Tuesday, November 4, 2008


My mentor the actor gave me, in addition to her collected Greek Dramas and her Stanislavsky texts an exercise to perform from time to time: Imagine you are a Mars probe, recently landed on a new planet, programmed to report back to earth what you have seen and smelled. Part two, imagine you are somewhere on this planet and report back what you see, feel, hear, smell, taste.

Part of what your characters are resides in the reports they send back from places, situations, circumstances the story forces them to encounter. They are never in a place without intent, even if it is the intent of getting out of the place with all deliberate speed, only to be buttonholed by someone they cannot shake off with ease.

Tonight at about seven in the evening of a California standard time, I was in a supermarket, rounding up sausages and buns and chili sauce and relish, thinking to celebrate this remarkable evening. Most of the employees at the market radiated an unusual jubilant aura; many of the customers seemed stunned. They--the stunned ones--wore McCain/Palin buttons. Taking a corner with a bit too much brio, I snagged the wheel of the shopping cart on a display. Looking up, I locked eyes with a young girl who smiled at my snag, then looked down, embarrassed at being caught smiling. When I smiled back, then shrugged, she let her eyes meet mine again and the smile broadened. That is the contact I remembered, a smile shared by strangers over a brief mishap, a smile shared on this most remarkable of evenings in history. That was the in-person contact I remembered before returning home to watch a different kind of history being recorded and reported.

A character stores impressions, smells, sights, odors, perhaps tastes, certainly sounds. I look forward to using the contact with the youngish girl in a story, one I have yet to conceive much less to have begun. Or have I?

Some years ago, caught up in some bureaucracy with the local Humane Society relative to being able to bring Sally home to live with me, I caught sight of a man being denied custody of a cat, an experience that appeared in the most surprising way in a story where I wouldn't have suspected it to have any relevance at all. The editor who took the story said that scene was uppermost in her decision to give the story a home in her magazine.

Thematic and relevant to today's events is this reminder to take care not to miss the miracles of the ordinary hiding behind the curtains of the momentous events.


Querulous Squirrel said...

I'm amazed at the tiny things from my life that are suddenly appearing in my stories. Like a pig. Out of nowhere. "Except the pig." And instantly the character worked at a farm I took my children to throughout they're childhood that I think of fondly. It just pulled the character to this place I would never have thought as a setting, just a little joy from the past. More and more are coming up. The little details bring job or angst to a story like they do in life. I agree.

Querulous Squirrel said...

They're = their
job = joy
This is the language of Typoerralia.

Wild Iris said...

Most bloggers are fluent in Typonese, I've found. And yes, the powers of observation, or the sensibility to latch on to just a few seconds in time is all that is needed. It creates a tiny seed, that can germinate and bloom into the most exquisite forms.

Anonymous said...

I have certain meories that are still vivid over the years- mostly just a sensation, an awareness- as if I was aware in that moment that something tremendously significant was happening to me, even though no one else was there, even though I had no idea what it all meant. Walking along some train tracks bordered by an orange grove on a hot Southern California day, or walking the streets of a strange city at pre-dawn, having just escaped from someone's house where I suddenly couldn't stand being one more minute. I've wondered what to do with these intense fragments, maybe I'll try to write them down and see where they lead, if anywhere...

Anonymous said...

There are so many extraordinary ordinary things. Makes me wonder why so few people car to pay attention.