Sunday, October 7, 2007

Telling Stories

This morning, I drove 200 miles with a cracked windshield. Once I got over the worry that it was going to collapse in on me as I drove, I'd find myself looking at it and thinking of how stories get written. (Okay, backstory here--I'd been visiting my younger son at college for Family Weekend. Saturday night I took him and one of his buddies out to eat. I was reminded once again of how no one enjoys eating with more gusto than college boys who aren't paying for it. We walked back to my car to discover some hooligans had decided to wing an empty beer bottle at my windshield, leaving it with a lovely bulls-eye design. Disclaimer #1--my first words were "Holy F---!" Disclaimer #2--this was not the first time my son had heard me use such language.)

But as I looked at the cracks emanating out from the middle (the point of impact I surmised, using all my best CSI powers), I would notice how some wended one way and others a different way, but there wasn't always a logical pattern. And some of the lines criss-crossed and I'd wonder which original crack they belonged to. (Okay, it's a pretty dull drive. And there was very little traffic). I was also listening to some good storytelling music (Sugarland, Mary Chapin-Carpenter and three Springsteen CDs). I like all those artists (okay, I like the first two; I'm a complete fanatic for The Boss) and one of the things I like best about them all is the way their songs tell stories. And the stories, through details, make me wonder and think. The stories aren't neatly packaged, they aren't all tidy and happy. Sometimes they raise more questions than answers. (Stop now and go buy Springsteen's new CD, MAGIC. It's that good.)

And I thought about my WIP--which is done, but not quite. I've written the ending (which I chatted about doing a few posts ago), and am now in the "filling-in" stage. Going back and adding texture, adding layers, making sure the lines criss-cross as they should and wander out from the point of impact. I love this stage of writing a novel--I know the characters, know what caused their cracks and broken edges, know which ones have healed and which ones never will. I get to polish things up and make sure nothing collapses in on itself.

As I drove I also thought about another story--this one true, so true, as a matter of fact, that if you wrote it people wouldn't believe it. And it's full of broken edges and criss-crossed lines and things happening as they should even when the fissures are so deep as to seem insurmountable. I had Jeremy in my ninth-grade English class. And while I guessed at some of his challenges, I had no idea what he was going through. He kept a smile on and he did his work (okay, not at first, but when I explained that yes, I too believed he could play college and maybe even pro football but no matter what he needed to pass 9th grade English), and the other day when I read this in the paper I cried and smiled and thought, this is the sports story I want to hear--not about Michael Vick or steroids, but about a good kid and good people who helped him become who he is.

Stories--the true ones, the ones we make up, the songs--they all start with a single point of impact, and where the lines travel and twist and intersect is what makes each one unique. The power is often in the journey and the connections.


Janet said...

That's an interesting metaphor, worthy of mulling over.

And the story about Jeremy was worthy of mulling over too.

Lisa said...

It's so inspiring when I read a story of someone who probably would have had a much sadder future ahead of him, had it not been for the kindness and caring of other people. This young man and the family who helped him are a true example of a fairy tale happy ending. This child had a dream, talent and a burning desire. But those things alone aren't always enough. This family helped him to become who he was meant to be. This ties in nicely to you post on It Takes a Village. We all really do need each other. Thank you for sharing this.

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Janet, thnaks for stopping by--and I'm glad I wrote something "mull" worthy!

Lisa, you're right, I hadn't even thought of how the two posts connected. That's often like writing, isn't it? We don't see all the connections until someone points them out to us. Glad I could share--it's really a story I want to holler from the rooftops.

Larramie said...

Your windshield reminded me of a spider's web -- another visual of weaving an intricate and magical story.

Sustenance Scout said...

Terrific post, Judy! We'll be looking for Jeremy in the NFL some day. :)

Carleen Brice said...

Oh Judy, I envy where you are with your work in progress. That is the best, isn't it? Sorry to hear about your car, though. What a drag. Guess you're not afraid of the F word! :)

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Larramie--yes, exactly--the windshield, spiderwebs, and good stories. They all need to be woven with care!

SS--Oh, wouldn't that be fun?!!

Carleen--It is such a good place to be. The windshield was repaired today, by the way. And yes, I come by the name of this blog a bit too honestly, I suppose.

Melanie Lynne Hauser said...

What a beautiful story,'re right, we read so seldom about the good athletes out there. And the good people who helped them along the way.

I'm with you, too, about going back and revising; that's my favorite part of writing, too. It's when I feel I do my best work. And I also agree with you about food and college students! I've found I can get my son to put up with more visits as long as they include lots of food!

Judy Merrill Larsen said...

Melanie-yes, the promise of food (and money) always works with those college boys.

Jim Melvin said...

I've done the drive-with-a-cracked-windshield thing. I found myself staring at the cracks obsessively, convinced they were growing and finally realizing they were indeed growing! Quite the spooky experience, overall.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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