Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Way it Reads...

“Every reader, if he has a strong mind, reads himself into the book, and amalgamates his thoughts with those of the author.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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Momentarily blinded by a kaleidoscope of sunset cascading off my laptop screen, I wince and hold up a hand to block the sunlight streaming through the window - a disco strobe effect of shadow dances across my fingers in russet hues eclipsed by the glimmer of new falling snow. I can’t help but stare out the window entranced like a kitten by the cascading light show, moving my fingers this way and that to capture a different shadow play. Backlit by the brilliant white outside the window, I watch the gray orbs spotting the ceiling grow large with the setting of the sun's last milked beam.

I laugh to myself, thinking about how hysterical everyone was over the recent snowstorms; almost gloating they didn’t know how lucky they were.

The vibrating phone beside me catches my attention and I flip my phone open to see who called. Time stands still as I read and reread the text my daughter left. She was in an accident the day before, slamming into a guard rail, and skidding a 100 feet. Her car stopped just before the rail ended and dropped down an incline. The tire twisting sideways is the only thing that stopped her car from swerving into oncoming traffic. The accident ended with the passenger side crushed inward along the length of the car.

I couldn’t read beyond those words, part of me didn’t want to know anymore. I pushed/needed to force myself to finish. The sky grew somber gray outside as I lost my stomach for the beauty I witnessed mere minutes earlier and I read the last few lines of the text. Thankfully, she walked away without a scratch. Bullheaded like her mother, she rented a car the next day and returned to work, without pausing to take in what happened. I learned about the accident after the fact, it was out of my hands. Part of me wanted to bewail her driving and worry every little detail into absurdity. What did I do? I took a deep breathe…exhaled and remembered nature’s disco ball.

Not what you wanted to read? Would the hysterical mother be more preferable? Depends on how you read what I wrote. You can walk away and think I handled things well, or think me heartless not to bemoan the ice, and snow, and what this incident almost cost me. This could have turned out completely different and yes, I wouldn’t appreciate life the same way. The question is what does the reader need to take away? What part of what a writer writes makes it easier to swallow - makes it a more believable reality? So often the reality is never really what we expect, or sometimes want. Of course this is a true story. Still you might argue fiction plays out with a different outcome. Or does it?

Whatever you read, do you find yourself disappointed with the author’s response, or do you try on some level to understand the deeper meaning of what lies beneath the words? How many times have you put a book down because you couldn’t extend believability, and accept another possible human response other than the one you wanted? Would you rather, your fiction didn’t mirror life so closely?

Every writer has a choice to give a human face and reaction to their characters. If they do so and do it well – before finishing the book, you discover some element of yourself somewhere within those pages. I don’t believe writers expect their readers to completely grasp everything they write. All any writer can ask is you accept, not all reactions will mirror the way you perceive life. Stretch your mind enough to give life to the fiction. After all, reality is stranger than fiction on any given day.

If I’ve done my job as a writer, my words will elicit some kind of emotional response out of you.




Picture from here

40 comments:

  1. I am so thankful that she walked away without a scratch. As a parent, you cannot but help but to be frustrated with hearing about this after the fact. But then, being a parent, frustration is part of the package.

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  2. I was relieved to hear that she was okay. Whew! That is so scary! I think you handled it beautifully. There is not much you can do when you find out a day after it's all done. I'm just glad things ended the way they did and wasn't worse! =)

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  3. Your first paragraph is written which such beauty ... it takes my breath away.

    I'm glad to hear your daughter was okay. Having two sons, I've seen my fair share of close calls between the two of them. It's hard, but for their sake, I always try to keep myself together. I don't know though if there is a right or wrong response here ... probably not. :)

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  4. So glad your daughter is OK.

    I love the von Goethe quote. And your last sentence. First the writer puts it out there as best she can, in the only way she can, and then the reader has a responsibility -- to herself -- to have a strong mind, to connect.

    That's the amazing beauty of it isn't it? That strangers -- writers and readers -- can connect.

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  5. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. You definitely turned any weather reports into a back story, even if weather was the cause of your daughter's accident. Her decision to not call you until the following day and your own realistic reaction were quietly much more dynamic than a snowstorm!

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  6. As always, a beautifully written and thought provoking post. I'm so glad your daughter is okay. And how a writer chooses to write their story mirrors very much how someone chooses to live -and react to- life. It may not be the reader's choice but if it engenders thought, discussions, connection and emotion that's all we can do.
    I can't help but see snow and ice as both beautiful and dangerous. Nothing is ever so simple as to be one thing. So glad there is still beauty in it for you!

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  7. Whatever your reaction wood have been, it is all good. granted I wood have been frustrated too a bit, but I feel as we get older & wiser, we respond better to adversity in life, or at least sometimes....if I can't lose myself in the story the writer has written and be as though I'm in that book, then the writer has knot done it for me. I Love losing myself in books. there's only been one writer that has disappointed me thus far, but I have many more to explore. you as a writer are always captivating!!!! Hugz!

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  8. so glad your daughter is alright.

    as a reader, i think books that make us uncomfortable are better reads than ones that we breeze through. to me that's the difference between literature (like carson mccullers) vs. fiction (like danielle steele). generally if it's too good to be true i won't read it.

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  10. Sorry, major typo!

    I have been amused, confused, angry perhaps, sad, but not disappointed at an authors response. Other points of view are why I read! I try to walk in the shoes, through the words and into my own thoughts until I figure out a way that I too could have wound up there.

    I did not have to walk far in this post. I could have easily responded equally to informational fact after the danger had passed. We love our children fiercely, but have so little control, especially as they become adults. I'm so glad she's okay Indigo!

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  11. I'm so glad your daughter's okay. No matter how old our kids get, we want to take all the pain and fear for them. Having them go through something scary is much worse than going through it ourselves.

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  12. I stopped breathing as you picked up the phone. So glad everything's (relatively) okay!
    xx
    Russ

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  13. When I read your comment to me the other day, I had to choke back the fear that came up, and I don't even have kids yet! I am so glad that she is okay.

    As for your writing? It DEFINITELY evokes emotions for me, EVERY.SINGLE.TIME.

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  14. Amazing post. The emotion and tension are palpable. While we all feel those things, many of us don't have the talent to translate those emotions to the page as you've done so brilliantly. I challenge anyone to read your words and not be moved, not feel. I'm so glad your daughter is okay. I was so afraid for you, for her. I totally agree with Goethe.

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  15. In an effort to answer at least a couple of your questions here, Indigo...no, I wouldn't prefer the hysterical mother, or father, or anyone. i hate it when people go all needy in emergencies, honestly. It's OK for afters, but when the moment is upon one, it's best to be pretty flat of affect if you can. ESPECIALLY if you can't do anything about it! I remove this rule for if the wings come off your airplane. Scream your head off, as long as your neighbour doesn't mind.

    Actually, a moment of silence would be smart in a crashing aircraft. It should be part of the emergency policy.

    In terms of your question of how do you read/what is your reaction to the author --- well, I tend to just let my mind play with the words and wait for reactions to come after. I try to speed up this process for web stuff, as it's quite something keeping up with even the few artists I am in contact with out here! But no, the author is invisible in an ideal read: the words should be taken as words. The worst thug can write the most potent poem sometimes; the weakest sister can deliver the most stunning lightning-bolt of truth once in a while.

    Whew! I can't keep up today. Too much worry on my plate (doktors, pension forms, appointments and general fear have taken away my sleep as they approach next week - I hate it like dogs hate the vet! even though they gave me all the nice pills) - anyway! Thanks for a thoughtful and thought-making piece today, Indigo - I enjoyed it.

    Peter

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  16. I'm not a parent and I was worried for your daughter. Glad to hear she's okay. Your response to this is very similar to how my parents would respond. Of course they would be nervous for me, but there would be nothing they could do since they themselves were not there. In life, I feel like most events that are unpredictable will not wait to occur when we're with someone else. They'll just happen and you can either flip out and make it 40 million times worse from worry or you can remain calm, face the facts, and go from there to fix everything once more. You handled the situation very well Indigo. Your writing is once more, just as lyrical and descriptive as ever.

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  17. You know it wasn't until a blogger became a part of my life that I had given any thought to the concern that my Mother or Father had for their oldest son. And it is not until now that my worry about my daughters was brought into a sharper focus.

    The Carolina girls call and email me frequently enough... fret over my Skye but only so much... But when it comes to the Carolina ladies, I wonder what will I do should I ever get such a message...

    But the way you described the event was one that held out hope as well as the agony of not knowing what could have happened, creating the suspense that i was not alone in feeling. Yet you were calm, not stoic, steady and able to avoid creating a melodrama when things were already in its recovery phase.

    Once the cub learns to hunt, it is on its own. Facing life and all the challenges of the wild and finding their way in the harsh (but not cruel... cruelity is reserved for humanity and not nature) world.

    You cannot help but worry for your daughter... but she is her own woman... and very much of the spirit of the woman who gave life to her, right??

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  18. I gave up long ago on trying to get people to really understand me. All I can do is tell it like it is. They will misread, twist warp, whatever. People are great fiction writers in their own minds...
    I probably would have freaked out for a minute. I probably would have taken a deep breath, called her, squawked a little.
    Then I'd be okay.
    ((Hugs)) Loraine

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  19. Indigo, I'm so glad that your daughters story had a happy ending. My daughter has waited until after the fact to tell me certain things.
    So I know what kind of emotions that evokes..
    Sheri

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  20. trust me, you always waken the emotions...

    i'm glad to hear your daughters okay. accidents happen so fast...

    and i'm one of those readers who, if i can't 'live' in the characters, just don't read the book.

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  21. Fiction mirroring life, I would have to say, it depends on how well it's written. I love reading about people/places where I have no state of relevance. I love being taken away someplace totally foreign to me. That includes characters' emotional reactions, if their foreign, but in context, I'm in.

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  22. 'I remembered nature's disco ball'...at that crucial moment. I am struck with this image. We are powerless in the face of circumstances beyond our control. How should we respond?

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  23. Your posts always elecit an emotional response from me-- usually take my breath away. Today I am breathing a sigh of relief, for you ang your daughter!

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  24. Good news that your daughter is OK!!
    Best,
    Marty

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  25. I am so grateful that your daughter is okay! I think the gratitude and relief I feel trumps any attitude of "Well, the author should have reacted so-and-so." Also, because this is non-fiction, I'm astutely aware that I have absolutely no right to condemn or judge anything that you write. Funny how we're more polite to fictional characters sometimes, eh?

    I'm glad she is safe, I'm glad you are so strong. Worry and fear never solve problems, and while I would have understood if that was your reaction, I don't think I will ever judge how you deal with life in such extraordinarily brave ways.

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  26. The books I love the best are the ones where I see myself in it...even for a moment.
    Lovely words, Indigo! You are a craftswoman.

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  27. When I write, I hope my reader will connect with at least one idea, one character, one situation.

    The books that grab my heart are ones that express something that catches my breath and I can say,"Oh, yes. I know, but how well you've set it down."

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  28. Love that Goethe quote.

    Glad all was okay.

    And you have the best pics, Indigo!

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  29. I'm grateful that your daughter walked away.

    Wonderful post, been thinking about reading, what happens as I read, how do I determine what's good and what to discard. When the story resonates within me, when emotions come up unbidden, then I feel connected. Usually, I feel connected to the story, rarely knowing the author. That's what your story did, hooking into my experiences with my children, knowing how hard it is to keep a little distance between them and me, recognized my powerless, trusting that what ever the outcome, that's what's meant to be.

    Thomas King, in "The Red Power Murders," has one of the characters say that all stories are true. I like that, helps me to understand that I don't really know the truth, it's something shared amoung all of us.

    Thanks for the grist for the mill. Much appreciated.

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  30. I'm glad to hear your daughter is okay. I sometimes don't notify people of major things until later because I don't want others to worry about me. I imagine it's heart-stopping as a parent.

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  31. That was deep/beautiful/insightful all at the same time.

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  32. Hello, thanks for stopping by. Glad there was a happy ending. I enjoy writing and music and writing music. Stay warm, we are under another winter storm warning which is unusual for here in Alabama. Peace.

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  33. That's what I love as a reader - when the writer has hit upon truths (be they uncomfortable, funny, whatever). I'll often marvel at a writer's courage or the way he/she has been able to put it all into words.

    I put a book down when the writer just "tells" me about all the characters in a kind of gossipy, chatty tone.

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  34. And I thought what I wrote last night was scary. I think the quote at the beginning is right, readers should invest themselves in our words so we have to be so careful how we write them.

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  35. I was on the child's end of some of those calls. I liked them better from there than I do as a parent.

    In 1999, I was in a serious accident. I didn't realize it, but the medical folks were really worried about me. They called my mother with the bad news, scaring the crap out of her. She came to the hospital worried as all get out. However, I didn't quite understand the severity of the situation, I kept telling her, "Relax, Mom, it's just a couple of broken ribs". It was actually a cracked sternum, opening wider with every breath. But, I survived and healed stronger than ever :-)



    My point is, I would not have wanted to worry my mother like that. I would have just waited until I was sure I was OK, then call and casually mention the car was totalled.
    As a father, I would kick my son's butt if he did that to me.

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  36. Hmmm, interesting question. As a reader, I do expect characters to respond a certain way, based on their personality and previous reactions to things. If I feel they've blundered and acted out of the norm, then I tend to get kicked out of the story...

    Great post!

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  37. Yes, I don't have to believe or agree with what I'm reading, but I do have to feel it. I need somewhere inside of the writing for the message to be real. Maybe not in my words, but in life's words, blunt. That's life. Not sweet. Not perfect. Blunt. It's up to us to do with it as we might.

    (glad your daughter is ok:)
    xo
    erin

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  38. So glad to hear all is right with your daughter and her misfortune. I got a call from our eldest one late night and when I answered, she said she had gone off a cliff and couldn't get out of the car. That got hubby up right away and down the road to search for her. (she was coming home with her girlfriend, who fell asleep at the wheel). She called the police, but they couldn't find the vehicle in the darkness. Lucky for them, hubby found them and she got checked out at the hospital. Just a few scratches and sore muscles, but she recovered quickly, as most youngsters do. The emotions I felt that night were almost unbearable. I thank God that we now have cell-phones to communicate, as they seem to be life-savers at times. I loved your photo with the kitten, also. Thanks so much for sharing. (((HUGS)))

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  39. First of all, I'm so glad that Skye is okay!

    As for your response...I've come to realize that everyone reacts to things in different ways. What has often been perceived as coldness in me is just me doing what I have to do to handle things. I shut down. I show little emotion. I do, indeed, come across as very cold.

    Some people think this is not an appropriate response. You can imagine what I have to say to that!

    I suppose that some would have you railing against the weather, shaking your fist to the sky as you accused ?whoever? of almost taking your daughter away from you. What would be the point of that, other than a little scenario of melodrama? When you found out about it, you were grateful that she was okay...and anger towards a weather phenomenon or against whatever gods think might have caused it seems pointless and a waste of energy.

    When Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, he wrote that some might cry to the heavens, "Why me?" He wrote that he is a heavy drinker, and a smoker, so the more appropriate question would be, "Why NOT me?"

    I still get angry...we all do. But I try to limit my anger to things that I can do something about.

    Love and Hugs,
    Beth

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  40. You move me. Thank you for letting me feel your voice.

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Thank you for giving my silence a voice, my muse your words, and taking the time to discover my prose.