Ideas Are Like Deer…

This morning spent a very peaceful morning alone walking the woods of Fenner Nature Center with my camera. Pre-motherhood, I did such things quite often. Once you have a child tagging along it is a different experience. Still a good one, but different. As the sun was rising into the hazy morning sky, I walked at my chosen pace with silent steps and no speech, listening to myriad birds singing springtime songs and watching the woods for things to photograph.

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Not too far into my walk I saw the flashing white tail of a deer as it bounded out of my path. So I stopped, then moved forward slowly until I was at a point where I could see her through a little clearing in the trees. She looked at me, assessing the threat level. I was still, waiting for her to decide I could be trusted at that distance.

We looked at each other for several minutes. Then she started nibbling at the burgeoning plant life around her and flicking her white tail. This seemed to signal her friends. She was joined first by one other doe, who regarded me with just a bit of suspicion before she too began foraging. And soon thereafter two more friends joined them before they all moved on into the woods.

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It occurs to me that this is how our ideas come sometimes. We are out enjoying life when a flash of white catches our eye and we stop a moment, then approach the idea slowly so as not to scare it off. We watch it closely, take in its form, maybe snap some photos or write some notes in order to capture it before it moves on. And if we are patient enough, more ideas come tumbling into the clearing in our mind.

Ideas can be timid, fleeting. Push too much and they can be pushed right out of our minds. But patience, stillness, a willingness to observe and record, can capture them forever.

Pointing Out Pain, Then Pointing Toward Beauty

I spent some time tonight working on a new short story. It’s hard going, not because the words are not coming–they are, and fast–but because some stories are just hard to write. Stories that tackle uncomfortable or difficult subjects, especially when those subjects are part of our own personal history.

Writing from life can mean re-experiencing something you wish you could leave behind in the forgotten past, something you thought you had already buried. It can mean coming to terms with the fact that an event from your past, perhaps even just a few unforgettable moments from your childhood, shaped you in ways you didn’t realize until you started getting it all out on paper.

It can mean pain.

And sometimes, writers stop there. They lay out their painful experiences, looking for some sort of catharsis, perhaps, or a bit of sympathy, and then leave it there in all its depressing fullness.

What do you do with that as a reader? What can you do with it? Honestly, beyond trying to sympathize with a writer, there’s not a lot you can do with it. You close the book and move on to the next one.

It seems to me that the really good, memorable stories we read are the ones that honestly point out pain and then point us toward beauty. They expose a negative, maybe let us stew in it a bit, and some may even appear to leave us there, but at some point they offer at least a glimmer of hope or at the very least a lesson, an admonition not to go down that same bad road that a character did, showing us the points at which we can choose a better path.

I have read a number of stories that wallow in sorrow and angst, giving no hint of redemption. I’ve read a number that really only present the reader with fake problems encountered by characters that are less than authentic. But between the bitter and the saccharine are the stories that stick–the bittersweet ones.

Certainly there are readers for any type of story that can be written–even the Pollyanna, the pouting, or the painful–but I’m comfortable making a value judgment here. Depressing stories that revel in the moribund and never climb up out of the mire of despair are, in my mind, self-indulgent in precisely the same way as that girl you knew in high school who cultivated imagined personal tragedies to get attention.

Don’t get me wrong; I actually do like depressing stories provided I get a little comic relief and even the faintest glimmer of hope. I think some of our more authentic expressions of deeply felt human emotions come through tragedy. But at the end of the day I have a cautiously positive view of the world–not because I think the best of people, but because my worldview is formed by my religious belief. I believe God works out all things to bring glory to himself and that I’m part of that plan. It helps me put things into an eternal perspective. We all have our lens, and that’s mine.

So even as I write through the parts of my own personal history that seem ugly and unfair, I look for the glint of good that must lie within them. The negative events of our lives are rich deposits of literary iron to be mined, the tough, blackish parts that hold within them the conflict we need in order to make our stories interesting. But don’t miss the thin veins of gold or silver running through them because you’re so focused on the negative.

It’s the dark parts of our lives that make those bits of beauty shine so brightly.

It’s the winter that makes the spring such a miracle.

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Free Short Story for Kindle to Celebrate a Musical Pioneer

This Elegant RuinIn honor of Anton Dvorak’s death on this day in 1904, I’m making This Elegant Ruin free to download for Kindle today only! Click here for your free copy.

This story begins where Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 ends and follows an orchestra conductor as he comes to terms with a career winding down and a relationship with a young violinist that can never be.

Hope you enjoy it!