Thursday, July 29, 2010

Recapturing Imagination

I remember it like it was yesterday. The gentle rush of a chilled breeze gracing my cheeks. The rhythmic squeaking of a glider loveseat as its mechanism followed the course of its track. The unforgettable stickiness of turquoise vinyl under my thighs. The murmur of hummingbirds thick in the air. Though I have not been on that white-painted, wooden porch in nearly fifteen years, if I close my eyes I can go there again. On all sides of me are family: great-grandma next to me, grandma nearby with fierce kindness, great-aunt taking in precious time with family, my brother and cousins planning boyish mischief (in which I was, of course, eager to join), mom and dad grateful for a respite from the rush of daily life, and grandpa perched on the steps gazing toward the garage several paces away. Grandpa wasn't distant, or trying to imagine himself elsewhere. No. The Jeep in that garage would take us somewhere for fishing, bring us into Boulder for ice cream, or serve as our vessel of exploration as we observed how our favorite summer location had changed since we last visited.

When many people think of their favorite vacations, they may think of a cruise ship or a tropical beach. They imagine the worries of their work or stressful lives melting away for a week, or two if they are lucky, as they escape from reality. For me, vacation was imagination. Vacation was time with my family, and an opportunity for a change in rhythm of life. The mountain air beckoned me to slow down my worries, to soak in the rays of the sun looming closely overhead, and to listen to the wisdom of Jim Creek as it rippled nearby. Just when I thought I had experienced or seen everything possible, something brand new would tickle my senses. From the discovery of a treehouse in the middle of the forest, to the herd of loose cattle grazing in our yard, nothing was ordinary.

I wonder what would happen if I closed my eyes right here where I sit to write this entry. Might I be transported to another place to soak in the sights, smells and sounds of my imagination personified? Perhaps I would be able to capture even a snippet of that imagination again, and ordinary life might become a little more extraordinary.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oh the humanity!

Humor me for a moment, and engage in a short mental exercise with me. First, I want you to think of your favorite novel -- perhaps two or three favorites if you cannot narrow it down. Second, choose your favorite character(s) from the novel(s). Third, close your eyes and remember the character's journey in the story. What makes the character your favorite? What things do you love about the person? What things make you uncomfortable in his or her life story?

Close your eyes and think about it. Open your eyes when you are ready, and we'll continue to think about this together.

Very recently I finished the novel Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. The novel takes place in the time of the Great Depression and the Prohibition movement, and the storyline focuses on young Jacob Jankowski's exploits as he learns the ropes of life on a circus train. Jacob's life is an uncomfortable one. Tragedy seems to follow him in the beginning, and his thoughts and actions left me wishing he was a more savory person. He makes a few poor choices, allows others around him to influence him, and he loves the people and animals around him with an irrational sort of love. Reading about Jacob Jankowski's growth and development over the course of his years is not always a pleasant experience. At times I wanted to shield my mind's eye so that I could avoid "watching" what young Jacob would do. But, were I Sara Gruen, would I re-write Jacob's story if given the chance?

Absolutely not.

I truly believe that Water for Elephants is a bestseller for a few reasons:

1) The writing is beautiful and unusual. The storytelling from Jacob Jankowski's perspective reminds me of sitting down with a grandparent and listening about days gone by.

2) The story is intriguing. From the rugged time period, to the intricacies of circus life, this novel is filled with many elements that pique the curiosity of the reader.

3) Jacob Jankowski is human. He's like you, or like me. He makes mistakes. He lets things get the best of him. He allows himself to be swept under by love's current. Sara Gruen has allowed Jacob Jankowski to do things she probably never wanted him to do. His life took shape on the page, and Gruen allowed him to be human -- so much so that I was nearly afraid to relate to him.

If you are a writer, you need to let your characters be human. You can neither keep them from the inevitable mistakes they will make, nor can you polish them to glorious perfection after a slip up. They will be messy, dirty, and perhaps even undesirable. This is what endears them to us.

If you are a reader, open yourself up to love these unkempt characters. Underneath their foibles, their mistakes, and even their serious character flaws, they are like all of us. If you allow yourself to identify with the miscreant, the homely, the morally impoverished, you may find yourself changing along with them as they grow, mature, and develop. A good book - a great author - can take the unsavory and turn it into something beautiful. Should you desire that experience as you read, I would highly recommend Water for Elephants for your next read.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sticking a toe in the water...

I feel overhwhelmed as I sit here writing my first blog entry. The world of blogging feels a bit like a vast ocean, and I am perched cautiously on the shore. I promise that before long I will get up the courage to stick my toes in the water, and perhaps after that I will roll up my pant legs and wade. I ask that you will sit next to me, encourage me, and perchance walk with me when I dare to enter the waters. After all, we are a team. Writers would be nothing were it not for readers, and I am grateful for each of you that accompanies me on this journey.

Sit with me. Let's watch the waters roll up towards our bare feet.