The Train Station

My beautifully talented daughter asked me recently if I wanted to read an essay she had written for school. I said yes and she handed me a couple sheets of paper. I was soon breathless as I savored some of the most beautiful writing I had ever read. That is not maternal hyperbole, nor is it false modesty when I say it’s better than anything I could write. I prefer to write the meat of the story and rarely do I spend enough time creating such vivid imagery.

There are storytellers – I count myself as an amateur one. Brandon Sanderson is an extremely talented and successful one. But then there are people who write poetry in prose. Whose words are so beautifully selected and placed with each other that it feels like you are doing more than reading a story – you are actually viewing a painting or intricate tapestry. I love many authors but put few in this category. Patrick Rothfuss is the only one that comes readily to mind. This essay evoked a similar reaction from me.

I hope I haven’t now oversold her story. With her permission, I am posting it below:


I thanked the ticket master as I clutched my ticket and walked further into the train station, busy with throngs of people coming or going. The walls seemed alive with the echoes of laughter, arguments, and guitar playing, both long gone and currently reverberating. Its skin crawled with scribbled declarations of love and sprayed-on masterpieces, the tiles desperately in need of a good washing. The grimy fluorescent lights above seemed to flicker erratically in time with my heart, creating an effect almost like I was at a party. All around me, people hurried, their lives obviously much more important than mine; my body became a tiny rowboat, lost in the stormy bustle, jostled from side to side by the waves of people. Eager to gain a short reprieve, I stepped onto an empty platform, feeling weary. It was then I happened to glance up and across the tracks. Exactly opposite me stood a girl whose countenance appeared to mirror my own. It seemed as if she too felt a disconnect from the hordes of people passing by. The noise of the crowded station faded away as we stared at each other for a brief second that seemed to last an eternity. Her eyes looked like they understood my annoyance with and simultaneous longing for all the people constantly streaming through the area, so deep and wise I tried not to fall into them. Suddenly, I wanted to meet this girl, take her to coffee, and become her best friend; the one person who seemed to instantly know me to my core. Just as I raised my hand to give a small wave, she opened her mouth, as if about to say something. A train came roaring through. When it had passed, the girl was no longer there. My hand fell limply to my side, the magical moment gone. The lights returned to their dull flickering, and the noise of the crowd came rushing back with sudden ferocity. My heart burned as if branded by a cattle iron. I wasn’t sure quite why, but I was almost certain I had just missed something very important. All around me, mothers, brothers, and children continued to carry about their business like nothing had happened. In fact, nothing had actually happened. However, nobody except myself seemed to care about the importance of that missed interaction with the girl across the train station. As my train came roaring into the platform, I had to wonder if this other girl, seemingly great in her compassion, would miss that opportunity for interaction with me. As I wondered, my hand pulled my phone out of my pocket, slipping my earbuds into place, and my life became much more important than anyone else’s.

Why I Share Where I Do

So yesterday’s post was almost a Facebook status update. I took that picture, hit the share button on my phone, selected Facebook, and was typing the status update about my son using the word “plinth”, when my husband pointed out to me that I shouldn’t be climbing mindlessly into the passenger seat of his car… since my car was in the parking lot as well.

I stopped the post and began my drive home. As I did so, I thought about the story for awhile and thought, “Hey, that could be a blog post.” And that’s when I realized that my story sharing has taken a sharp change in direction of late. I am much more likely to share my little vignettes of life on WordPress than I am on Facebook.

Used to be, I had to throttle my Facebook status updates so I didn’t annoy my friends. Now, if I look at my timeline, it is composed almost entirely of shares from WordPress. That night on the drive home, I felt like I was making a choice of who to share with.

See, there are many people who read my blog that I don’t know in real life, thus, they are not my Facebook friends. Likewise, there are people that are my Facebook friends who don’t follow the link to my blog posts. Many do, but as many or more don’t. So when I’m faced with that choice to share a brief synopsis of my son’s funny behavior on Facebook or a more lengthy telling on WordPress, I feel like I’m making the choice between sharing with friends or strangers. And more and more, I’m making the choice to share with strangers.

I struggled with that but by the time I had reached home, I had decided that, yes, I wanted to blog about it. It was a cute story. If I blog it, I have it forever. I can search my history, I can bundle it up in a book later in life, I can give it to my child when he’s an adult. If I post it on Facebook… *sigh* I gave up trying to save off my Facebook statuses a long time ago. It was just too much work. If I share it on Facebook, it’s a flash in the pan and then it’s gone.

And… And… anyone can read the blog. Anyone. Even all those Facebook friends who don’t. And who knows? Maybe more of them read it than I think. I’m frequently surprised by someone referencing a post when I didn’t know they paid my blog any attention at all.

I read someone’s blog recently about why they write. They talked about all the words in their head and needing to get them out. That’s not me. What I do have is a driving interest to tell stories. I don’t make them up. I’m not (yet) a writer of fiction. But I do thoroughly enjoy telling the stories of what’s happening around me in what is (hopefully) an entertaining and engaging way.

As I said in my first ever blog post, people on Facebook were enjoying my stories. They encouraged me to share them with a wider audience. Ironically, they aren’t around encouraging me much anymore but I trust that their sentiment was genuine. I came across a letter from a long-lost friend recently; he too told me that I needed to share my stories.

And so here I am. Trusting that it’s far better to fully flesh out my story and save it for posterity than to throw a quick quip out there on Facebook. And judging by how much my daughter laughed when she read about her brother’s “Inner Dragon” last night, I think I’m taking the right path. Because now, she’ll be able to laugh about it again and again. And some day, his kids can laugh about it too.

Learning to Write… and to Listen

Eight months ago, I published my first blog post. Ninety-nine posts later, here we are: number 100. I want to mark the occasion with something a bit different. Instead of another tale of humor or angst from my life, I want to reflect on what this blogging journey has taught me.

I have learned many things about myself as a person, a mother, and a writer. This post is primarily about the writing lessons learned. I’d like to think my stories have become more engaging and better written as time has gone on.

I love to talk. That’s probably a fairly good quality for a blogger. You need to like to share or what’s the point? The problem with people that love to talk is that we often ramble. When I began telling stories on Facebook, the character limit forced me into brevity. Sometimes it felt restrictive but it almost always improved the telling of the tale.

Then I moved to a blog. Suddenly the stories could be as long as I wanted! Such freedom! And such a rambling mess… One thing I have learned is that I have to keep a tight rein on my words. Left to my own natural devices, I will glibly tell a ten word tale in a hundred.

I can point to the posts that I don’t think quite worked or that I was never satisfied with. They tend to be some of the longest ones. Sometimes I got caught up in the blow-by-blow, providing more detail than needed. Sometimes I was lazy and didn’t take the time to figure out how to say it better. Still other times, I wasn’t clear what story I was trying to tell.

Here’s a good example of that last point:

The whole time I was writing it, I felt like I wasn’t focusing on the true story. The story was the attempted smuggling of the rabbit into the house. The fact that the smuggling took place during a particularly crazy evening was irrelevant. But I couldn’t let go of telling about the entire evening. I wanted to whine about the boys not knowing where their sister was, the missing tortillas, my husband stranded. As a result, I squandered the opportunity to tell a succinct tale of two boys capturing a rabbit.

Constructing a well-told story is challenging. It’s one thing to convey the information. To engage, amuse, enchant, transport your reader, you have to take your writing to another level. It’s as much about construction as it is content. A tale told chronologically is in danger of being boring. Sometimes you need to shake up your timeline so you can maintain the element of surprise or add some spice.

You have to know how to start the story and how to end it and how to weave the individual parts together. Sometimes you have to cut scenes to make the whole better. You have to settle on a voice. Who is telling the story? What is their tone? Why does the story need to be shared?

Perhaps the most fascinating and rewarding part of the process for me has been writing the title. I found that I thoroughly enjoyed sitting back and pondering it. When one didn’t come to me, I got irritated. The title sells the story. Without it, it can’t “go to print”, so to speak. I have settled on mediocre titles at times (see the bunny post above) but usually I keep working on it. When the “right” title strikes, it’s euphoric.

That may sound melodramatic, but it’s true. I struggled with the title for this one:

I couldn’t decide if I wanted to highlight the sibling rivalry aspect, the game playing, or the cunning trickery of the youngest child. I felt that since I referenced a book, the title should somehow encompass both my story and the one from the book. When the scripture about the last being first floated through my head, I knew I had the title. The last always wants to be first. That was Hal’s motivation in swiping the Kindle and Almanzo’s in tying up the sheep. There it was: the perfect title.

One final thing I’ve learned is that I tend to write in bursts. I might write a dozen posts in a week and then go a week without writing anything. Those dry spells were troubling at first. Why can’t I write? There’s the obvious scenarios: I’m too busy or too tired. I’ve also learned that I can’t write when I’m in a bad mood. Sometimes, however, I want to write but nothing worth writing about has happened.

I’ve wondered about this. I’m not convinced that nothing blog-worthy is happening during those times. I’m beginning to suspect that I’m just not in the right frame of mind to see the stories. I can’t capture the story if I’m not paying attention. I have to listen and watch.

I’ve picked up a few followers over the past eight months. There are more people following me than I honestly expected to acquire when I started out. Many of you are bloggers so I’ll ask you:

What have you learned during the time you’ve spent blogging? What insights have you gained about your strengths and weaknesses? What tools have you added to your writing tool bag? What’s your favorite part of writing? Why do you do it?