Thursday, April 24, 2014

Does this work?

…A man approached—wearing gray baggy pants and a tight, sweaty shirt that had once been white—and asked to take our order. I found an item on the menu I recognized, a sandwich, and ordered it in halting Spanish.

The restaurant’s aging double wooden doors stood open, and outside the sky darkened. Motorcycles and four-wheel drives stirred up dust. I watched a man walk by with a semi-automatic rifle. Clinging lovers strolled by in tight, shiny clothes. Brassy music streamed out from another joint. I was disgusted with it all. Those people were so different from my kind of people.

Eventually a waiter brought our food. Still clutching my purse, I gnawed on my sandwich: dry white bread and a piece of meat—no butter, mayo, mustard, or lettuce—but it was food.

We sat silently, eating our meal, when the restaurant went dark—utterly black.  Outside beyond the open doors, everything went black, too.

Several long seconds passed. No one in the restaurant—neither customers nor employees—said a word. Outside on the street there was not a noise. The silence continued, and that seemed strange. Why wasn’t anyone saying anything?

Then my heart lurched: This could be a guerrilla plot to kidnap us. Thousands of people were kidnapped every year in _______, and there we sat, three vulnerable gringo women, three small children. What easy targets we were.

Silently I screamed, “Lord, Lord, You wouldn’t let that happen—would You?”

I grabbed little Jenny’s hand on my right and Jon’s on my left. Still no one spoke. I wanted to scream, “What’s going on?” but I followed my traveling companions’ example and kept my mouth shut.

I heard footsteps. Someone faltered across the floor, then feet shuffled toward us. I could barely breathe. The footsteps stopped beside me. I squeezed the children’s hands until I was afraid their little bones would break. No one, I vowed, will snatch a child from my grip. They can have my purse, but not one of the children.

A rustle confirmed that someone stood within inches of me. I jumped when I heard something placed on our table.

I heard a noise. “Fffisht.” I knew that noise. It was the scrape of a match. In an instant I saw a man’s dark face in the flame’s dim glow.
Copyright © 2013 by Linda K. Thomas

This is the end of one chapter in a multi-chapter vignette I’ve written for my grandchildren. (For security reasons I removed the name of the town and country.)

In light of our past blog posts about creating tension and making readers wait for a resolution, does this work? I welcome your feedback. Leave comments below or on the SM 101 Facebook Page.

Look over one of your rough drafts. How can you increase tension and make’em wait?

Remember: An essential element in good stories is tension and suspense.

Hold readers captive.

Unravel the story as you lived it—unable to see into the future—and let readers unravel it with you.

Pull readers in. If you were scared out of your wits, write in such a way that readers experience your fright with you.

Explain what was at stake. What were the possible outcomes? Which did you hope for? Why? Which outcome did you fear most? Why?

Make your readers curious: Leave them wondering about the outcome.

Keep up the suspense.

Readers want to tag along with you to see how, step by step, you dealt with your problem so they can deal with theirs. 

Step by step means you let readers experience the suspense you experienced. “Make ‘em wait.”

Readers will read your book because they want to learn from you. They know you weren’t handed an easy fix—that’s not the way life, or God, worksso they don’t want you to offer them a trite, instant, easy fix.

Keep your predicament before your readers. Leave them hanging.

After all, as you lived your story, you endured a time lag—maybe minutes, maybe months, maybe years—before you found resolution for your problem. You didn’t know how the incident would end.

You had to wait. Make your readers wait, too.

When they finish a chapter of your memoir, make ‘em worry for you. Make ‘em wonder what will happen in the next chapter.

Related post

Thursday, April 17, 2014

My mother and “Things unseen and eternal”

My sweet little mother died a few days ago and my family and I are grieving her loss. (See pictures of her at A pause.)

Professionally, Mom was extraordinarily accomplished, but everyone knew the most important things were her family, God, and her church.

I am deeply thankful to her for teaching us how to know, serve, and love God and others.

Mom showed us how to live well, how to grow old with dignity and grace and, in the end, how to die well—to die in peace.

King David, too, lived well and died well, in peace. In the Bible he is commended for carrying out his duties with integrity of heart and with skillful hands, and then, when David had accomplished God’s purpose in his own generation, he died (Psalm 78:70-72, Acts 13:36). 

When David breathed his last breath, what a sense of peace he must have held, knowing he had accomplished God’s unique purposes for him. What a sense of satisfaction (the right kind)!

I am confident my little mother, too, lived with integrity of heart and with skillful hands—that she accomplished God’s purposes for her generation, and died in peace. Hers was a life well-lived.

Dying. Death. What are they?

Here’s what Henry Van Dyke wrote:

A Parable of Immortality

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side
spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch
until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sun and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
‘There she goes!’
Gone where? Gone from my sight—that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the places of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says,
‘There she goes!’
there are other eyes watching her coming
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout,
‘Here she comes!’ 

(Henry Van Dyke)

I know Mom heard, loud and clear, “Welcome! Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21).

I can only begin to imagine what she’s experiencing now.

She is seeing God face to face.

Eternal life is no longer something she only partially grasps.

Mysteries suddenly make sense.

Heavenly, unseen things are perfectly clear.

All the pieces have fallen into place.

Everything that puzzled her now makes sense.

She’s now involved in a “…contemplation of things unseen and eternal” (A Diary of Private Prayer, John Baillie).

How about you?

What are your thoughts about dying?

What do you think heaven will be like?

At the end of your time on earth,
what will it be like to stand before God
face to face, one on one?

What stories can you write for your kids, grandkids, and great-grands?

Dying and death and God and heaven seem elusive and mystifying and scary, especially for young people, so writing about them can benefit both you and your readers. Your stories can quiet fears. They can help others live with courage as they face the unknown.

Your stories can make readers think. Examine. Refine their stances. Take a fresh look. Maybe change the way they live, especially when their time on earth draws to an end.

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die…”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).

In writing your memoir, teach your readers how to live,
but do more than that: Teach them about that “time to die.”

God can use your stories to bless your readers. Really!
Stories are among God’s most powerful tools.
They can fortify timid hearts,
help people make important decisions
and find their way,
and inspire readers to find God’s purposes for their lives.

Your stories can change lives forever.

Related posts:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

“Blessed are they who...”

Many old-age issues make us uncomfortable and too often we avoid dealing with them—to everyone's loss

But I urge you to write your stories! Your memoir can change the way readers view old age and old people and you.

Your stories can also impact the way people care for your loved ones in their old age—and how others treat you when you’re old and feeble. (See links to related posts, below.) 

They can help them grasp that they, too, will someday become aged and wobbly and face the unknown of growing old and frail.

Sometimes the most effective way to deliver such messages is through someone else’s words, like we did last week with “The Wooden Bowl.”

This week we’ll look at “Crabby Old Man,” a piece many people claim to have written. (There’s also a version called “Crabby Old Woman.”)

Crabby Old Man
(author unknown)

What do you see nurses? What do you see?
What are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old man, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is losing a sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?

Then open your eyes, nurse you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am, as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten, with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another.
A young boy of sixteen with wings on his feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at twenty, my heart gives a leap
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five, now I have young of my own
Who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A man of thirty, my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my woman's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty, once more babies play 'round my knee.
Again, we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me. My wife is now dead.
I look at the future and shudder with dread,
For my young are all rearing young of their own,
And I think of the years and the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man, and nature is cruel.
‘Tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles . Grace and vigor depart.
There is now a stone where I once had a heart,
But inside this old carcass, a young guy still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I'm loving and living life over again.
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.

So open your eyes, people! Open and see
Not a crabby old man. Look closer: see ME!

Below is an elderly person’s poem of gratitude, a benediction, for those who treat old folks with grace and dignity:

Beatitudes for Friends of the Aged
(Esther Mary Walker)

Blessed are they who understand
My faltering step and palsied hand.

Blessed are they who know that my ears today
Must strain to catch the things they say.

Blessed are they who seem to know
That my eyes are dim and my wits are slow.

Blessed are they who looked away
When coffee spilled at the table today....
(Click here to read the rest of Beatitudes for Friends of the Aged.)

Write your stories! It’s okay to add other people’s poems and essays to your own collection of stories. They are important. Your stories can be anchors for your kids, grandkids, and great-grands as they help loved ones through old age—and as they face aging themselves someday.

You have this opportunity 
to educate younger generations about old-timers. 
Life for all generations can be better 
if you share your wisdom and insights.

Related posts:
Growing old: the silly side 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Your memoir: Writing about the really tough stuff

Lately we’ve been writing vignettes about old age. Such stories can offer some of your most important messages to your kids, grandkids, and future generations.

  • Humor connects your readers with you,
  • when you make them laugh, or at least chuckle, they enjoy you,
  • they might even think you’re an OK person despite your antiquarianishness,
  • can lead your readers to accept you—or maybe even like you—and that’s important because:
  • establishing rapport lets you address the tough stuff with them later.

In other words, it can “give you greater access to their hearts.” (Chuck Swindoll)

(Don’t miss Like a sneak attack. Starting with humor is one of the most effective, powerful techniques a memoirist can use.) 

Today, let’s think about that tough stuff, the sensitive issues, the difficult but important topics.

For example:

How do you want people to care for your loved ones in their old age?

How do you want people to treat you when you’re old and feeble?

Stories could impact the way you and your loved ones are treated in old age.

Take this story, for example:

The Wooden Bowl

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-year-old grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth. The son and daughter-in-law became irritated.

“We must do something about Grandfather,” said the son. “I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating and food on the floor.” So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl.

When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

The four-year-old watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?”

Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

The words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what had to be done.

That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family.

And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

That is one version of an ancient folktale told in many cultures since around 1535.

Did it pierce your heart? It did mine.

Being elderly is often humiliating: feeble feet, unsteady hands, wispy voice, mixed-up memory, bungled hearing, blurred sight.  Being elderly is to be weak and vulnerable and insecure 24/7. 

Elder abuse, or at least insensitivity, has occurred for centuries. The stories you tell your kids and grandkids and great-grands can bring a halt to such neglect and hurt.  They can help keep elders' dignity intact.

As you compile your memoir, remember: You don't need to write of only your first-hand experiences. I've included "The Wooden Bowl" in stories for my grandchildren. You can, too.

Such stories are important. They can touch minds and hearts, restore humanity, inspire gentleness.

Stories can right wrongs. 

Stores can help all of us face the unknown of growing old and frail.

The stories you include in your memoir could change the way your readers view old age and old people and you. Maybe they'll realize that they, too, will someday become aged and wobbly.

Your stories could make someone's life, maybe even yours, better than it might have been.

Related posts: