program. The elevator-pitch on this is that every student is invited to write a book in any genre, including short story and poetry collections. They have the entire fall to do so, and the teachers assist with helping understand the difference between realistic fiction and non-fiction, and how to write a bio-sketch.
The program has been going on for over 25 years I swear! and shows no sign of age (and not just because new children arrive each to fill in the spaces left by everyone moving up one grade). It is a very cool thing how much support the school has for writing and how enthusiastic the kids are to put their creative minds to paper. By the way, The Blotter gives a small award to the Young Author in the fifth grade who we think did a terrific job on their book.
And in the end, after everything is written and illustrated and covered and bound (and judged), there is a Young Authors Tea. Everyone attends. Awards are distributed. And whos hurt by a little Chex Mix, juice boxes, and applause? No one, say I. It is a good thing.
This year, near the end of the awards ceremony, the head of the program had each student who had written a book but hadnt won an award stand up anyway to be recognized. More applause!
And then it was my turn to give the Blotter award. I took the mic and I spoke social anxiety and all.
I told the kids, and the teachers and parents, that while its a fine thing to be recognized, what happened this fall writing a book wasnt participating. That was the wrong word. What they did was accomplish. And that there is a big difference. They got something done. They wrote a book. And if they can write a book, well, they can write another book. Because writing is not about winning or losing its all about telling a story getting the tale out of your head and onto the page. Then I gave The Blotter award (a gift certificate to a local indy bookstore, of course) to a girl whod written a perfectly original, surprising and fresh, fable.
On my way back to my seat, one of the teachers whispered Bravo! to me as I passed.
In the end, I like a good game of solitaire as much as the next person. I use the version that comes with the operating system on my computer when Im sitting and thinking about whats going to happen next in a story Im writing. Its perfectly fine white noise for the creative mind. But life is not solitaire. Not a productive life. Not a fine, fun life. You have to take your cards next door and see if your neighbor plays . . . I dont know, cribbage.
And so I (purport to) go. I know, or at least I think I know, the difference between diffidence and unwillingness to take the bull by the horns. Thats way of the world.
In other words, no matter how grim and grimy life may seem from time to time, and in the gloomy months of a new year, it is its grimiest and grimmest, you need to get up and do what needs doing. Even if there is no fried chicken at the end. With butter-beans.