Friday, October 12, 2012
Real as it Gets
SO enjoy a conversation where I can say whatever is in my head and the only thing I have to worry about is showing up as the lovelorn protagonist with more than slight stalker tendencies in a New York Times best-selling cheesy romance novel. The problem with me being friends with a writer is that everything that falls out of the mouth is potential for material. The advantage of being friends with a writer is that that material generally stays on the page. On the page, words are true or not, twisted or accurate, added to, subtracted from, omitted altogether. Maybe it happened like that. Maybe it didn’t.
Often when you read me, you try to decipher clues as to the identity of my characters. Maybe you hear bits and pieces of a story you recognize. Perhaps you catch a partial description of someone who sounds familiar. Many of you have gone as far as to ASK that you show up in my essays. Some of you have requested that you NEVER appear. Know that if you prefer to stay off the page, I do honor that. Sometimes I honor it painfully. For example, and this is for those of you who have hinted in less than clever ways, no, I am not having marriage difficulties. My husband is a private sort who prefers his business not be paraded in front of hoards of strangers. But, believe me, as soon as that particular go-ahead is given, I see writer’s cramp in my future. The thing you should know is this, not everything I write is true. Sometimes one person is three. Sometimes three people are one. Sometimes I embellish a situation just to pretty it up, just to create a picture, just to make it flow. Besides, what does it matter? A good story is a good story.
But I try to stay close, as real is often more fascinating than fantasy anyway. This, for me, is the draw of the craft.
Take the young man I chatted with in the hall the other day after class. He was born a crack baby. His “mother” gave birth, then left. He stayed in the hospital for six months while the doctors waited for him to die. I cannot even list for you the physical conditions he suffered as my brain shut down after just the first few, but it was something about a scar on his chest because something about his lungs or his heart or maybe both, a mark on the back of his head for I don’t remember why, barely two pounds, that was what he weighed, barely two pounds. What else? What else did he say? He was talking, yes, but I could not hear. I could not hear because my own head was shouting, “You should be dead. You should be dead.”
But, he lived, and at eighteen months was adopted out to a family who would eventually have five biological children and fifteen adopted children. This young man grew up in a home with twenty children. Discipline was harsh. The children were polite and well-behaved not because they understood that was the way to be, but because they were afraid of being beaten if they weren’t. But the parents made certain the children did well in school and knew that school was important.
So this young man studied hard and got good grades. In high school, he played baseball. All four years. The doctors told him no, you won’t be able to do that. You won’t be able to play sports. You will struggle in school. You will struggle for your entire life. You will not be like the other kids. You may want to play sports, but you should not try. You won’t be able to do that. He heard a lot about what he couldn’t do, what he shouldn’t do. What he wants to do is to be a counselor. He wants to help those who are struggling in their lives. He is visibly concerned about teens who commit suicide. He tells me stories of how this moves him, how he wants to help. He can’t imagine, he says. He can’t imagine how anyone can be so unhappy with life. I look at him as he tells me this, and I think to myself how he is so full of love and concern for others when at first I would think it he who needs the love and concern.
Sometimes the teacher is student and the student, teacher. I look at this young man as he speaks, and I think of all the obstacles he has faced in his life and how he should not be standing before me right now. Yet, he speaks and lives and behaves in the most upbeat, positive fashion, without ever a complaint and with the utmost concern for the good of others. He has done that which doctors have told him he can’t, he won't be able to, he shouldn't. He has done it, he says, because he knows that he can. He has done it, I think, because he has a beautiful soul and lives not for himself, but for humanity and all that he might contribute to it.
I will tell you that THIS character is real, THIS story accurate, and THIS only the beginning of what I am certain will be a beautiful tale.