Wednesday, November 24, 2010

a few photos from the writing retreat week, and a brief essay on small towns



This was the view out the writers' kitchen door. The golden leaves were especially brilliant in the late afternoon sun, and each time I came down to the kitchen I felt the illumination surround me. 





One afternoon I took a drive to a neighboring small town where I actually rented an office for about a year while working on my first novel. I used to drive there one afternoon a week and used the office to write. Somehow, in all that time, and in subsequent visits to the little downtown, I never noticed this street name, but this trip, with the subject matter of my new novel fully blooming,  it seemed like a huge omen.





The same evening, as I walked from the bookstore across the train tracks to a coffee shop, I glanced up and noticed this little scene. It seemed like the opening line to a novel. Maybe the next one? Since I generally have to have one germ of an idea securely in place at all times, and since my previous germ is now a fully-bloomed idea with a first page, this might have been my subconscious trying to get me back in my fully loaded writer mode. I admit, there is a vague germ forming in my mind even as I type this.

The Brief Essay:

Pushing your religious views onto an entire email list of high school classmates is inappropriate and offensive, even if done "with love."  Getting angry when someone (me) speaks up and points this out is intolerant and a pretty good sign that instead of praying for ME to be saved, you might need to do a little more work on your own character.

Gossiping with other classmates about it off the list, posting about it on your Facebook page, and then defriending someone (me) is just about the exact thing I remember happening not only all through the early years of school in a small southern town, but in Sunday school classes taught by similarly-gossip-prone mothers - one of the reasons I stopped going to church when I was young - even at that delicate pre-adolescent age, I recognized hypocrisy in action. Some things just never change.

Other things do change: when one of the quietest members of a high school class grows up, leaves the small southern town, and blooms, she (me) gets a lot of private support and thanks for being willing to speak up about something that apparently drives a lot of folks nuts.

Moral of this story: be really careful what you say and do when you start up an email list for old classmates and then act out your lack of growth as a human being. Be even more careful when you do it and the quiet one (me) has a memory like an elephant and is now a writer of novels, especially one whose mother (mine) has been trying to talk her (me) into writing a novel about this little town for years and years.

Considering the little town started out as Hinton's Quarters (my ancestors from England) and ended up like Peyton Place, you just never know. While my interest in writing about the small-minded people in a small southern town is just about zero, I've always been one who rises to the challenge when there are under-dogs involved. And goodness, to come home from a week of writing bliss, sans germ, and stumble into this ripe with drama material. Ripe with drama, maybe, but not all that appealing.

And yet, in the same small town there were folks like this. He and his family were neighbors for many years and one of his daughters a friend. The contrast in the range of humans in that tiny town was (and still is) staggering. Not unusual, but I think more noticeable because of the smallness of the community. I encountered the extremes on a daily, even hourly, basis. On some level, as both a person and a writer, I'm still trying to resolve the things I loved about living in a small town with the things that pushed me to leave it as soon as I could. It's that struggle, if I could write it, that would make the story a meaningful one.

10 comments:

Matthew said...

Lovely pictures. I especially love the train station. And "Pony Express Way" is just a fabulous find.

As for the small town novel, I can't wait!

Grey Horse Matters said...

Love the street and train station signs. It looks like a lovely town. So glad you got a new "germ" while you were away, it's always good to have ideas in the working brain.

As for the essay, I get the gist of what you're saying. Small mindedness in a small community can be a hard thing to deal with. Especially, when it concerns religious people who think they have a right to involve everyone in their beliefs. Let it roll off your back and you will feel better for it. It's not worth getting upset over, you'll never change their minds. For what it's worth that's my humble opinion.

Wishing you and yours a peaceful and Happy Thanksgiving.

Valentino said...

Finding that street sign is just too cool Billie :)

As someone who struggles with the (extremely) small town mentality daily - I say bring it on. You've sold a copy already lol.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, human and otherwise!

Maddy said...

I will buy one to.
"Hypocrisy in action"
I LOVE IT! Must put that one in my memory bank.
Happy THANKSGIVING!!!

billie said...

Matthew, that train station at sunset would be a fun thing for someone to shoot - you know me, I just pointed and clicked, so the light isn't all that great, but I liked the composition.

billie said...

Thank you, Arlene. Fortunately I don't live in the small town I grew up in, so although the creation of this email list has brought back some of the reasons I was so eager to get out of there, it has also been nice on some level to see that some of my classmates did indeed grow and change - and some who were already quite kind and tolerant stayed that way.

After reading my email, one particular classmate wrote a scathing "I'm with Billie" reply, which was so funny I called my mom and read it out loud to her over the phone. I am quite sure the entire town is wagging over this by now and to be honest, I'm glad to have had a part in shaking things up some.

All that said, your advice is good and I'm right there with you!

jme said...

i know what you mean - i live in a very small (and generally small-minded) town now, but i manage somehow to stay out of the fray most of the time... (the local horse community and showing world operate a lot like a small town though and, in that regard, i'm glad to be out of that scene!)

what disturbs me more is how the petty, closed-minded, intolerant small town mentality is becoming the norm on the national level. :-\ so frustrating on any level! but maybe a novel would be the prefect outlet for those frustrations ;-) i'd read it!

hope you all have a happy thanksgiving! :-)

billie said...

V, I realized after writing this yesterday that there is plenty of room in the new "work-in-progress" for some small town action - in fact, that will play a huge part in the book, so even before the contemporary small town novel I'll have a chance to wrestle a bit with this issue. :)

billie said...

Maddy, it made me laugh that you loved that particular phrase. That was my biggest struggle growing up - seeing that kind of behavior and realizing that almost everyone around me accepted it as normal.

billie said...

j, my husband said a very similar thing. I think that's partly why I felt I had to confront it when it happened to me in such a personal way.

I hope everyone has a wonderful T'giving - I am getting ready to put a post up, but am running behind!!