Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Here is a column about writing that I did for a small magazine in northwest Ohio, Boomer's Today.
“There were incidents and accidents.
There were hints and allegations.”
lyrics from You Can Call Me Al
by Paul Simon
We are becoming a nation of writers. It makes perfect sense, when you consider our aging population and the stories to be told. I don’t believe there will be another generation to see the scope of change witnessed by the grandparents of baby boomers. Boomer parents have done some head-shaking and gawking over the years. Even I am amazed at times and would defy any baby’s bottom to compare itself to the smoothness of my face, after I shave with the new six-bladed razor.
For many, there are questions about how to start the process and what to write about. People generally think of their lives as being ordinary and uninteresting. They feel they did nothing that anyone else didn’t do. This is where Paul Simon gives us some clues.
Before opening the vault to possible subjects I want to give you a few hints and tips about the process. Once you decide to begin your journey you will need a journal or notebook. You might consider a small spiral notepad that will fit into your pocket or purse. Ideas will assail you at the strangest times. Write them down when they come. I have found the perfect tool to be a digital voice recorder and never leave home without it. When I have a thought, they are often very elusive, I record it instantly. Sometimes it’s only a sentence or two, but that’s enough to trigger the original thought when I listen to the message later.
You need to set aside a time that is convenient, quiet and consistent, whether a few minutes or a couple hours, so you can work without interruption. It will quickly become a habit. My writing mood drops in between 1:00-3:00 am. I unwittingly did this to myself years ago by starting after midnight. Whatever I am doing at that time dissipates and the creative and recollection forces take over.
Prep yourself. Dig out old photos, letters, yearbooks, memorabilia and remember as much as you can about each item. Listen to old records. Smell is a powerful trigger. Sniffing a bar of Dial soap sends me into a writing frenzy! Have a quiet talk, or raucous phone conversation, with someone. The best way to start is, “Do you remember the time…” The other person will help fill in the gaps. There will be plenty of gaps and more than a couple senior moments.
Now for those incidents, accidents and allegations. I was in my forties when my stepfather, whose voice was deep enough to rattle the windows, kept me planted on the couch like a six year old as I listened to his stories. He hid from Japanese soldiers in a South Pacific jungle for a week, crawling through the muck among the bugs and snakes. The rest of his life he freaked out whenever he encountered a big insect and once unloaded four bullets from his belt buckle derringer at a roach in his sock drawer. In the late 1950s he was a Hollywood studio pilot and Lucille Ball got him fired, because he refused to deviate from the flight plan and take her to Las Vegas.
My father-in-law has some wonderful accounts from growing up. His father raised pigeons to sell as squab to New York restaurants. He remembered the weekly slaughter, where his father would squeeze a bird’s beak, to open its mouth, and shove a small knife blade up into the brain. The boys would pluck, clean and pack the bodies for shipment, by train, from Philadelphia to The Big Apple.
The point here is not to make anyone cringe or turn pale, but to illustrate how incidents in life are different and unique. Unfortunately, as you lose siblings, relatives and friends, the burden to share the gems of the past may be solely on you.
Maybe you will write about another person. My middle son, now 26, thinks he doesn’t have much to tell, so I will give him a nudge. He has a trifecta, an accident that resulted in an incident that resulted in accusations.
A day after an auto accident he thought he would use the elevator at school. A teacher asked why and he explained his sore back and legs. She informed him the elevator was for staff and handicapped only. As she was demanding that he get out of the elevator, a student in the hallway tossed a sucker. This is where the actions turn to slow motion, like in the movies. The sucker flew end over end, and before my son could yell out a languished L O O O O O O O O K OOOOUUUUUUTTTTT and shove her to safety, the candy tinked her right on the forehead.
I am not a father who condones heinous misconduct, and certainly I would not trivialize it, but thank goodness the sucker was a small caliber Dum-Dum, the kind that comes in a 500 piece bag for Halloween. Had it been the larger, more deadly, Tootsie Roll Pop, with its heavy chocolate-substitute center, the incident may have been very grave.
By the end of third period the tale of the walk-by suckering had grown into a legend. There was talk of a new revolution to bring rights and freedom to students everywhere. It was the Sucker Chuck Heard Around The World. Students would stand up to tyranny!
He was called to the office, and rode the elevator back down, where he was accused of knowing the identity of the suckerer. After refusing to name names he was released back to student population and rode the elevator back up.
By the end of the day the incident was largely forgotten, as students rushed to Starbucks before the lines grew too long.
There was also the uproar involving a nibble of carrot (the size of his fingertip) that he dropped out of a second floor window, during the third grade, and the recent visit he and his wife made to a local bar to get a glimpse of Lobster Boy and the Lobster Family. Turns out that Lobster Boy had passed away and most of the family was in prison, but that is a whole different article.
You have plenty in your past, just write it, your readers are waiting.