on this grey morning
even the blooming hawthorn
is a kindness
To read more haiku, check out Tree Top Haiku
on this grey morning
even the blooming hawthorn
is a kindness
To read more haiku, check out Tree Top Haiku
Have you ever read a book that felt like one long spiel of navel-gazing with a bit of plot thrown in?
I have. And I find it irritating. I’d like to read a story.
Readers are human; we all have feelings. We like it when our story characters seem human, too — even display some faults. When characters show their feelings and inner conflicts we can identify with them and sympathize with their trials. We cheer when they find their answer. In my opinion that’s what a story is all about.
Writers need to give their readers credit: we do “get” how the protagonist feels and we understand that attractions, fears and insecurities are going to be ongoing. But light touches now and then are reminder enough. The writer doesn’t have to tell us again and again and again how insecure, worried or resistant to some change the character feels.
Navel-Gazing: Contrived Conflict
Stories do need conflict, but is really effective in the long run to generate “internal conflict” by rehashing the character’s fears, self-doubt, and suspicions every few pages? Wouldn’t the novel be better if those efforts rather went into plot? Into writing in some actual conflict with life circumstances?
I read one novel where the main characters had joined a wagon train headed for a new life in California. They were going through unfamiliar territory, supposedly anticipating the new life they’d be living. But instead of the trials of their journey, scenic description, or speculation on their future home, the writer served readers a steady diet of the female MC examining her feelings for, and trying to generate resistance to, the male MC. And vise versa.
They spend so much time scolding themselves about their feelings, by Chapter 4 you’re thinking, “Get a life, people! There’s a whole world happening around you.”
I rarely read romance books or chick lit and this is mainly why. But I find this style of writing common in other genres nowadays, too, especially cosy mysteries. In one novel the protagonist finds a dead teen in someone’s empty house and, according to the writer, her thoughts are:
Why on earth did I have to find this body?
What will people think of me when they know I’ve found this body?
What will my family think of me when they hear I’ve found this body?
What will people think of my family when they learn I’ve found this body?
That a person died is pretty low in her thinking. Her fears prove overwhelming, so she jumps in her car and leaves the poor guy lying there. As the story unfolds all her angst gets played out with the mystery as a background. In all fairness, the writer did a good job of spinning out the plot, but the protagonist comes across as so self-centered.
Put More STORY in the Story
I know we live in a world that’s focused on navel-gazing. We’re encouraged to analyze our feelings and reactions. This is naturally going to spill over into the books we read. However, if writers were to delete the monotonous rehashes, I’m afraid some books might lose a third of their word counts — unless they filled the pages with actual happenings. And that takes work.
Maybe my problem is that I’ve been reading the old masters. There’s a lot more going on in Pride and Prejudice than how Liz feels about her feelings toward Darcy and how Darcy feels about his feelings for Liz. Jane Austin’s characters had lives to live, places to go and things to do. Her stories were woven around action as well as romance.
Without a lot of navel-gazing Charles Dickens’ characters managed to rouse people’s sympathies to the point of effecting positive changes in society’s attitudes.
For mystery writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, “Who did it?” was the focus of their stories. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey rarely wrestled with self-doubt or anguished over what others thought of them. Yet they were very human — and often very humorous as a bonus.
The popularity of these writers has endured; you can still find their works in any library and most bookstores. That tells us something.
by Canadian poet Archibald Lampman
To the distance! Ah, the distance!
Blue and broad and dim!
Peace is not in burgh or meadow,
But beyond the rim.
Aye, beyond it, far beyond it;
Follow still my soul,
Till this earth is lost in heaven,
And thou feel’st the whole.
The husband and wife were finally agreed on one thing: there was no point going on this way. Too much roiling water had flowed under the bridge. There’d been a number of bitter quarrels between them this last while. Neither of them were happy with the other anymore so the best thing was to get a divorce and try to find happiness with someone new.
Thus they found themselves in court one day, together with their lawyer, making application for divorce, and the question naturally came up as to who should be granted custody of their small son. The would-be ex-spouses were hurling accusations and retorts back and forth so much that his Honour was having a hard time reaching a decision.
Finally he turned to the forlorn-looking little boy and gently asked, “Which one of your parents do you wish to live with, little man?”
The courtroom fell silent, awaiting the boy’s answer. He looked from one parent to the other and burst into tears. “I want to live with both of them!” he wailed.
The husband and wife looked at each other, their eyes asking the question, “What are we doing to our son?” Were their own desires and quarrels really so much more important than his happiness? What would become of him, constantly torn between the two of them? The mother grabbed for some tissues and buried her face in them. The husband bowed his head and wiped away some tears with his thumb.
The husband turned and quietly consulted with his lawyer, then the two of them had a quiet discussion with his wife and her lawyer. After some nodding and a few trembling smiles, each parent took one of the boy’s hands. They approached the Bench and informed the judge they were going to reconcile their differences and be a family again.
The judge smiled down at the three of them and declared the matter dismissed. Still, he couldn’t help wishing their little boy might have been spared this wrenching sorrow.
This story I’ve retold in my own words appeared in an old Friendship Book of Francis Gay. I believe it was a true account, so I’ll call this creative non-fiction.
The good times and the bad
the ribbons of joy,
the patches of sorrow,
the threads of lessons learned
from the materials of every day;
with these we weave
the fabric of our lives
into a blanket of sweet memories
that will warm our hearts
in the old times, the cold times.
I’m going to be occupied with an editing project for a couple of weeks. You may not hear too much from me during this time, but I’ll try to pop in every now and then.
Five years ago I wrote up one of Pastor Warren’s Sunday morning messages, as near as I remembered it. Now I’ll post it again for my new site.
His topic was on accepting responsibility–which might include the need to go back and face the music. The scripture verses he started his message with were Genesis 16:6-11.
In Genesis 15: 4 Abraham was promised a son, but his wife Sarai had her doubts. At least she wasn’t producing any heirs. Then she had this bright idea — as we short-sighted humans often do. She gave her maid to Abraham thinking the maid would provide the descendants and Sarai would claim them as hers. After all, the maid belonged to her so any offspring would, too.
Alas for “the best laid plans of mice and man.” When Hagar knew she was going to have the heir, she got a bit “uppity” as Southern folks would say. Her smugness irked Sarai, who then became the classic slave driver, treating her maid harshly.
And when Sarai had dealt this way with her one too many times, Hagar fled from her face. (Verse 6) If she’s going to be so cantankerous, I’m outta here, she decided. She took the lad, Abraham’s son, and left for parts unknown.
Trouble is, the parts were unknown. She came to the end of the road, with no food, no money and no place to go. Her son was starving. And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness… And he said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou and whither wilt thou go?
God cared enough about Hagar to follow her; He let her run as far as she could and there He met her. Hagar, probably exhausted and hungry by this time, was finally ready to listen. That’s usually where God meets us, isn’t it?
So she told him, “I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.” And the angel of the Lord said unto her, “Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands… I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.”
Sometimes a few pointed words from a concerned Christian brother or sister will cause someone to run. Someone questions something they done, maybe implies they’re not the good Christian they think they are. So they feel hurt and offended. “He was too hard on me. She doesn’t really know me. I’m doing the best I can. They just don’t understand my situation. I’m not going back there again!”
There are people who go from church to church, from counselor to counselor, hoping to get answers they like. They may say they need help, that they need direction, but then listen “selectively” for the advice they really want to hear. Ten people may say “Don’t do it” but they listen to the one who says, “Yes, that would be okay.” Then they can go ahead and do as they wish, because “Brother so-and-so said it was okay.”
Naturally we want to be accepted by others as spiritual people. That we’re doing just okay. We don’t want to hear we’re wrong, that we have attitudes that are not Christ-like. We may feel so abused and unloved that we run. Perhaps not literally, but we avoid those who want to help us.
God is so good; He waits until we come to a quiet place, until we’ve exhausted every avenue and don’t know what else to do. Then He says, “Where are you? What are you doing here? How far have you already run? How much farther are you going to go?”
He tell us, “Go back. Go back to those ones that you think dealt so hard with you…and submit yourself to them. Listen to what they have to say. Consider that they may be right…that they may see something in you that does need changing.”
Heb 13:17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
God promised Hagar a rich reward if she’d just go back and stick it out. And after all, wasn’t her attitude part of the problem between her and her mistress? Likewise, He promises us a reward. Though our attitudes may have to go through a refining fire, He promises we’ll be the better for it. Relationships will be stronger, our love purer, our light brighter.
Or will we keep on running? For how many years? Through how many broken relationships? And where will it finally end?
Those of you who were children, or had children, around 1973, may remember Count Kook chanting his tried-and-true Monster recipe:
“Five drops of the essence of terror
six drops of sinister sauce…”
For some reason that little snippet popped into my head this morning, probably because I was searching for words to describe the tsunami rolling through my emotions. Too bad “opaque” wasn’t today’s Word Press prompt, because it fits so well.
As I awoke this morning, this wave threatened to submerge me. I detected a tinge of terror, certainly some sinister sauce — it goes so well with cancer scares! I’m getting a whiff of foreboding dissolved in a cup of anticipation, a handful of hope, a chunk of resignation. All in this boggling batter of suspended animation.
So what brought this on? I had a blood test yesterday in preparation for my check-up at the Cancer Clinic tomorrow. Up until now I haven’t given this visit too much anxious thought but the blood test somehow brought it all to the forefront again. What will the results be? Will I still be stabilized, or will my leukemic white cells be multiplying with gay abandon? How bad, how fast? Will I need more chemo before long, or will I be okay for a few more years?
Another cancer survivor, Stacey LePage, wrote in her blog about these same feelings, wanting to avoid the checkup-visit, not wanting to hear a verdict. Not wanting bad news to flood her plans for a happy summer. Read her article here.
Even though I’m not really fearing the visit or anticipating bad news, the impending arrival does something to my body chemistry. I saw this funny, numbing emotional wave of blue coming at me and I felt like crawling under the covers until I’ve heard the score. Then to top it all off I have a bothersome tooth, starting yesterday, and woke up from a nightmare this morning.
Thankfully the sun has come out, the birds are filling our morning with their songs, I’ve painted the swallow houses a friend built for me. Spring is my favorite time of year, especially when my swallow friends return to greet me — something I’ll write about more in another post. I’m happy to get their homes ready for them.
I have some blanket squares to sew together today, too. While I’m eager to put tomorrow’s visit behind me, come what may, I do have lots of cheerful things with which I can dispel this opaque feeling. And Stacey tells us in her recent post that she’s writing a memoir about her experiences as she battles stage-four ovarian cancer. She’s giving it the neat and very apt title: Overcoming Stage Fright.
Yes, something good really can come from life’s hardest, most painful lessons. That faith is what keeps us plodding on.