Things I notice

I’m beyond tired of writing about gloom and doom, depressing thoughts, so I turned to Plinky for a little help. Plinky asked, “What are the first things you notice about people you just met?”

I’m so glad you asked, Plinky. It’s Bonnaroo week in my hometown. At least 80,000 strangers have invaded. No doubt about it. I’m going to meet someone new this week. Yeah! New people = new stories.

The first thing I notice is what people are wearing. I prefer clothes. But being Bonnaroo week and all, that’s not always the case. Point is, it’s just plain awkward for a clothed person to interact with a non-clothed person in a wardrobe-expected environment, and it’s near impossible for the clothed person not to stare. Staring is just not cool if you’re trying to be polite.

Other than nakedness, nothing really fazes me. I’m a teacher. I’ve seen just about everything—every color of hair and lack of hair and every clothing style from skirts on males sitting in my English class to chainmail on females perusing the school library. I’ve seen some of the most unusual piercings and tattoos and feathers. What really matters to me is what’s on the inside of the person.

I’m always intrigued by people who aren’t afraid to be themselves, so if a person is wearing something really unique I’m going to notice. I like unique—especially if it’s colorful and mosaic. When I see it, I drift away into my dream world and wonder WHY—why THAT outfit, why THAT color. Why, why, why. The more I learn about writing books, the more I learn about character motivation.

Of course, character motivation is something I deal with every day. Every 45 minutes or so, 25 or more characters file into my classroom. I have to be on top of my game and anticipate what they’re up to next so that I
can prevent them from carrying out random acts of stupidity—like launching a pencil across the room (past dozens of eyes) or cheating on a big test and risking immediate failure.

So, Plinky, I notice the outer human being. I just want to be careful not to judge. I am a conservative person—most of the time. But just as some people can go to the far extreme of being free (and clothingless), sometimes people can be so restrictive that they try to rope others and drag them into their tiny boxes. When the roped try to get out, the noose around their necks will tighten, and they’ll get lynched. Mercy and grace. Mercy and grace. When I see something I don’t understand—or like, I pray for mercy for my condemning attitude so that I can offer grace. (But depending on what my snarky meter says that day, I may not make it without letting a comment or two slip. I’m working on it.)

More importantly, what I notice above all is a person’s eyes—the windows to the soul. I warm up pretty quickly to kind eyes. I stay away from arrogant eyes. Mischievous eyes are like the Pied Piper. I can’t help but fall under their spell. Do the eyes show compassion? Then I’ll probably edge a little closer. Do they show ill intent? I’ll mosey on over to somewhere else, not that I want to be rude. It’s hard for people to lie with their eyes, but some
people are better at it than others. I don’t think I’d be a good poker player. My eyes give me away every time.

Of course, a person’s smile is just as important as the eyes. I definitely take notice. Is the smile plastered on? Perfunctory? Fake? I don’t like fake. Flash me a fake smile, and it’s sayonara for me.

All of these things, clothing, the eyes, the smile, are visual elements that either draw or repel two people. There are four other senses, five if you count intuition, a woman’s best friend.

What do people sound like when they talk or sing? What type of music do they listen to? Are they physically distant? Afraid to shake your hand or give you a hug? Too touchy-feeling? Do they invade your space?

Speaking of touch, what do their hands look like? Sounds like an odd question, but for a writer, it’s an important one. I once worked at a soup line at the Rescue Mission in Nashville. One thing I noticed as I was serving the food was that some of the men had hands that could almost be described as smooth—but with callouses. They were musicians, just a little down on their luck once arriving to town. If I had time to talk, I’m sure I would have discovered some real stories there, heartbreaking, I’m afraid.

As for taste or smell, that’s a little too personal, even concerning my new Bonnaroo friends.

But, concerning my new Bonnaroo friends, I think I’ll head on down to the big W on the edge of town and do a little people watching. There’s bound to be a great story or two out there.

Bonnaroo, naked people and writing

Analogies. English teachers love ‘em. High school students butcher ‘em. There’s a lot you can learn from analogies, the good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe you can’t recall the definition of an analogy. Maybe it was just too long ago since you had your last English class, 30 years for some of you, 30 days for others. An analogy is a comparison. Here are a few of the WORST possible analogies as collected by the Washington Post.

  • Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
  • Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  • John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
  • The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
  • The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

(For more check out www.innocentenglish.com.)

I think I shall add to this list of the worst:  Writing is a whole lot like Bonnaroo.

Well, it is for me anyway. You see, with writing—as with Bonnaroo—one MUST be prepared for the adventure before one embarks. I have learned the hard way with both. One MUST be prepared.

Over the last few years I have helped here and there with the Bonnaroo ministry. I spent hours and hours and hours preparing a free publication that might be of service to our visitors, and occasionally I have worked in a service area, handing out items such as cold drinks, toiletries, and food to weary festival attendees. I really like talking to people, and everyone has always been very nice, so my Bonnaroo experiences have always been pleasant. But last year was a different story. Last year I wanted to slip in the festival itself and catch the last few minutes of a band playing on the main stage. Should not have been a problem. I’ve been inside before. But there was one problem. I was not prepared for last year’s inside experience.

For starters we were driving our truck on a road swimming with pedestrians. The traffic flow had to keep moving, had to keep moving. Keep moving. Those are the key words. My husband stressed those words. “When I stop, get out fast. I’ve got to keep moving. ” When we reached the designated area, I did not want to make him mad. I leapt out of the truck and kept moving. It wasn’t until he was out of my sight that I realized I had left my cell phone in the car. I had no means of contacting him. But I ventured forth to find the music.

I made it there with no problem. I saw the last five or ten minutes of the show. But as I left, I realized I had no idea how to get out, so I proceeded to follow the masses and ended up in a place I did not recognize. My sense of direction isn’t what it should be.  The sun had set by now, and I was officially in panic mode. I was stepping over people, dodging people, fearful that I would never see my family again. Then from out of no where I felt something hit me right on the derrière. My first thought was that my husband had brought my child into the den of sin and our son had popped his mom, just being silly. I was mistaken. When I turned around, I stared into the face of a rather scary looking red-headed stranger who simply said, “Hey, lady. Looked like you needed that.”

In the words of my students, I officially freaked out at that point. I ran. Through the people. By the people. Over the people. Behind the people. I covered all the prepositions. It didn’t matter. I kept moving. I was praying like crazy that God would get me back to safety because I was totally lost and turned around. Within seconds of my prayer one of my former newspaper students saw me and recognized my panic look. After I promised him I had not sampled the balloons, brownies or bongs, he lent me his phone and showed me the way out.

Moral of the story: I was not prepared for the adventure. 

This year I opted to spend the night at Bonnaroo, working late in the service area, helping people in need. I was prepared, prayed up and ready to go. I did not get lost. However, my group did have an unforgettable encounter with naked people who approached us for help. I am generally the shyest person in the group. I blush at the mention of the word derrière. My husband is the talker, but oddly he didn’t say a word—he left the conversation all to me. And I made my way through it without giggling, snorting or passing out due to extreme embarrassment.

So how does this fit in with writing? 

Many of you are starting school. Though you may be in denial now, I can promise you one of those crazy teachers will ask you to write something. Prepare. Don’t wing it. Spare yourself the embarrassment. As for you Edge staff members, you will start your writing journey on Tuesday. If there is anything I want you to learn, it is that you must prepare before you write. We talked about researching the topic. I also want you to research the style. I don’t know how many students I have had in the past who have tried to write a sports story or a review or a news story without having studied the craft. Read, read, read. If you don’t know what good writing looks like, how do you to expect to produce it? Go find what you want to write and read it! 

I want to write YA fiction. So guess what I will do this year?  Read, read, read. I’m depending on all of my staff members to give me a heads up on their favorite reads. Don’t let me slack up. Hold me accountable.

As for those of you who have already graduated, you too have an assignment. Perhaps you have always wanted to get a poem or short story published. What are you waiting for? Chop, chop. Prepare. Check out the Writer’s Market. Google the next writer conference. Pursue your dream.

Some of you have the gift of encouragement. Maybe God will use your writing in a special way by prompting you to add an encouraging note in an e-mail, a Facebook message or a text. How will you know what to say? Prepare. Pray and look for God’s divine appointment. He even makes those possible in Cyberland.

Some people call it serendipity. We know what it really is.