Tag Archives: people

Lonely Open Country

Cool glass presses against the side of my forehead. There are so many stars out there in the North, all around us. We’re driving along a ridge between rolling hills and valleys. The land is dark. Headlights are the only artificial light I can see, ghosting off reflectors on the sides of the road. I stiffen my neck, try to change position so that my head doesn’t wallop the window. Little success, but no matter. I’m determined to watch the stars and the empty landscape pass.

It’s a chilly Autumn night, and it’s so alone out here. It feels that way after leaving the dance, but it’s a pleasant, full feeling. The dark woods and the memories of whirling skirts and smiling faces remind me of past times I never knew.

Enter the barn in the twilight, yellow Christmas lights strung up under the eaves. Farm folks and others, but mostly farm folks, have gathered from miles around to this barn in the middle of nowhere. They’re gussied up in their overalls and old-fashioned dresses. Everyone’s talking, and slowly, everyone finds a partner. That’s the hardest part. Once paired, we walk out onto the cement dance floor. It’s an open-sided barn with yesteryear’s hay still scattered around in clumps. The dancers wait for music, some patiently, some impatiently. Finally, the MC grabs the mic. The band is tuned up and ready. The music begins, and boy is it lively.

My flats slip on the concrete as I skip around the outside of the square. I nearly fall a couple times that night. Dumb shoes. It’s great fun. After a few dances my feet hurt from pounding the concrete floor, but I never sit out if I can help it. I came here to dance, and dance I shall.

Music echoes in my head on the ride home, head bumping against the glass, riding through lonely open country.

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A Loss for Words

The TV studio went quiet as we started the sound check. Back in the sound room, the club president was trying to get our mics to work.

Recite the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said to me through the headpiece.

And so I started. I hadn’t said the Pledge for, oh, maybe 10 years, but it was ingrained in my memory from countless recitations in elementary school. “I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America . . . one nation, I forget a part, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I didn’t realize what had happened until later. I had experienced selective memory loss—“under God” had been edited out at a subconscious level, due to my environment and my habit of not mentioning God.

This selective memory loss happened again last summer at work. I attempted to describe an encounter with a rude customer to a colleague, and suddenly I found myself at a loss for words. You see, I’ve formed a solid habit of only saying positive/neutral things about other people, and it seems that this habit has become self-enforcing.

I didn’t realize habits, particularly self-censorship, could become so deeply embedded. It’s amazing and a bit scary at the same time. The moral of the story: watch your habits.

Make Your Story Real: Hinting at Secrets

We are all detectives.

When I meet a new person, I immediately begin gathering clues about them. The process starts with a first impression and continues as long as we interact. I watch their actions, listen to their words, judge their reactions, and try to piece together the hidden inner world of that person. I get to know them.

The longer I know a person, the better I can interpret body language clues and guess their inner state. Sometimes I may even be able to predict their reactions. But no matter how well I know a person, there will always be surprises and more mysterious clues to decipher. No one acts reasonably all the time, and no one perfectly fits into a mold. Sometimes there may be no answer, but we still want to understand.

mystery_person

Every human being has hidden complexity in their inner world, something their friends can only guess at through interpreting secondary clues. When you write a story, make it more realistic by imitating this hidden complexity. Drop clues that indicate there’s more to uncover, even (and especially) if there’s no clear interpretation of these clues. Humans are meaning-makers, and we’ll still try to understand. Your readers will try to solve the unsolvable, just as each of us does in real life.

Hint at secrets. Why did he frown when she asked about his girlfriend? Why does she hate the smell of coffee? Why won’t he speak about his past?

We are all detectives, and we want to know more.

Looking for Adventure

When one of my peers found out that we’d be taking the same class, she said, “Oh good! We can sit together!” I smiled, because it was a nice gesture. At the same time, I knew that sticking close to people I already know can make it harder to meet new people.

Avoiding new and unfamiliar things comes naturally to almost all of Blog61us. After all, most of our more adventurous buddies who failed to develop a fear of the dark got eaten by cave bears a long time ago. But times change, and cave bears don’t live in classrooms. In civil society, discomfort with the unfamiliar is often an unpleasant relic from ye olden days, hampering our ability to explore.

Keeping close to familiar friends when entering new territory is a solid survival strategy, but life is no longer on the line. Really, it’s not. So when you have an opportunity to interact with new people, be brave and explore – you’ll probably be surprised and intrigued by the human variety right outside your door.