Why Write?

The Bloganuary question today: Why do You Write?

Why do I write? God only knows.

You know, that may be as good an answer as any other.

Oh, I could give some down-to-earth reasons: I write to inform, to share images and concepts, to communicate, to give others a smile. I hope to entertain through the stories I write.

I may have altruistic reasons: a desire to improve the lot of my fellow human beings. Think of Charles Dickens. His stories had a huge impact on the attitudes of his readers. Through his writing, this one man effected a great change in the society he wrote for.

I write because I’ve met our Father, and hope to share with other children what I’ve learned about him. Tell them He’s not an amorphous, indifferent force somewhere in the universe, but a divine Parent who can, and wants to, speak with us and guide us.

I could give some self-centered thoughts: I have opinions and want to share them. Because, like most other folks on this planet, I think I see issues clearly. Or I may dream of gaining a name, respect, some dough. Alas, fat chance!

All the above may factor into why I write but if I were all alone on a desert island with a scribbler and a pencil, I’d still write. I’m an observer, a recorder, an enthusiast of interesting words.

I write because I’m hard-wired to write and to share my thoughts, just as some people are hard-wired to act. Some others on this desert island would be swinging an axe, felling trees, building a decent shelter. I’d be describing the trees, the flora & fauna, the moods of sea and sky.

Lastly…and this old autograph-book verse puts it so well:

Some people write for fortune,
some people write for fame.
I write to be remembered
so here I’ll sign my name.

The Sky, Once Fallen

The Bloganuary Challenge today asks the question, “How are you brave?”

My first reply was: I’m not. I’m a very fearful person by nature. Someone once said, “You’ve faced breast cancer (1980) and leukemia (2012 and now again.) You must be very brave.” However, a person steps into, or endures, different things simply because she has to. The option–in this case, dying–is unacceptable.

As to the question at hand: I suppose I could say I’m brave when it comes to THEORIES. Brave, or cynical, or maybe a heretic. If everyone around you has accepted a theory as absolute fact and you say, “Don’t believe it,” that makes you a heretic, right? Well, I don’t jump on “The-sky-is-falling!” platforms or panic at the current conspiracy theories.

For example, when we first heard about COVID-19 I read so many warnings, so many Spanish ‘flu comparisons and horrifying predictions. No influenza can be taken lightly. Yes, we need to take precautions, both for our own sake and for the sake of folks around us. But my thinking was: Let’s be sensible here. The sky is falling every day for someone — and there are a lot worse ways it can hit you than with COVID-19.

Husband and I had a discussion lately about Chicken Little’s tale. Chickens will very soon get into a panic and start flapping around; this tale likens them to humans responding to false alarms. One difference I see, though: chicken by nature may soon get agitated, but I doubt they enjoy this state. Humans, on the other hand, curiously enjoy the frisson of being terrified and/or put in a panic. (Check the bestseller list if you don’ believe me.)

Media folks have tapped into this basic human desire for excitement and made lucrative careers from agitating and scaring people. But I wonder: can the blue sky above, once everyone says it’s fallen, be too hard to see again? Can common sense, so often buried by fear, be hard to take hold of again?

I’m afraid of wild animals, difficult situations, menacing strangers, people being upset with me. But theories and giant conspiracies, I can face bravely.

Mumbling Main Characters

Cookie Thief!

Mrs MacTavish walked into her kitchen after a short nap and surveyed her cooling racks. “Oh no,” she screeched. Someone was here while I was napping and stole half a dozen cookies!” She wrung her hands together. “Who could have done such a thing?”

Mrs Mac had been up early this morning. At least for her it was early, though some people wouldn’t think so. She’d baked three dozen gingerbread cookies to serve to her friends who were coming to tea this afternoon. Most of the cookies had come out delightfully round and plump, but a few of them looked a little too eccentric to serve to her friends. She’d set them aside on a separate cooling rack, thinking to offer them to Mr Mac when he came in for lunch.

She might not have begrudged the loss of the odd ones, but the thief had stolen six of the best. The ones she planned to serve with pride this afternoon, especially to show Jenny Lyons that she could bake cookies that looked just as nice as Jenny’s always did.

Furious, Mrs Mac looked around for some clue. Ah! There in the flour she’d dusted on the floor by accident. She hadn’t got around to sweeping it up because she’d misplaced her dustpan yesterday while she was cleaning house. I’m misplacing things so often these days, she thought. I hope this doesn’t mean I’m getting dementia!

Now, right there in that floury spot she saw one clear footprint. She bent down and examined the tread pattern carefully. The upper part was an interesting chevron pattern, something like her husband’s work boot. But this was smaller, so it couldn’t have been him. She was glad for that. He was a hard man to reprove, her Mac.

The missing cookies bothered her but it bothered her even more that someone had entered her kitchen and taken them without her hearing the door. Her hearing was getting worse, she knew. Maybe I should buy a hearing aid, one of those fancy contraptions like Mary Fraser just got herself? Nope. I’m saving my money for a trip to London in the fall. My cousin Nancy went last year and had a grand old time or so she said. Of course Nancy would, even if she hadn’t. She’s that sort of person.

If my story is A Day in the Life of Mrs Mac, this would work. If my story is The Missing Cookie Caper, this excerpt gives you way too much unnecessary info to digest – pardon the pun.

Mumbling Protagonists

I downloaded an e-book a week ago anticipating a cozy mystery. However, the age 60-plus main character does so much ramble-thinking it may as well be a memoir. She’s constantly comparing this-that-and-the-other or considering her family and her / their situation, or rehashing a dream she had. To me it feels like she’s mumbling to herself straight time. The mysterious deaths are lost in the fog. She sounds like an air-head because her mind wanders everywhere.

Doing a critique for a new writer yesterday, reading his Chapter One, I got the same feeling. Some nice metaphors. Just way too many.

Charles Dickens was a lover of metaphors, similes, personification and such – and he used them well.
The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

People then had no media but the local raconteur and the printed page. Folks had time to read and obviously loved vivid descriptions. Today’s editors want Tight and Terse; readers don’t want a lot of metaphoric rambles, however colorful they be.

What’s A Short Story?

One writing site I follow recently held a contest: “Write a short story in 500 words or less.” As I read through the various submissions this morning, part of the problem for me was thinking a story is always fiction. However, this contest called for a non-fiction story. So I read brief memoirs, rambling musings about life, possible devotional articles, but few submissions that I’d consider a real STORY.

Am I off-base in my understanding of STORY? There are a number of weekly writing challenges I do participate in that call for writing a story in xxx words, so it’s good to get a handle on the concept, even if I didn’t enter this contest.

Image from Pixabay

According to GRAMMARLY’s website, “Short stories are a form of narrative writing that has all the same elements as novels—plot, character development, point of view, story structure, theme—but are delivered in fewer words. … A short story is a short, self-contained work of fiction…”

And I see the ubiquitously quoted “Baby shoes for sale, never worn.”

Writer L Ron Hubbard gives good pointers on how to critique a short story: You need to judge the originality, the scene-setting, characterization, conflict and plot, a theme. It should be engaging and deliver some emotional payoff.

The Ragtag Daily Prompt for today is BRIDGE and I think it fits in today’s musing.

A short story should create a BRIDGE between a writer and a reader. Whether fiction or non-fiction, I need to reach out through my own – or my character’s – experience and touch your heart. It may be only a little chuckle, a small example of the human nature we all share, or a bit of sorrow.

Image by Josch13 — Pixabay

If I write about the time our family went to the zoo, saw the polar bears, watched the antics of the monkeys, had a great time, and came home, will that touch your heart?

If our beloved Jr disappeared at the zoo and we searched frantically to find him, that experience could easily be crafted into a story and would resonate with all parents. If I had to tell it in 100 words or less, that would take a lot of whittling! There wouldn’t be a lot of room to develop scene or theme, but it could be done.

Stories, especially short ones, need to start with a bang. No “Our family was at the zoo one sunny morning in mid-July. We were watching the polar bears splashing around in their pool when our I noticed that our son had disappeared in the crowd.”

Rather…
We watched the polar bears splashing so comically in their pool. I turned to lift my six-year-old so he could see more of their antics…and he’d disappeared!
“Frank,” I screamed over the noise of the other tourists, “Where’s Junior?”
Frank whirled around. “Junior! Where are you,” he shouted as we both scanned the crowd frantically.

Most readers would easily get the picture and feel some connection to this couple.

Anyway, enough of my musings. What do you see as the elements of an engaging short story? Do you like upbeat, happy endings? Or are you one who likes being left with a haunting melancholy when you’re done?

“The Cause of Problems Is Solutions”

In this post I’m sharing a few more thoughts on Idealism

Ideals are wonderful things as long as they are securely linked to reality.

One day a speaker mentioned that in Ireland, a Catholic country, divorce is illegal. (He didn’t mention annulments.) Afterwards another lady commented, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if it were that way here?”

I said, “The murder rate would go up.” Perhaps I’m too much of a realist, but…

My sister Donna was married at fifteen, with a baby on the way, and suffered a number of beatings from her drunken husband. Six years and three children later she left him. He’d come home drunk, they’d fight and he’d start choking her until she passed out. True, there was fault on both sides but she had good reason to fear.

Though she’d divorced him, being a Catholic he had their marriage annulled later so he could marry again.

“The cause of problems is solutions,” some sage once said.

The price of gas here in SK shot up last month. (Shall we attribute that to Biden or Putin?) Last week a friend commented, “Well, we’ll all have to go back to a horse and buggy.”

Simplistic. Idealistic. Nostalgic, maybe even romantic? But how feasible?

From her perspective this might be, seeing she lives in a farmyard with barns and sheds that could accommodate a horse and buggy. They’d have some pasture for a horse and hay-making equipment wouldn’t be hard to come by. But can you imagine the folks in ten- or fifteen-storey apartment buildings in the city, thousands of families trying to feed and house horses? Can you imagine all the horse manure on the city streets!

City-dwellers might just walk or use public transport (which also uses fuel) but my friend’s brothers use gas, oil and diesel in their farming operation and seed cleaning plant. Farm production – and consequently food supply – would be limited if crops need to be seeded and harvested by horses.( Being soft-heated myself, I’m so thankful farmers don’t use horses anymore. Some of those poor animals were horribly mistreated.)

Some of our electricity comes from hydro turbines, a bit from wind-power, but most of our businesses, factories, greenhouses, power-generating plants – indirectly all our utilities – depend mainly on gas, propane, and/or oil. We’ve built ourselves a society dependent on gas + oil. This is our reality. If we suddenly found ourselves low on gas and power, I can see some folks starving and/or freezing to death. We can find ways to cut back on consumption but there’s no going back to the good old days.

A Simple Solution?

One way to cut back on fuel consumption would be to ground all airplanes. Jets use a terrific amount of fuel, right? And for sure, dry-dock those diesel-guzzling, pollution-generating behemoths that lumber across the oceans taking rich people on completely unnecessary exotic cruises. People don’t need all this virus-spreading international travel. Stay home. That’s what we do. Er…unless we want to go some distance…and we’re in a hurry. 😉

What do you think…are my solutions feasible? What if pilots, stewards, various traffic controllers and business people all over the world start protesting the loss of their jobs? Try taking away people’s income and the lifestyle they’ve come to rely on and you have a huge problem.

True, people who call themselves “realistic” can be downright pessimistic. However, the reality of a situation or of human behavior in general – our fondness for money in particular – can scuttle the best ideals. Idealists don’t always get this.

Idealism Takes A Hit

Occasionally I read an article posted on POCKET, historical articles or some journalist’s take on a recent news story. I’ve read about the newest wave of CENSORSHIP, an issue that often boils down to an idealistic approach versus a realistic one. I read about one young man who responded to the many PROTESTS and CONSPIRACY THEORIES by starting his own. Others said, “Hey, why not?” and the crazy thing went viral.

I’ve heard about the social upheaval massive immigration has caused in Texas. Last night I started reading J D Vance’s HILLBILLY ELEGY, describing the “hollowing out” and desperate poverty in the US Midwest — “the Rust Belt.” All this input rattling around in my mind, plus my own experience, has produced cogitations I’m going to share in several upcoming posts. Starting with…

Idealism In a Real World

A few years after we were married we were discussing a politician of our day and my husband commented, “He’s too much of an idealist. I’d rather see a crook elected to run the country than an idealist.”

I understood where he was coming from. A crook usually has a good handle on how things really work. A dreamer who isn’t facing reality can be dangerous when handed the reins. Now, with almost fifty years of practical observations as well as a keen interest in history, I understand that sentiment so much better. Especially after I read a number of accounts of how the ultimate idealism, PROHIBITION, worked, especially in the US.

An elderly friend once told me about Nellie McClung’s sad observation on being hit by reality. McClung (1873-1951) was one of Canada’s original suffragettes and women writers. She worked hard to get the vote for women; once women had the vote she was elected to the Alberta Legislature. Being all for home and family, and opposed to the demon drink that destroyed homes and left wives and families destitute, she was totally in support of Prohibition.

The sad remark she made in her old age, according to my friend, was: “We thought when women got the vote, we’d outlaw liquor. But we never thought we’d see the day when women would take to drinking!”

I could have told her that. When I was young most of the women I knew drank. My own mother, according to my sisters, “spent half her life in the beer parlour.” My younger sister, Donna, unsuccessfully fought a lifelong battle with alcohol, though it was finally a drug overdose that took her out. Always a feisty kid, I think she would have loved a swig of bootleg booze.

Evangelical Christians have always leaned heavily toward idealism, thinking they know what’s good for the rest of the country. But there’s a whole ‘nother world in their midst – my own non-religious people – that Protestant Evangelicals haven’t really been able to acknowledge. And when those citizens rise up and start following their inclinations, idealism will crash.

Bootleg booze, rum-runners, organized crime: the Christian Women’s Temperance League never foresaw how these would flourish.

Now for a secular example…

Breast-feeding Is A Natural Act

Definitely it is. However, there’s a reason why North American women have been hesitant – some may say “inhibited” – from breast-feeding openly in public places. In fact, one weekend in Saskatoon a group of zealous women set up a display in the Midtown Mall promoting the natural act of breast-feeding. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” they claimed, “Nursing a baby should be allowed openly anywhere with no embarrassment or legal questions.”

In an ideal world, it would work. In this awfully real world…

In the course of shopping, I passed by their display several times. They’d set up a prominent booth and hung huge posters above it showing mothers nursing their babies. Lots of posters and pamphlets displayed around the booth. But reality lingered in the shadows. Each time I noticed a number of fascinated men strolling, or lingering by walls and in corners, so obviously drinking in the visual stimulation.

Yeah, it’s awful – but are you surprised? In a society where respect for women, consideration for motherhood, respect and decency in general, ran the show, this blatant display of lechery wouldn’t be. Pardon me, but I hope those ladies so inspired by their rosy ideals had their eyes opened to the reality of lust. Nursing openly may work in a different, more accustomed, less sex-focused society. But in ours, I believe this peeping is something nursing mothers in our society will deal with if they start to bare it all in public places.

Goals and ideals are great, but a person — especially a leader — needs a clear understanding of what will actually work in our imperfect world.