The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling
I have six humble serving men
They taught me all I knew
Their names are what
and where and when
and why and how and who.
Using these questions to ask and learn about the character, events, and setting while writing a story can give realism and details. I read the assignment of building a character-beginning with the question of “who?” but I can only think of my mother. Most likely this is because I just sent out an e-mail reminder about the upcoming unveiling, but also might be because I discovered a batch of photos from the 50s while cleaning out my credenza this weekend.
Who was this person? I knew her as my mother, but certainly she was at one point, a daughter, sister, wife, aunt, sister-in-law and friend. So as an exercise, I will answer the posed questions, referring to my mother.
Who is my protagonist? My mother.
When and where does he or she live? She lived in her beloved Los Angeles for most of her life. The stint in New York was a fun adventure, but her heart was always here. August 13, 1928-October 3, 2009.
What are this person’s passions? Her passions were books, her family, her friends, Broadway Musicals (especially those from the 50s), Frank Sinatra, Edie Gorme, live jazz music, serious plays, movies with sub-titles about obscure topics, learning, keeping up with current events.
What are this persons deficiencies? Fear: of numbers, of scary, dangerous happenings, of being alone of taking chances. Over analyzing and not living in the moment. Letting practicality override spontaneous adventures and joy.
How does she begin each day? Reading the paper-cover to cover while sipping on black coffee and eating a pastry. This could take hours!
What is a typical breakfast, lunch? Well, the breakfast is mentioned. Lunch would be a salad; either tuna, egg or chicken and fruit.
Where does she spend her leisure time? On the sofa, reading; in a bookstore, browsing; exploring the city’s historic places or in a class for seniors, learning about music or theater.
Who are this character’s allies? Family, friends, other book lovers and all prior colleagues and students.
Who are this character’s enemies? Doctors with bad news (although she loved her doctors, just not the news).
My mother was so unique and special to so many special qualities that endeared her to so many. As I rub the smooth wood of the writing desk and sit gazing at her memory objects:
A mug with the saying “Next year we’ve got to get organized,” although she was possibly over organized.
A plaque stating “Eschew Obfuscation”: the concealment of meaning in communication, making it confusing and harder to interpret.
A small brick, supposedly from the London Bridge. Did I mention that she loved all things British?
A Peanuts card with Linus on one side stating “There’s no heavier burden than a great potential!” and on the other “No problem is so big or complicated that it can’t be run away from!”
Her oval letter bin from The Illustrated London News (see what I mean about the British influence?).
A small statue of a worker slumped over his desk which reads “There must be an easier way to make a living.”
A photo box of photos taken when I moved to college including one of my dog Charisma and my sister’s dog Sonny.
The last picture taken with my mom and dad and my family at Nicole’s elementary school culmination-a month before my dad died.
The organized cubbies are filled with her paper clips, sticky note pads and scissors. Her stationary supplies fill the drawers and her desk pad sits beneath my lap top computer. Even with all of these comforts, there is a sob stuck in my throat and it is hard to keep the tears at bay.
A poem she loved is the perfect description of how I feel without her here:
To quote what my mom wrote to her friend Carol: “I just fell in love with it…”
“Perfection Wasted” by John Updike.
And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market –
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
to the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it; no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.