Dances with Rain

The Weather Channel had a picture of a cloud and lightning with raindrops in the 7 o’clock slot last night.  We’ve been praying for rain all month and now it’s getting critical.  I read in the newspaper that our small town only has minute’s worth of water in the tower it uses to supply the fire hydrants here.  It’s dry and we’re approaching the fourth of July.  Common sense would indicate avoiding anything with a spark but odds are someone is going to do something stupid.

So, we’ve been praying for rain.  We’ve hung our hopes on that little icon of a thunderstorm.

After a hot sunny day with temperatures at somewhere near 105 degrees, the sky clouded over and then the wind picked up, a lot.  I went outside to check the sky because I’m one of those crazy people who goes outside when a storm is approaching.  I could smell it, ozone in the dry air.  I could feel the humidity rise around me.  The scorching wind was building and dust was puffing up from the dry grass as debris blasted across the yard.  I scrunched up my eyes to protect them then threw out my arms and turned full circle as I was joined by my son and his girlfriend.  “Can you believe it,” I asked.  “It really might rain.”  We were joyous, giddy really.  I grabbed their hands and we ran to the driveway and danced in a circle and then my husband and younger son joined us.  “You’re doing it wrong,” my older son said.  “This is how you do a rain dance!”  He slapped his knees and did a little jig and then slapped his shoulders in a crisscross and kicked out his heels.  We tried to copy his steps and ended up laughing and spinning around in the wind with our arms outstretched, palms open to the sky.  In the suddenly cool wind, I felt a single drop of rain hit my palm and evaporate.   It was there and then it wasn’t.  I prayed for rain and I received a single drop.

The purple sky soon lightened to gray; the wind died and the sunshine returned.  The ground was still as parched as before the storm and we all returned to whatever we were doing before the wind came.  I received a single drop of rain and the memory of a joyous random dance with my family.

http://www.weather.com/

Food and Fiction

Some of my favorite books include scenes where people are eating.  The description of food adds such richness to the storytelling and often reveals something about the characters doing the eating.  I love the food descriptions in John Grisham’s A Painted House.  Not only does Grisham describe the prepared food itself in a way that makes cold biscuits sound delicious, but because his characters are poor cotton farmers he reveals the energy required just to put food on the table.  He describes the whole family rising before dawn to tend to the farm animals, collecting eggs and feeding the livestock.  He describes the women working in the garden behind the house and baking biscuits and pie and frying chicken all morning to have lunch ready for the crew working in the fields.  In the first chapter, Grisham’s protagonist, a 7-year-old boy, is seen savoring a Tootsie Roll by taking a small bite and wrapping the rest of the penny candy in its wrapper for later.  That attention to detail left me hungry after every chapter.

Stephen King uses food in a different way in his book Song of Susannah.  The title character Susannah suffers from a fractured personality and her alter ego Mia is pregnant with demon spawn.  King sets up scenes in which Mia, in control of Susannah’s mind and having midnight cravings, envisions banquet tables filled with aromatic roasted meat and pastries.  In reality, Susannah is grabbing pond toads from out of the muck and crunching them live.  In this way, King creates a world out of control and stirs the reader’s imagination with repulsion and sometimes even stimulates the gag reflex.  He brilliantly uses these scenes to help the reader form an unfavorable opinion about Mia and sympathize with Susannah who is sometimes captive in her own body.

Lack of food is another technique writers use to emotionally connect the reader to characters.  Anne Rice tends to tease her vampire characters by putting them smack in the middle of scenes where humans are enjoying Creole cuisine and French wine but the vampires are only tempted by the scent of the humans.  Another example is Yann Martel’s Life of Pi in which a 16-year old boy is stranded on a lifeboat at sea with a 450-pound Bengal tiger.  Not only does Pi have to solve the problem of his own starvation but he has to find a way to keep the belly of the tiger full so as not to become a meal himself.  Martel captures the surrender required to survive 227 days at sea on a diet consisting mainly of raw fish.

Writers, if you find yourself stuck in a scene, why not go back and serve your characters a meal.  It might reveal something new and take the scene in a whole new direction. Readers, go pick up a good book and really appreciate those food scenes.  I’ve got to go make a snack.

Being heard

 

Topsail Island, North Carolina

Good conversation is like a day at the beach, like the gentle ebb and flow of waves against the shore.  Participation should be a back and forth motion, equal parts talking and listening.  When I find myself in a group situation where everyone is open and not only willing to share but willing to consider other views, I don’t want to be anywhere else.

Fred says good conversation makes for good community.  I find this to be absolutely true.  Have you ever been in a group where conversation is effortless?  Each person contributing usually accompanied by laughter, because when things are going well topics are light.  In these moments we feel like we belong.  That’s community.

On the other hand, think of a situation where something of importance is at stake.  What’s it like to feel like no one is listening or information is being withheld?  It creates an uncomfortable atmosphere and causes suspicion.  It’s in these situations through a breakdown of communication that community starts to crumble.  As the back and forth exchange of information becomes broken, rumor springs forth and people start to feel isolated.  Then, people take sides in an effort to belong.  It seems its human nature to seek out community.

I witnessed this breakdown of community recently when our school district announced some dramatic budget cuts.  Members of certain groups within the school system, out of fear that their program might be cut, divided into opposing sides.  False information was layered within truth and lots of finger-pointing occurred.  Thankfully, I also witnessed a voice of reason reaching out to unite our community.  A third group formed with the intent of finding accurate information and posting it publicly so individuals could form new opinions based on fact instead of emotionally driven rhetoric. 

I’ve been noticing this phenomenon recently.  With the integration of the internet to a majority of American households, it seems individuals are reaching out to find like-minded souls not to form a majority in an effort to conquer but to open up dialogue.  Take a look at Facebook, people are forming groups to offer support, to keep connected, and to expand their community.  It’s refreshing.

So, if you find yourself part of a community: in your church, in your city, in your neighborhood or on the World Wide Web, remember its survival depends on open lines of communication.  Sharing our experiences and insights draws us together, so let your voice be heard, but also be willing to listen and consider.

Where am I?

Bargersville, Indiana

Have you ever read a scene in a story and been transported to the location you’re reading about?  Not actually transported but so involved in the story you could almost close your eyes and picture yourself  there.   Fred refers to the opening scene of George Orwell’s 1984 in which the reader finds himself in what Fred describes as, “a dystopia where military time is kept, where propaganda reigns, and where springtime feels more like midwinter.”  For me, an exceptional example of setting up atmosphere is in the opening scene of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.  She describes the trees with, “brindled bark like muscular animals overgrown beyond all reason.”  We see in her African jungle, “A single-file army of ants biting a mammoth tree into uniform grains and hauling it down to the dark for their ravenous queen.”  This girl can set a scene!

Rich description involves the senses, all of them.  To really transport the reader, the writer has to put himself there first.  Today Fred challenges us to set up some atmosphere for our characters so I’m going back to my neighbor’s barn.  Since I’ve never been inside I get to imagine what it might be like.  Here goes:

                Bent over in the hot sun, I hear the crunch of tires on gravel as the little black truck passes by.  I straighten my back and offer a neighborly wave.  He’s gone.  Mr. Orville is headed to town so it’s now or never. 

 I drop my trowel and handful of weeds onto the dirt and turn slowly to confront the barn.  The boards are worn and faded, weathered by eons of sun and rain and frost.  A ghost of the red beauty it once was, cracks in the gray slats show slices of sky near the hay loft door.  I take a step into the pasture.  The tall brown grass crackles underneath my boots.  Orville cuts the grass in the pasture a few times every summer, but he was sick last fall and winter hit before he got in the final mowing.  As I move closer, the shiny tin roof looms overhead.  It’s strange.  Orville keeps the roof of the barn in immaculate condition, but the walls seem to be rotting away.  “What is he keeping in there?”

                I approach the corner of the barn furthest from the view from Orville’s house.  He’s gone but maybe his wife is on watch today.  The earth around the barn’s foundation is mounded up.  I have to climb to put my face against the wall.  The boards are rough with age.  Leaning in pressing my hands against the wall to steady myself on the raised earth, I peer through a crack in the board.  I squint and close one eye trying to see into the darkness.

***********************************************************

Well, that’s a start.  Duty calls and my writing time is up for today.  I think I’ll come back to this later to see where it goes.  It’s true that scheduling time to write every day and sticking to it is inspiring.  Now, it’s stopping to go to work that is hard.