Monday, May 28, 2007

The making of a Create/Destroy dichotomy

I’m not sure I believe there are things that are meant to be, but I do know that sometimes things just click. The book project we’re working on is one of those things. The concept of creating a book centered around dichotomies – opposites, divisions, contrasts, two parts of a whole – captured our group’s collective imagination, but each of us has taken off with the idea in our his or her unique way. Watching the book unfold is fascinating. Watching how all the different people in our group, people with diverse interests and writing styles, approach the concept and create their contributions is like getting a peek behind the curtain before the world premiere of a play. I’m seeing the secrets behind the scenes, and it’s a wonderful, mysterious world.

For me, writing my as-yet-unnamed contribution was another lesson in things that just click. I first chose the two opposite meanings of ravel (to weave or become entangled and to unweave or become disentangled) as the dichotomy I would write about. It seemed like such an interesting and, I admit, clever choice of dichotomies. But, as has happened to me many times in my life, being clever didn’t quite work out as planned. My (overly ambitious?) idea was to write two short stories, one illustrating one definition of ravel and one illustrating the other. I managed to write an adequate, but not great, story about a woman taking advantage of a very unusual opportunity to disentangle herself from an unhappy marriage. I was fairly happy, although not utterly thrilled, with this story. Then I stalled out. The second half of the dichotomy just wouldn’t come. And one half of a dichotomy, for this project, is about as useful as teats on a bull – to use an old Texas-ism.

In frustration, I went back to the drawing board. As I almost always do in times of need, I sought solace in my journal. I made sprawling lists of dichotomies, waiting for one to jump out and scream, “Me! Write about ME!” And, amazingly, one did. When I wrote down create/destroy, the idea for a story came to me in the same instant. Not just the germ of an idea, the outline of the entire story, from beginning to end, popped into my mind fully formed. Rarely does this happen, and I’m not so much a fool that I turn my back on a gift from the muse, so seconds later I pulled up a blank screen on my computer and started typing. Within two hours, I had a 3,400-word first draft of my still-unnamed contribution to our dichotomy book.

Sometimes things just click.

Following is an excerpt from the first, and very rough, draft of my create/destroy story. I hope you enjoy it. If it peaks your interest, join our e-mail list and you’ll receive updates as we post more works in progress and news of the book as the publishing date nears.

As always, I’d love to hear your feedback.



Excerpt from a short story on the dichotomy of Create and Destroy:

After opening the hatbox and discovering the notebooks, Joyce’s mother hesitated only a moment before picking up the first one. She glanced at the bedside clock. 3:30. It would be at least three hours before Joyce got home, so she was in no danger of being caught, and it was her motherly duty to find out what troubled her girl so much that she needed to write it down in all these notebooks. Her mind went back decades ago to the little journals Joyce had kept when she was in junior high and high school. It had been her duty to read those, too, and they’d helped her keep her daughter from making more than one stupid adolescent mistake. Like that Rodney. If it hadn’t been for her reading her daughter’s journals, who knows what would have happened there. But, instead, she was able to send Joyce away to a girl’s summer camp, and by the time she came back Rodney was with another poor girl and had forgotten all about Joyce. Joyce had thought she had a broken heart, of course, but it was all for the best.

She opened the first notebook in the stack, a red one, and began to read.


The girl’s father was drunk again. That was like saying the sun had set again, and normally she’d give it about the same amount of notice. But this time it was different. This time, both she and her father had company. It was a potentially disastrous combination.

Oh, please, she thought, please don’t let them do anything embarrassing. But, of course, she knew that was exactly what would happen. Unless she could keep her father, his friend Fred and her friend Janice apart, something embarrassing was inevitable. If only her mother were home! Her mother was never home. Endless volunteer meetings, each of which was more important than her daughter, kept her away from home almost every evening.

“You girls are growing up fast,” Fred leered from her bedroom doorway, weaving slightly and reaching out a hand, the one not holding a glass half-full of scotch, to steady himself. Fred had been her father’s friend for as long as Joyce could remember, and she’d hated him for at least that long.

“Uh, yeah, I guess,” she said. Her friend Janice, sitting next to her on the bed where they’d been thumbing through a magazine, looked at her sideways, blushing and unsure what to do in the presence of a drunken man. Gee, Joyce thought, I guess she hasn’t had as much practice as I have. “Just ignore him,” she whispered to Janice under her breath. “Don’t worry, he’s harmless.” Janice giggled nervously at this blasphemy against an adult.

“Yes, filling out those sweaters real nice now,” Fred continued, taking an unstable step into the bedroom and sloshing scotch onto the gold-colored carpet. Janice giggled again and blushed crimson. Joyce gave Fred a dirty look. He really was harmless, but he said things he shouldn’t, and he tried to hug her too long. It was disgusting. Over his shoulder, she saw her father listing down the hall. Great. Two of them. Mom, where are you?

“Watcha doin’, buddy?” Joyce’s father asked, then took a sizeable gulp of his own glass of scotch.

“Just sayin’ hi to the girlies,” Fred replied. “You got a real fine-lookin’ daughter there, Fred.”

“Yeah, don’t I know it,” Joyce’s father said, then gave her a melodramatic drunk’s wink. “And her little friends spruce up the place, too, don’t they? ‘Specially when they wear those little plaid skirts!” With this, he elbowed his friend in the ribs conspiratorially and almost knocked him flat, which sent them both into guffaws of laughter until they were leaning on each others’ shoulders to hold themselves up. Joyce and Janice ducked their heads and looked at each other out of the corners of their eyes, wishing the ground would open up and swallow them.


Joy said...

I think the next best thing to being creative myself is being able to witness the process as it happens to other people. With the writing group, those periods of time where nothing is working for me are filled by the thrill of enjoying someone else's creativity go full speed ahead. It keeps me inspired and going back time and again to that blank screen. My thanks to you for your part in that.

Congratulations on your Create/Destroy dichotomy. It's a pure work of genius!

Princess Haiku said...

This blog looks like an interesting effort and will follow your progress. Will link you. Good-luck with your writing.