Friday, September 30, 2016

The moments

We get into our minds what something should look like, and we forget what it does look like.

Over the past two weeks, we have worked with putting together the feelings behind a joyful occasion: one that may have had more than just joy associated with it.

Yet just because we remember the feelings doesn't mean that we can necessarily communicate those feelings to anyone else.  How exactly do we do that?

Well, simply, you move moment by moment.

It may drag at first--that's fine.  That's why we have editing later.  But in order to see, we have to be there.  In order to be there, you must take us there.  To take us there, you must bring us with you, living as you lived.  And, like it or not, we live moment by moment and breath by breath.

So how do we do that?  Where do we start?

I would not start at the beginning.

Think about it for a minute.  When you remember an event, do you remember it from the beginning.  No.  You remember it from the middle.  Or from the most important parts.  Or in the senses that stick out to you.

For example, there was a confrontation this morning.  When I think back, I remember conflicting feelings when I started realizing there was a confrontation.  I remember the itchy cold and the waiting.  I remember gratitude toward those standing up and the necessity of being there.  I remember the way the officer puffed up his chest when I reiterated the point he was trying to blow off.  I remember the frown the other officer made at me as he turned his head back toward us, having acted like we were not worthy of notice before.  I remember feeling his glare even through his sunglassses, which I didn't quite understand why he needed at 8:43ish in the morning on an overcast day in Pittsburgh.

Do you see?

When I start to remember, I don't remember moment by moment until later, in the moment that the moment became important to me.  That's where you start to write.  It's usually a moment of conflict or excitement.  If it's too upsetting, you might need to write from another parallel moment and move back, but you don't start at the beginning or you may take another path.

So I would write:
"Now if there had been danger to his property, then he would have a claim," the shift supervisor said, measuring his shoulders back and making himself bigger all the while drawing his head higher as if that made the distance down his nose to my neighbor, no longer standing her full 5'2", even farther.
I could feel the shift in my stomach and the bile rising in my throat.  My own shoulders were stretching back and my chest puffed out.  Part of me knows this is my problem.  I don't deal well with bullies, even official bullies.  If she had held her own or if her husband had spoken up, maybe I would have been quiet.  And maybe they would have spoken.  
But they weren't speaking fast enough.  
They weren't, in fact, speaking at all. 
I could feel my own breathing quicken, and then I felt the gulp, and then, while my mind was still saying, Oh, no, he wouldn't.  He would not dismiss my neighbor and a mother trying to protect her children, not while her husband, two other mothers, and I watched him.  Not without resistance, he wouldn't, while my mind was still saying that my mouth was already opening.
"What about the kids' property?  He and the others have threatened and even taken their toys."
If it was possible for his blue eyes to get colder and his chest to get bigger, they did.   
His compatriot, back up, or whatever you call him--that second officer who arrived in yet another too big SUV who occasionally looked to his supervisor but never swung his sunglassed face our direction--finally turned to face us.  
"That's a two-way street, ma'am," the supervisor said.
I could feel the glare of the second officer through his black lenses as his face, which had been at rest before, drew into tenseness.  I could feel the judgment.  We're supposed to shut up and accept the judgment they pass.
But I do not accept it.  Nothing has been decided.  Nothing has been done.   
"Yes," I answer him. "It certainly is.  I hope you remember that too."
I'm not sure I actually said that last part, but I said something like it.
He turned to my neighbor, "Are you satisfied?" he asked.
They discuss a few things, and she finally says, "Yes."
We all turn our separate directions.  My coffee is now cold in my cup.  I am not satisfied.  But I do understand why the police hate me.
Now, this is not the whole moment.  There's a lot missing.  There are parts that are too much.  There are moments that are not enough.  But it is where to start.  I will need to back up.  I will need to find all the places I wrote, "feel," and replace them. I will need to expand the setting.  I will need to add moments of sensation for the passage of time.  I should ask the other people who were there to be sure I remembered correctly.  I should also pay attention to my own narrative voice.  Some people abdicate responsibility here, but it would be disingenuous of me to not preface this passage in some way that clearly reveals my own discomfort with the police.  It would also be unfair of me not to show more form their side--there is a point of moral responsibility in what we write, whether we want there to be or not.  But it isn't always covered in that initial moment.  It will take time.  It will take reflection.  It may take visiting another medium, like song, art, poetry, or even baking.  But it comes later.  What comes now are the moments.  Later you can decide where you want them to go.


Friday, September 23, 2016

Hardly ever all there is

There's hardly ever a time in life when we've had only one feeling about something, and yet most of us are conditioned to judge and label an event with one word:  good, bad, happy, sad--you get the picture.  And that picture is really more of an animation than a true photo, a shadow of the reality.  I'm not saying that I truly want the whole picture.  Thoreau's...

Think back to your joyful moment.
  1. What were the consequences of that moment?
  2. What did you feel then?  Later?
  3. What did that moment mean?
  4. Were there any twinges you felt?
Write them down.  They may stick out now.  You may need to make them part of another document.  It doesn't matter.  While you're stuck in only one emotion, you're not letting yourself see.  Even if you never share the other feelings--good, bad, or otherwise--the act of seeing them, recognizing them, and articulating them is important.  Depending on the momentousness of the occasion you chose--and I asked you to choose a joyful one on purpose--those secondary emotions may be easy to verbalize or they may escape you all together.  You may find yourself turning to music or images.  Even the best among us have those moments when words escape us, and telling us that--literally writing, "My heart raced like the violins in 'The Hall of the Mountain King,'" or, "I was filled with the same wonder I felt the first time I gazed over the Atlantic as a child and realized I couldn't see a beach on the other side"--is fine.  Even Ezekiel wrote, "It was like unto the likeness of...".

The goal is to see.  Next week we will work on helping others see what you do.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Up and running!

Few joys in life tickle me more than hearing the neighborhood kids giggling together outside my window.  The delight is contagious, and I have to bite my lower lip to keep from joining in.

It's these shared feelings that compel many of us to write.  We know our stories strike chords that resonate in the instruments of other people's lives.

And those chords are the base.  We need first and foremost to find the point of resonance and strike there.  And to strike there, we must identify its point in us.

Rather than begin with our list of stories we want to tell, let's begin with one emotion:


Try any one or more of these exercises.  The goal is not to work for the sake of completion but to work for the sake of reaching flow.  If you want to spend more time on one question and everything begins to come out, then stop there.  Go as you are led.

Locate joy in your body:
  1. Find it in your face.  Where do you feel it come?  Do you welcome the reaction, or do you try to tamp it down?
  2. Find it in your skeletal system.  How does your posture change as you laugh?
  3. Find it in your stomach.  How does your center feel as you giggle?
  4. Find in your breath.  What happens to your voice when you're happy?  Does your breathing slow down or speed up?
Locate joy in a moment:
  1. Think back.  When is the most recent time you felt those sensations?
  2. Think further back.  When is the first time you remember truly being overjoyed?
  3. Think with your gut.  When is a time the joy was so profound it left you breathless?
Locate joy in a rhythm:
  1. Think of your walk when you are happy.  How would it sound if you were to drum it with your fingers?
  2. Think of your laugh.  How do you laugh?  Is it one loud burst and then several small giggles?  These are your rhythms.  
  3. Do you hum a tune when you're happy?  Do you whistle?  What melody do you choose?
Create an environment for your joy.
We often think that an external environment sets the stage for our feelings, but really, it's frequently the other way around.  We create an environment to match our feelings.  Create it in your mind and then begin to commit it to paper.
  1. Start with the moment you feel the joy take root.
  2. Expand from there.  Do not worry about the storyline, plot, theme, etc.  There will be time for that later.  Start with the joy and let it grow.
  3. When you feel the flow has stopped, as if the pitcher from where it poured is exhausted, turn for a moment and glimpse out one of the windows of your environment.  Give it one more sentence, one more look, and stop.  As important as having an inside to the joy is also having an outside, a boundary.  Let that last sentence be the sigh of finishing.
I can't wait to hear your stories!
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