Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Folded Flag

Memorial day was yesterday, but the words didn't come to me until today.  For my father...

The folded flag sits
inside its plastic sleeve.
Medals hang from the dark blue cloth of the covered cotton batting
inside the cherry wood case
on the middle shelf of my china cabinet.

Forty three years passed by
since you died at twenty-nine.
My aunts and uncles grieve together,
sending your picture into your hometown paper.
My mother grieves alone,
her memories still too private to share.

The anniversary of your death comes each year,
so close to Memorial Day,
Two chances to remember, two chances to forget.
There is no grave to visit.
The markers bearing your name
stand miles away from my home.

You're just a picture to my daughter.
An old scar, not a fresh wound.
You're just a picture to me too.
Gone, before I grew old enough
to remember you.
Dead, before I really lived.

Still, I pause for a moment,
after we unpack the camping gear,
to notice the flag waving from my neighbor’s porch -
A vet who fought in your war
(One who came home
One who truly never forgets).

And I think of you,
my black and white photo father.
A two-dimensional man,
occasionally made flesh and blood,
with borrowed memories,
because I have no memories of my own.

I wonder who you are,
who I would be if you had lived,
what I would lose if you survived.
My husband? My child?  My home? 
You created me, first with your life
and then with your death.

And the parade passes by.
Old men stick paper poppies
into the button holes of their lapels.
Mothers and wives adorn themselves
in red, white and blue, and gold star pins
dressed up to hear the bugler blow "Taps".

They lay flowers at graves and markers, 
wiping away the tear that escapes as the last mournful note plays. 
Then they move on with their lives
breaking bread at parties and picnics.

And I wonder if they know, too,
that we are your memorials.

copyright May 2012, Cristina Rehn

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Writing prompt, anyone?

It's so lonely over here at Quiet Content that I've been forced to fill my time with frivolous pursuits.  Thanks to a FB friend, I've been having fun messing around with my photos at this site: http://pixlr.com/o-matic/. 

After you've whiled away hours of your own valuable writing time playing with all the options, come  back.  In the interests of dragging you all kicking and screaming to my blog, I've posted a few of my altered works here to spur your imagination.

Either post a prompt sentence to go with one of these in my comments section, and I'll add it as a caption, or send me a flash fiction of 700 words or less for one and I'll post you here as a guest blogger.   I'll accept R-rated stories, but no X-rated, please (you can send the X-rated ones, but those will be for my reading pleasure only - no guest spot).  I will post all comers!  Email your flash fiction to me at c.rehn43012 at gmail.com.

If you're interested in knowing where I took these pictures, post a comment.  Feel free to email me your own photo creations to share as prompts and I'll put those up in my next post too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Road Blocks, Stumbling Blocks and Building Blocks

I am suffering from a case of writer's block.  It's not writer's block in the traditional sense.  I don't sit at my computer screen, staring at the white space, waiting for my muse to descend and unleash a torrent of creativity.

My writer's block is more of the logistical variety.  It started in February, when the hard drive to my new netbook crashed.  The one I hadn't yet made back-up disks for, because I hadn't yet purchased an external disk drive. Off it went, mummified in bubble wrap, across state lines to anonymous techs.  Between the crash itself, communicating the problem, sending it off and waiting for its return, I lived without it for six weeks.

This shouldn't have presented a stumbling block.  I'd written my NaNoWriMo novel on our PC in our upstairs home office.  But the netbook spoiled me.  It allowed me to perpetuate the illusion to my family that I interacted with them, by virtue of sitting in the same room.  My family liked that.  The cats liked it too.  Without the portable writing tool, I stopped writing.  Oh, I know, you'll throw the suggestion of pen and paper in my face.  I have two words for you: chicken scratch.

The netbook's been home since mid-March, so that particular block is long gone.  But then I got sick.  It was just a mild head cold, a few days of rest and I was fine.  For a week.  Then I got sick again, with a slightly more pernicious cold virus.  A fuzzy, mucus-filled head, hacking cough and a need to keep a tissue in hand at all times do not lend themselves to writing.

By the time I recovered, we headed out on our spring break trip to Disney.  I managed to dash off a guest blog post when I returned home.  I powered up my netbook and started sifting through the ideas in my brain.  A civil war shifter romance novel formed.  That little germ of a novel about the recent floods floated by.  My fingers wiggled in glorious anticipation.

Busy as a Bee!

Then softball season started.  My daughter's playing in majors, the youngest girl on the team and at that level.  Turns out there are a lot more games and practices in majors.  And her science fair is coming up and she chose a project that "requires adult supervision".  My van broke down - again - requiring elaborate transportation-related square dancing between my husband, mother and me.  The diet I started back in February means I grocery shop more often, to keep us stocked in fresh veggies and fruits. Yay weight-loss!:)  Boo time loss.:(   Laundry is endless, my full-time paying job is busy and I confess, in my initial writing hiatus, I rediscovered my love of sleep.

My writer's block is a really just a series of road blocks, the construction zones of daily living.  The great thing about construction zones is that they generally come with detours.  It takes longer to get to your destination, but you'll get there.  I'm getting around my blocks by seeking out some building blocks.  I picked up Strunk and White's Elements of Style, at last, an overdue addition to my reading list and writer's tool box.  As long as I watch when my daughter's at bat, my husband doesn't scold me too much for reading at her game.

I started this blog too.  I whipped up a short piece of flash fiction for Mysti Parker's May blog contest.  I'm reading a lot in the genre I'm thinking of writing in next.  These may be detours that take me further away from sitting down and actually writing that novel, but they're pleasant detours.  I'm hoping these detours will unblock my creativity so that I begin to block out the time I need to write.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

No time for a lengthy post today, so I'll just send you over to Mysti Parker's blog, where my May Flash Fiction contest entry is up today.  Thank you Mysti!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Character Ethics

My daughter's elementary school is big on character.  They start teaching the character values at day one of Kindergarten, both in the classroom and through regular school-wide assemblies.  It's a great thing, a complement to the behaviors and ethic that we teach at home.  The challenge comes, of course, when the decisions and choices turn out to be not quite as black and white as they seem.

As a writer, I certainly wish the ethical decisions were as clear as the simple values my daughter learns.  Creating characters often feels like an exercise in character development for me.  I don't know how it works for you, but characters and their stories come to me in two ways.  The first is when they seem to spring into being, like the goddess Athena, fully formed from my head.  Characters like these certainly present their own challenges, generally being pesky independent sorts, but they don't usually offer any ethical dilemmas.

It's the second type that are the troublemakers.  This batch is the characters I run across in real life.  How do you use a flesh and blood person as a character?  Sometimes they raise only minor concerns, such as the character whose name is the same as that boy from my daughter's preschool class.  That's an easy choice, even when you love the name.  Just pick a new one and get over it.

But when the real-life character uses more than just someone's name, the choices get much harder.  Sometimes it's a case where I come up with a character as a means to vent some spleen at a person or persons who have royally pissed me off.  It's cathartic to write those characters, but should they ever be allowed to escape my journal or password-protected document file? Probably not, unless I can find a way to take that initial too close to real life characterization and morph it into someone far less recognizable.  For the most part I find, if I can't do the latter, as a writer, the ethical thing to do is to be satisfied with the former, the getting it all out and letting go.

The most difficult characters for me, though, are the ones that really belong to someone else.  I'm not talking about plagiarism.  I'm talking about that great story someone tells you about their friend, or family member, or neighbor.  The one who is so compelling, who gets into such scrapes and adventures that you love them from the start, be they villain or hero.  You hear their story and your first thought is "What a great character."  From that thought, my writer's brain starts sucking up all the details, working on fleshing out the person, wondering if I can ask the storyteller what they looked like, or do they have a picture, or...  Oh crap.

It doesn't take too long for the 'Oh crap' to hit.  That's the realization of "Oh crap what am I doing?  I'm raiding this person's life, their private memories."  And I know at that moment, I can't use it, any of it, this wonderful character, with their fantastic story.  Not now.  Maybe, just maybe, when the storyteller is dead, along with every other person we know in common who might know the person, or at least the story.  Or maybe never.

It's not always so personal.  Sometimes the character and story spring from an event - a fire, a murder, a natural disaster.  The character is not a particular who in real life, but rather a sum of experiences of many 'whos".  Then the ethical question is: Do I have the right to profit from someone's pain?  Plenty of people do this of course - just pick up a tabloid.  But can I do it?  Am I taking a tragedy and making some meaning from it, or am I just a vulture, picking over the bones?  Those characters require time, distance.  I set them aside for later, when the pain isn't as fresh, and make the decision then.

So, I wish I could write that story about my father-in-law's cousin who...but I can't.  If I'm to be a writer of character, I can't use characters that can hurt someone, someone real who lives in my world, not the world of letters and pages.