My Problems with Life Have Been Solved

Some of you know that my current work-in-progress is a short story called, “Life”.  It’s the first in a trilogy of shorts which includes “Liberty” and “The Pursuit of Happiness”.  I completed drafts of the latter two in less than a month but after six weeks (mainly staring at an empty screen), I have only one scene of “Life” completed.

So today, I went for some help.  I met with my friend George, once was my partner in literary crime (we produced a satirical newsletter called “Rude Dogma” our final year in seminary/graduate school).  Using his keen pastoral skills, astute literary sensibilities, and sharp ear for social critique, he was able to diagnose my problem with Life and set me on a course toward liberation.

What is the story of my “Life”, you ask?

Basically, it is the story of two high school sweethearts who reach a fork in the road.  He wants to get married.  She wants to go to college.  At an impasse, they basically go their separate ways.  The story follows her journey to IU (in the early 1960s) where she encounters the beginnings of a social-sexual revolution.  She is faced with choices she must make (and choices made for her) that lead to a point of crisis.

So, what is my problem with Life, you ask?

Well, I have several.

First, I am trying to anticipate the reaction of the readers (or viewers, if it becomes a screenplay) before I write the first draft.  I am imagining intense criticism, for instance, for pretending to know the perspective of a woman (in 1963, no less) as she makes very personal decisions about relationships, career, sex, etc…  Instead of being my own worst critic before anything is on the page, I need to first tell the story (or let the story tell itself).

Next, I’ve gotten bogged down doing the grinding (though somewhat necessary) work of research.  Yesterday I spent 5 hours reading past student newspapers at the IU library (and paid $26 for parking) and still only made it through less than one month.  George recommended I hop on “Netflix” and watch the series “Madmen”, which evidently accurately depicts the early 1960s in a very compelling way.  (This is one reason I like to keep George on retainer.  While I would just as soon move to Montana and write haiku for mountain goats, he stays engaged with culture.)

Finally, my characters are underdeveloped.  By providing an affirming yet credible critique of “Liberty”, George was able to help me see some things I can develop in “Life” so that the characters grow and emerge as distinct persons you may not always agree with,  but whom you want to get to know.

While I still have research to do (like watching “Madmen” and hopefully interviewing women who lived through the early 1960s), I believe I am ready to now sit down and write the story.  I’m setting a goal to write one scene a day (starting tomorrow), which should mean I would have a working draft by the end of next month.

Now I’m wondering, just what can I offer my good buddy George in exchange for his transforming literary therapy (apart from singing his praises in this blog post)?

……. I could click that annoying button that keeps popping up on my Facebook and send him a Starbucks gift card.  (But no, that feels impersonal and I’m on a tight budget.)

……. I could abandon my allegiance to the IU Hoosiers and start rooting for the UK Wildcats, possibly even sending a letter of protest to the NCAA for their exclusion from the tournament.  (But no, when I cut my veins I bleed crimson – not blue.  How anyone can bleed blue is beyond me.)

…… I could join the Xenia, Ohio Crane Operators Guild and wage a campaign to elect him “Sovereign Lord and Grand Pubah For Life”.  (But no, I’m essential apolitical and you probably have to have a job as a crane operator to join.)

I guess I’ll have to pray about it some more.  Or better yet, in the truly modern, American way, I conduct a poll on the blogosphere!

What do you think I should give George?

This is a picture of our seminary basketball team (“The Frozen Chosen”) – circa 1932.  We’ve all aged very well.  Apart from me, everyone is a huge success.
(front row) There’s Ron, President of Chile.  John, Spiritual Director at Microsoft.  David, Sigmund Freud Chair of Psychoanalysis at Vienna University.  George, Pastoral Guru, Cultural Critic and Literary Therapist.
(back row) Robert, Medical Examiner at Johns Hopkins.  Pete, Surgeon General of Puerto Rico. Mark, Library of Congress Director.  David, Owns 7 Hawaiian Islands.  Buran, Mega-church Pastor and Spiritual Counselor to President Obama.   And Me, Unemployed Weaver of Words Sleeping on His Father’s Couch.
[Note:  I stole this from George’s Facebook page (maybe one thing I should give him is respect for his personal property….hmmm….  Naaa, I’ll think of something else).]

14 thoughts on “My Problems with Life Have Been Solved

  1. Thanks for sharing the photo and thanks and “hi” to George! A true blast from the past. You guys taught me, or at least tried, how to play basketball. The tip I remember best– offered during the league tournament– “Mark, if the ball should come to you,don’t shoot.” 🙂 It seems like I once had a copy of this photo. I might swipe this one from you :). Thereby bypassing the wrath of George. Tony, as for success– unlike you, I don’t have a steady blog with followers 🙂

    • That’s funny about the advice the not shoot. If I gave you that advice, just remember I was mentally imbalanced at the time.

      My blog has certainly been a very nice creative outlet to write and reach readers. I suppose you could count that as a success.

      Besides, as your good buddy Thomas Merton once wrote –

      “The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!”

      Thanks for dropping by and leaving your comment.

  2. I’d recommend reading memoirs or diaries of women who lived through the sixties. There will be a lot of those out there…many from women whose perspectives were radically changed and went on to become activists of some kind, but also to get the other side, consider biographies of more conservative women who are of the right age, and read the chapters dealing with their teen and college years. I also suggest dipping into Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’. It was hugely popular with women in 1963–even if all didn’t agree with her theories, her examples made an emotional connection with many.

    • Good recommendations. I’ll look into this.

      I have read some oral histories of women who attended IU in the early 1960s and they have been somewhat helpful, though not terribly personal.

    • We actually did this in 1988 or 1989 as sort of take-off of a photo we had seen of a seminary basketball team from the 1930s or 1940s. We had hoped to all wear ties and trench coats, but we were one short.

  3. I don’t know if this is worth anything, but… here’s my 3 cents (I’m adjusting for the economy).
    Research is good. A good writer should do a lot. Your friend clearly gave you sound advice. However, there comes a point where you have to give yourself permission to just pretend. I have two grandchildren who ask me to play quite often. Generally the way it works is they tell me what to say and do and I try to follow direction. They don’t have any problem with not knowing Barbie and Ken’s back-story. The bottom line is you can over-think whether you are qualified to write about what it is like to be one of your characters. I really think you already know this stuff, but if you’re looking for encouragement, there it is.

    • You make an excellent point. I am going to start writing and simply revise anything that isn’t historical believable.

      Thanks for your 3 cents. Should I send you a receipt for tax purposes?

      • Oh gosh, the different tax rates between the states would probably prove too daunting for accounting purposes. 😉

  4. 1) Hi Mark!
    2) To write haiku for mountain goats in Montana would be to engage with culture. It’d be boring culture, but the scenery would be good.
    3) Reading diaries and oral histories sounds pretty much to me like dragging my eyes through broken glass. Ugh.
    4) To be a character appearing in this blog is more than thanks enough. Good to visit.

    • 1) Thanks for your 4-part response. Though, as a pastor it should been 3 points and a poem (I tell you, you post-modern pastors will be the death of the church).

      2) If you are satisfied being a character in my blog, I will hereafter name all my characters “George” (if it worked for George Foreman’s children, it should work my humble blog.

      3) Thanks for recommending “Mad Men”. It’s a little difficult to see through the cigarette smoke and steamy sex, but now and then I pick up on some very worthwhile details.


      Who played with a Dangerous Toy, and suffered a Catastrophe of considerable Dimensions”

      When George’s Grandmamma was told
      That George had been as good as gold,
      She promised in the afternoon
      To buy him an Immense BALLOON.
      And so she did; but when it came,
      It got into the candle flame,
      And being of a dangerous sort
      Exploded with a loud report!
      The lights went out! The windows broke!
      The room was filled with reeking smoke.
      And in the darkness shrieks and yells
      Were mingled with electric bells,
      And falling masonry and groans,
      And crunching, as of broken bones,
      And dreadful shrieks, when, worst of all,
      The house itself began to fall!
      It tottered, shuddering to and fro,
      Then crashed into the street below-
      Which happened to be Savile Row.

      When help arrived, among the dead
      Were Cousin Mary, Little Fred,
      The Footmen (both of them), the Groom,
      The man that cleaned the Billiard-Room,
      The Chaplain, and the Still-Room Maid.
      And I am dreadfully afraid
      That Monsieur Champignon, the Chef,
      Will now be permanently deaf-
      And both his aides are much the same;
      While George, who was in part to blame,
      Received, you will regret to hear,
      A nasty lump behind the ear.

      The moral is that little boys
      Should not be given dangerous toys.

      by Hilaire Belloc

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