The exercise is to create a story title by combining a color and a noun, an exercise meant to write a concise piece and to practice eliminating unnecessary words. Rewriting and editing are hard tools for writers and I am no exception. I remember as a young writer I never wanted to do the difficult editing, I just wanted to write it perfectly the first time. As I got older, I began to appreciate the opportunity to have a “do over,” a chance to correct and improve. If only it were that easy in life. If those opportunities existed, I can think of storylines in my life I would rewrite with abandon. Of course, the elimination of words is a process that is difficult, we don’t like to eliminate, and we like to acquire: clothes, people, possessions, and money. We want more of most things so perhaps the lesson then, is to learn to want less, to say more with fewer words and to live more with less and to need less. Here is my attempt to reduce.
The Taupe House
The house sits on a slightly raised lot, a bit higher than its neighbor to the west, which gives it a vantage point. The front yard with its curved driveway and ample parking is small but welcoming and the vines trailing down beside the windows are lush and require frequent trimming. It is the back yard that acts as a secret fantasyland complete with jungle-like foliage and pool. The escape from the outside world is treasured. Golden silence.
Another view and eliminate 20 words…
The Taupe House
I sit proudly on my perch looking down, just a bit, on my neighbors. I am graced with swiftly growing vines. My backyard is sheltered and jungle-like with a pool as the centerpiece. I provide escape, relaxation and privacy. Golden silence.
Eliminate 20 more words….
The Taupe House
I sit proudly on my perch graced with swiftly growing vines, my backyard sheltered, jungle-like, featuring a pool providing escape, relaxation and privacy. Golden silence.
The classroom is mostly quiet now, with the exception of the hum of the blessed air conditioner and the occasional ringing of the two bells indicating the necessity of the plant manager. The chairs are pushed in and the tables almost clear of the materials readied for the new year, a year that will be different, yet the same, as many others. Right now the playground is waiting patiently for the laughter of children that will fill it next week and the dolls in the playhouse wait patiently in their crib, clothing in tact and the plastic multicultural foods await preparation in the labeled bins. The smell of fresh, new crayons is in the air and the computers are happily waiting to begin their whir and hum of activity. For me, even music is not necessary yet; the silence is a giant space, open with possibilities and fresh with optimism. A bigger class this year, 24 or 25 new little students, some scared, some overly confident, most excited to begin an adventure that will last for the next 13 years. They enter the institution in the best of possible ways, a soft landing filled with songs, games, colorful paint and new stories told while they sit in squares on a colorful carpet rapt with attention. Friends wait to be made, blank paper filled with colorful drawings and easels beckon for young artists unhampered by thoughts of how things should be, instead filled with the endless imaginings of how things can be. Soon enough, the rhythm instruments will ting and jingle, sticks will tap and little children will bounce around the room, most unable to sit for long. They will be introduced to letters sounds, counting songs, The Pledge of Allegiance and happy songs of friendship. They will make life-long friends here in this safe place and will tell secrets, whisper, and hug with abandon unable to keep from expressing the simple joy of loving a friend or the happiness of running out the door to play. They will learn to appreciate the stillness of their own breath while in yoga postures stretching their bodies and minds to appreciate the stillness and space that allows for peacefulness. The silence is space, yet it is full of possibilities, experiences yet unknown and the peace of planning for future memories that will resonate in a happy place contained in the hearts of the future residents of Room K.
Creating a character’s depth, by creating a history for the character can not only build the character, but can provide story-lines and future story plots. Getting to know a character, becoming intimately acquainted with the character, can lead to the discovery of history, secrets, and knowledge of the character’s friends and family. The Stepping Stones technique, writing the 12 most significant events in a life beginning with birth and ending with the current time, just might provide useful when getting to know myself too. This blog, being a sort of self-exploration, allows me the luxury to try these writing techniques out using myself as a character guinea pig. So here goes, the 12 most significant events in my life:
1. I was born to my loving parents in New York.
2. My parents divorced and my mother, sister and I moved to Los Angeles (mom’s hometown). I lost all contact with my father.
3. Mom got a job at Camp Kinneret and we got to go to summer camp. I learned to love the outdoors and is spurred my creativity with song and art.
4. My mother remarried and we got a real father.
5. My Aunt Joyce died of breast cancer and because our families were so close, this had a huge impact on us all.
6. Established friendships within my neighborhood and spent lots of time roaming the neighborhood, riding bikes, and in general “hanging out” which provided a lot of freedom.
7. Met my best friend Sandy in 7th grade and was lucky enough to know the devotion of a real best friend. Sandy’s mom remarried and they moved to Hawaii. Another loss.
8. Started College at Valley College and became independent and found the love of learning. Began working and found the freedom of earning some spending money, making new “work friends” and trying out different jobs. Moved away to UCSB and loved the life of a college student living by the beach and trying out all sort of different classes.
9. Met Gary and began the relationship that became my marriage.
10. Became a mother of three daughters.
11. Lost both parents. Dad in 2000, Mom in 2008.
12. Lived through the hardest period of time in my life and am just beginning to surface.
Well, this exercise was insightful, but I think 12 significant life events is not enough. I began teaching in 1979 and have had a lot of significant experiences related to teaching for I could not fit in all of the really significant events and didn’t even have space for a huge one, the beginning of my teaching specifically at Topanga, in 1993. This is an event that really dramatically changed the direction of my life.
So how complicated are characters? I think I am pretty simple, but perhaps that simplicity has emerged from the complexities of life in general. This exercise does make me reflect on the real landmarks of my life though and does put into perspective the relatively insignificant little daily annoyances that we generally blow up out of proportion. History is an ever-evolving story because in fact, the events of yesterday become part of your history as soon as you wake up the next morning. Thinking of life that way, of a revolving series of events and circumstances, some permanent, some a transition is helpful when attempting to look at the big picture. The big picture made up of lots of little events.
Yesterday I got a spiffy new haircut at a very reasonable price at Fantastic Sam’s and though it is layered and shorter than I had first intended, this morning I woke up feeling fresh, energetic and perky, the only adjective I can think of to describe the feeling. So maybe significant events can be boiled down to lots of little life-altering events that change your mood, your perspective or your outlook, because, after all, how we approach life in turn influences the significance of our life.