I’m not a great writer and it’s not likely that I will ever be one.
Okay, getting over that, I’m also not a great speaker and it’s not likely that I will ever be one.
I’ve had my rare great moments in both writing and speaking where I’ve written or spoken something uniquely insightful and powerful. In those instances, I wrote or spoke better than what I (and my audience) expected and we were all enthralled (and surprised). People actually quoted me afterwards, and I was proud and ecstatic.
For the most part, however, I’m usually crossing the finish line with a rousing “good enough, and sometimes better than good” rating for writing and speaking.
I do want to be better. I’d like to write something that’s particularly well-written and memorable, and I would like to say something where people treasure the words. In general, I want to be an effective and appreciated communicator.
In my last blog, I quoted Ursula Guin with excerpts that described words as powerful. Her point concerned good conversations being powerful and special, but it extends to writing as well. She was a brilliant writer and was internationally recognized for her stories, book, poems, essays, and criticisms. And speeches, as well.
Oh, to be able to write and speak like that!
Okay, so having decided to be a better writer and a better speaker (and a better conversationalist as a result), here’s what I think I need to do: conscious practice.
I want to be a writer? Write; write a lot. I want to be a speaker? Speak; have great conversations when I can. But as I am doing both, I need to be constantly reading what I write: paying attention to vocabulary, grammar, clarity, pace, and sentence structure; is what I just wrote really understandable and does it, at the same, evoke the emotion that I want? I need to be constantly listening to myself as I talk to people, or formally give a speech: am I saying things correctly, succinctly, using words that my audience uses, in a way that they hear what I want them to hear, and have I made them care about what I’m saying?
I need to be as conscious of me as my readers or listeners are conscious of me.
Tony Hillerman said that you have to write a million words before you’re ready to write your own stories. That’s why he suggested everyone should write for a newspaper, with guidelines, schedules, word counts, column lengths, and instant review. It forces you not just to write, but to be extremely conscious of what you’re writing and how you’re writing it. And it forces you to write a lot.
I had a friend who was a minister and also a member of Toastmasters, the organization that revers speaking as a craft. I asked him why he did both; seems like he’d get tired of talking. His reaction was the opposite: Toastmasters was a wonderful way to speech, get feedback on his speaking, and to improve. Speaking from a pulpit, he said, is always a once-sided activity. He might get compliments or criticisms, but they were typically with regard to the content; comments were marginal when it came to helping him speak better.
My current focus is to be precise. I would be happy to naturally produce top-notch colorful and entertaining prose, but if I can develop my writing enough to say something simply in a straightforward manner and be correct with the words that I use so that my readers see in their minds what I see in my mind, that’s a pretty good accomplishment. On that foundation, I can develop a richer vocabulary, better sentence structure, more crafty ways to say things, and create a more powerful delivery.
My book editor stopped over at my house this morning and something powerful happened.
We had a real conversation – him saying something, me listening, thinking about it, and then saying something back to him. He then listened, thought about it, and said something back. Pretty soon, I understood the points of what he was saying, and he understood the points of what I was saying. Between the two of us, we spent a delightful hour identifying possible changes to a new story that I’m working on, changes that will vastly improve the eventual book.
Pretty simple, right?
It makes you wonder why more people don’t do it.
Here’s a series of quotes from The Wave in the Mind, a book by Ursala Le Guin:
“When you speak a word to a listener, the speaking is an act. And it is a mutual act. The listener enables the speaker’s speaking. It is a shared event, intersubjective: the listener and speaker entrain with each other.”
“…Mutual communication between speakers and listeners is a powerful act. The power of each speaker is amplified, augmented, by the entrainment of the listener. The strength of a community is amplified, augmented by its mutual entrainment for speech.”
“…That is why utterance is magic. Words do have power. Names have power. Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearers. They feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.”
We underappreciate good conversation and we are poorer for it. Social media, in particular, has denigrated the idea that people need to talk back and forth to find real understanding. Instead, many response streams to any comment looks like unknown voices shouting into space, each voice playing one-upmanship to dominate the last voice, each voice making statements as if they had more authority.
The next time you see someone pontificating on Facebook, think about how easy it is for a speaker to believe (truly believe) that they are saying something worth hearing just as a result from not being required to actually talk to anyone.
If “Mutual communication between speakers and listeners is a powerful act,” then we have surrendered ourselves to weakness.
I live in Los Alamos, New Mexico, famous for its contribution to building the atomic bombs used to end World War Two. The land and buildings from which the war-time laboratory was built was a boy’s preparatory school: the Los Alamos Ranch School. It was established in 1917 and lasted until it was acquired by the War Department to support the war effort in 1942. The school’s largest enrollment was about forty students in the 1930s, it was supported completely by donations and fees from the parents of the students, the ages were typically 12 to 17, and most of the students were from wealthy families in large metropolitan cities – Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.
It was begun not as a premier educational facility but as a rough-and-tough working ranch that provided boys with a rigorous physical environment that instilled individual character traits of independence, manhood, responsibility, rigor, pride, courage, working skills, and others that reflected the “Western Frontier” qualities made famous by John C. Fremont, Kit Carson, Lewis and Clark, explorers, cowboys, ranchers, and other frontiersmen. For example, a student enrolled at the Ranch School was assigned a personal horse and equipment, wore shorts the year around, slept outside on sleeping porches, performed calisthenics at 6:30 every morning (shirtless, in the sunlight, darkness, rain or snow), worked in the fields as needed for supporting the Ranch, and went on periodic horse packing trips that could last for months.
After reading books about Los Alamos, I found books that described other similar schools established in that period. Uniformly, they were created to serve the needs of the wealthy families in America. There were many “ranch schools” established in the early twentieth century, like the Thatcher School, California; Evans School (Arizona); Montezuma Mountain School, California; Valley Ranch School, Wyoming; Fresnal Ranch School, Arizona; Judson School for Boys, Arizona; Hacienda del Sol, Arizona; Jokake School, Arizona; Desert Willow Ranch School, Arizona; and several others. These schools (most of them in the Southwest; most were boarding schools; most of them year-round; most were for boys only; almost all served the late elementary to high school levels) came into existence primarily to answer the growing problem of raising rich kids who had not worked for the family money.
It was a big problem at the beginning of the century. The Gettys, the Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, the Heinz family, and the slew of substantially monied families worried that their children (those heirs soon to take over the family businesses and the wealth involved) would lack the moral fiber of the family patriarchs who were “self-made” men that had worked for the wealth. Well-to-do fathers, in particular, worried that their sons would be inadequate, weak, self-centered, lazy, entitled, and lack the responsibility and leadership qualities needed to preserve the families’ legacy.
In response to that, wealthy families and educational entrepreneurs created “schools” that provided not only academic education but also imposed standards of behavior for integrity, courage, creativity, mental discipline, citizenship, manners, and outdoor skills, as well as the physical rigor that would develop all of that vital testosterone valued by their parents. As the schools grew, they developed the stellar academic prowess that made them and their graduates famous. Several were recognized as respected college preparatory schools.
These schools were a world designed and crafted by the wealthy to get their children ready to assume their own role in that world.
This whole environment and the details of the children growing up under these ranch schools fascinated me, and, in particular, made me wonder what things might have gone wrong. Were there any kidnappings? Did anyone ever run away? Some of these children’s parents were among the richest people in the world; were there ever threats? Blackmail? Secrets? Manipulations? Intrigues?
Okay, so my mind is a little twisted. But this situation - unknown to most people today but not hard to identity with, as the entitlement problems brought on by wealth haven’t gone away – makes me think that there’s a great plot here: a good mystery, an unusual crime, a foiled scheme. How unusual it must have been for some of these kids to vacation in the Hamptons and then be riding through the wildernesses of Arizona and New Mexico surrounded by people with less money than what the students had just spent on new shoes. Was there ever a mischievous prankster among the lot? How about the lowly instructors who were never paid much, teaching kids that had money falling out of their pockets: it had to be tempting to imagine various ways to tap into that wealth.
Now that I have found a point of historical fascination, I need a good plot to go with it.
I wrote a Facebook post six or seven weeks ago that talked about a “medical accident” that I was involved in. This is my update.
In May, I started taking a blood pressure medicine to which I was allergic. No one knew I was allergic to it, especially me. Unknowingly, it was like taking poison and resulted in my inner tissues and organs being chemically “burned”. After two weeks, I suffered acute necrotic pancreatitis (which means that part of my pancreas died), renal failure, liver failure, kidney failure, and a bunch of other failures. I spent two days in the local ER, a week in a hospital in Santa Fe, and then a later week in a hospital in Albuquerque.
I have been home for a month (I live alone), sleeping in a recliner, eating almost no food (I’ve lost about 40 pounds), taking a lot of pills every day, and battling a few bouts of despair. I am much better now, but still can’t drive, sit up for very long, write much, read much, or think much. However, I am eating more, am no longer confined to sleeping the recliner, and walked around the block for the first time last night.
I will survive. I should be much better within another month or two and expect that I will fully recover by fall. If not fully, then I may have some limitations that I can live with.
This is why I haven’t written a blog for a while. I hope now to restart.
Speaking of that, my seventh book of the Mogi Franklin Mysteries, The Lady in White, became available on Amazon on June 1st. The eighth book, The Captain’s Chest, which is a very clever story, is out for review and will be available on September 1st. My ninth book, the end of the series (for now), is River of Gold, and its review copies are being printed now. It will be available October 1st.
So, in spite of me being interrupted, my books have continued. Please check them out. They make good summer reading for middle graders and young adults.
I have spent some time wondering why, with all of the systemic failures of my body, I did not die. I believe strongly that it was because my family and friends refused to let me go and that they prayed to God sufficiently enough that He finally agreed. I thank them for that; I did not want to die.
I believe that we are a generous people, but we sometimes forget to take advantage of opportunities. One of my most well-received posts on Facebook recommended that people buy teenagers a book to read over the summer. I have no measure of what readers will actually do, but I hope that everyone takes it to heart and wallet.
Sometimes it’s hard to know what book to buy (“I don’t know what he/she likes to read…”) or especially with grandparents, they don’t want to buy the wrong book. I have some comments about that situation:
First, to a large degree, it won’t matter what book is chosen. Second, pick something that you would enjoy reading. Thirdly, avoid large, thick books, unless it’s Harry Potter – “read over the summer” is a euphemism; it’s better they read a short book all the way through than to start a long one and drift away. Fourthly, pick a biography of a good person. Most people, even teenagers, find it satisfying to experience another person’s life. Fifthly, ask the clerk at a book store, especially if you want a certain age or grade level – middle grade, middle school, young reader, young adult, or adult. Sixthly, you can ask them what they like.
My best advice is this: take your sons and daughters to a Barnes and Noble or other bookstore and tell them that you want to buy each of them a book to read over the summer and let them choose. They will learn from your generosity as much as they will learn from the books. By the way, don’t “require” them to read what they choose. If they choose well (choosing well is something they may have to learn) the books will be read.
There are no guarantees that they will read what you buy, but don’t let that keep you from paving the way. You will never lose money on giving books, even if the investment takes a while to show up.
In my elementary school in Texas, some book publisher would send around a pamphlet-sized list of books for sale. We checked the boxes, penciled in the names, added up the total, paid the teacher, and a few weeks later, the school received the books and passed them out. My family didn’t have much money (no family did at the time) so I was cautioned to not pick too many, but I was never denied ordering a book or two. My parents did not coach me on what books to buy; it was expected that I would read whatever I ordered.
I remember the generosity of my parents and I remember how much I loved the books. I chose one book based solely on the image of a spooky house on the cover. Fifty years later, I still remember buying the book. The story wasn’t as good as the image, but I read every word.
The overall point is that you want your kids or grandkids to read, to value books, and to know that it’s okay to spend money for a book. They will also learn that being given a book feels wonderful, which will teach them that giving a book also feels wonderful.
The way to teach generosity is to be generous.
I stated that I was dedicating some weeks to do some physical labor, as opposed to what I usually do, which is write, read, edit, edit some more, read some more, and sit around dreaming. And go to lunch, every day.
I was successful. I tore down an old deck and hauled away the wood; cut down a large tree and hauled away the trunk and branches; and replaced an old window with a new window. This week will be another week of labor – replacing three more windows; cutting up old deck wood into woodstove-sized pieces; and preparing a house to be stuccoed.
In my evenings, surprising even me, I edited two new novels, submitting one to an editor, and went through a proof for a new Mogi Franklin mystery that will be published September first.
Woohoo! – I got to do both of the types of labor that I like to do and I did both of them well.
Which labor do I favor?
That’s a good question, because the answer is “both, provided I can choose to do whatever I want on any particular day.”
It’s an issue of competition. Declaring a certain time period to be dedicated to one type of labor or another, or, in fact, declaring a certain time period for family, for vacation, for helping others, for concentrated walks, for some other block of activity, is my way of decreasing the competition between the different forms of labor. It decreases the frustration associated with not doing something that I want to do because I’m doing something else.
I have the greatest admiration for those writers who get up in the morning two hours before the rest of the family so they can write. There are many stories of people who do so to have the peace and concentration they need to write. Or they go off for a week to write undisturbed. Or they write at night after the family is in bed.
In my case, it’s important to be able to choose. I’m a fair-weather type of laborer. I understand why people have to work outside when it’s very cold or very hot or very windy or very wet, but I’m sorry that the work requires it. I worked for a carpenter once who treated working in the worst weather possible as a badge of honor. He wanted it to rain hard just so he could bundle up in his rain gear and prove himself on the battlefield of labor.
He and I didn’t get along very well. I did the work, but I think rain in the morning is a sign to sleep late and rain in the afternoon is a sign to quit early.
Sometimes, I need to do literary work. Sometimes, I need to do physical labor. Sometimes, I need to do neither, contemplating instead all that I’m not doing. That was referred to by Hemingway as “taking time to store up for the times to come”, an attitude that I like. Of course, you’re saying, it’s because I’m a retired fat guy with a pension. I accept that as valid criticism; it is a significant advantage.
It makes it no less important, though, that writers and other artists must know themselves to be able to manage themselves, especially in terms of creativity, inspiration, pace, and balance. We all have work. The major thing is that we should have control over the work and not the work over us.
In 1994, Ray Bradbury wrote Zen in the Art of Writing, an autobiographical book about his life of writing. The book is phenomenal, and the stories about his growing up are entertaining and memorable. He was a fascinating writer with an unbelievable passion for telling stories. Here’s one quote from the book that gives you an idea of his dedication to writing:
“But how did I begin? Starting in Mr. Electrico’s [a circus character that visited his town in 1932] year, I wrote a thousand words a day. For ten years I wrote at least one short story a week, somehow guessing that a day would finally come when I truly got out of the way and let it happen. [that’s more than five hundred stories!]
The day came in 1942 when I wrote “The Lake.” Ten years of doing something wrong suddenly became the right idea, the right scene, the right characters, the right day, the right creative time. I wrote the story sitting outside, with my typewriter, on the lawn. At the end of an hour the story was finished, the hair on the back of my neck was standing up, and I was in tears. I knew I had written the first really good story of my life.
All during my early twenties I had the following schedule. On Monday morning I wrote the first draft of a new story. On Tuesday I did a second draft. On Wednesday a third. On Thursday a fourth. On Friday a fifth. And on Saturday at noon I mailed out the sixth and final draft to New York. Sunday? I thought about all the wild ideas scrambling for my attention, waiting under the attic lid, confident at last that, because of “The Lake,” I would soon let them out.
There was another reason to write so much: I was being paid twenty to forty dollars a story, by the pulp magazines. High on the hog was hardly my way of life. I had to sell at least one story, or better two, each month in order to survive my hot-dog, hamburger, trolley-car-fare life.
In 1944 I sold some forty stories, but my total income for the year was only $800.”
I can only gasp at that level of creativity. Louis L’Amour, the famous western writer, set a goal of not only writing one short story a week but selling the story to a magazine to be able to support his family.
I’m way down the scale on such ambition. I met my goal for the winter of writing another Mogi Franklin mystery, plus a short adult fiction story. They are both finished and lying idle while I get some distance between them and the final edit. Whether they get published or not waits to be seen.
Now I’m on break from writing. It’s Spring coming into Summer and I’ve got other things on my mind – building, rafting, backpacking and such. I’m taking a trip to Alaska in June and will be on the lookout for a new story. I grew up on The Call of the Wild and I would love to find the inspiration to produce my own version of a young person’s tale of adventure.
I can’t produce at the level of Ray Bradbury, but I will do what I can.
I’ve been talking about how we see through frames. A “frame” is a processor between our eyes and our brains that takes the true image of what we see (physically, emotionally, spiritually, inwardly, outwardly) and puts it into a “reference frame” that explains, enhances, or interprets what we’re looking at.
A frame orients our thinking a certain way.
Here’s an example of frames taken to an extreme: The Truman Show. This is a movie made a while back with Jim Carrey as a guy named Truman. Truman’s entire life, from birth on, has been filmed as a television program, but he doesn’t know it. It’s the ultimate reality TV. Truman lives a regular life while, in fact, millions of people are watching him. He doesn’t know it, but his whole environment – home, streets, buildings, the ocean, the weather – is a stage, the individual pieces of life are props, and there are zillions of cameras everywhere. Truman is surrounded by people he believes are real, but, in fact, every single person around him is a character actor, including his parents, relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even the casual people on the street. Each of them is under the stage direction of one man, the man who created The Truman Show.
Every person is fake, except for Truman, and every person watching the show knows that the show is fake. It is not life but entertainment.
Every person in the cast, every camera operator, every scriptwriter and every viewer at home looks through a frame where everything that is contrived, manipulated, and pretend becomes reality, for the purpose of seeing how Truman reacts. Truman doesn’t have that frame. His emotions, his actions, his behaviors, and his beliefs are based on everything he sees and experiences as being real.
There’s one scene where Truman is freaking out because he’s beginning to sense the falseness around him. His best friend consoles him, convincing Truman that he’s just having a moment of stress, that everything is real, and everything is just fine. While they’re talking, Truman hears what his friend says as if the friend is giving him heart-felt advice, when actually, the best friend (an actor) is repeating what the director is telling him to say through an earpiece. It tears your heart out to see Truman being manipulated, in every way possible, by a world of lies and falsehoods.
If Truman was taken out of that world and shown the TV program that everyone else is watching, then he would be looking through the same frame as the rest of the world.
What’s my point?
Our lives don’t involve the polar extremes of reality that Truman’s situation contains, but we all deal with internal mental frames that color the way we see what we see. A writer needs to know that. Without question, the writer has to be in the business of understanding the frames through which his readers view reality and, especially, has to be in the business of understanding the frames through which they see reality.
Why? Because writers deal with truth.
Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the writer is in the business of revealing the human condition to their readers and that takes knowing the true state of the human condition. Life in the raw. Life unaided. The bones of life without any flesh.
If it’s a character in a mystery story, the reader needs to identify with that character, be able to see themselves in that character, and have sympathy or hatred that is an honest revelation of how the reader sees that character.
The writer is in charge of making that happen.
If it’s a memoir, where the writer is recalling and describing a trauma suffered in childhood, the words they use must cause emotion in the reader, must inform them as to how a child feels to be in that trauma, and must pull out sympathy or shock or horror at the trauma.
If it’s history, the writer must deliberately construct an event with order, depth, and description to make the reader resonate with the common threads of the event. It must make them feel like the writer understood what it was like to there. History is a description of the human condition, best presented as life in the raw.
The writer is, foremost, an observer of life. As they watch, they need to see and understand the frames used by subjects, characters and readers; they need to see the progress from event to event, from emotion to emotion, and from behavior to behavior – in reality, in truth, not pretended, not imagined.
In the raw. That’s where the reality of any story lies.
Here’s a quote from one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life:
“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don’t get in real life – wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I’m grateful for it the way I’m grateful for the ocean.”
Riding long distances with three children in the backseat of an un-air conditioned 1956 Plymouth was sometimes a trying situation and, to keep us entertained one time, my dad pointed to a fly buzzing around in the car with us. He asked how fast the fly was flying.
I cannot accurately judge the combined mental strength of the three boys in the backseat, but it was a question that made us ponder for several minutes. If the fly started with us, and then got out of the car when we stopped, then the fly must have covered the same distance during the same amount of time as we had, so it must have been flying as fast as the car was going, which was about fifty miles an hour, tops (it was a flathead six, for those of you who must know such things).
However, even to us, it didn’t seem like the fly was flying fifty miles an hour. The fly, on average, seemed a lot slower.
The explanation was offered that the fly didn’t have to fight the air resistance, so fifty miles an hour seemed reasonable. The problem was, as my mother pointed out, the fly seemed to fly just as fast going forward as it did going backward, leading to the obvious conclusion was that if it was flying fifty miles an hour going forward, then it was also flying fifty miles an hour going backwards. Also, she pointed out, when the fly lands on the back of the seat, it is not flying at all, and yet was making progress down the road.
Those of us in the backseat weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed, but it seemed we had made even less progress towards a good answer.
My dad complicated the situation. If we are inside the car with the fly and could measure its speed using a yardstick and a stopwatch, it was probably flying the usual speed of a fly, which is about 4 to 5 miles an hour (for those of you who also needed to know that it was a flathead six). On the other hand, if one of us was standing alongside the highway and measured the speed of the fly as the car zoomed by, then the fly would, indeed, be measured at the same speed as the car, plus or minus a little if it was flying forward or backward.
I think my Dad was just looking to befuddle us, which was not hard to do, but that fly has persisted in my mind to this day. To be completely honest, I still am trying to find a way to succinctly express the absolute truth about the situation.
Using the words “frame of reference” helps.
I talked about “frames” in a previous blog – how, even presented with the same scenery outside a car window, for instance, we each see different things dictated by the “frame” through which we see things. That frame is defined by our mental attitude at the time (whether looking as a videographer, a photographer, a tourist, a geologist, a historian, etc.) so that we register a different experience from the person beside us, even though we are looking at the same thing.
One class of “frames” that we commonly use is a “frame of reference”.
Remember that your algebra teacher talked about a “frame of reference” because when you draw an x-y graph (two axes crossing at right angles to each other) and you locate a point on that graph, you get a measurement for x relative to the crossing of the two axes (called the origin), measured along the x axis, and a measurement for y relative to the place where the two axes cross, measured along the y axis, and the resulting x and y measurements form the (x, y) pair that names that point. The teacher then pointed out, usually in a cavalier way, that if you moved the point of origin, then the measurements changed and the (x, y) pair had different numbers. You had changed the “reference point” of the graph.
If the teacher would have quit right there, you would have been alright: life seemed simple and straightforward. But your algebra teacher proceeded to talk about straight lines, curved lines, greater than and less than, and circles and parabolas and asymptotes and sine waves and that’s when you decided to become a writer.
See, to the writer, the fun in the backseat was not answering the question of the speed of the fly, but that the middle child would always make up an answer opposite the answer of the oldest child, who was always a foot smarter than the other two of us, while the youngest child looked at his mother with pitiful eyes, hoping she’d give him the answer. It all resulted in a barrage of “yes, it is” and “no, it’s not” and degenerated into a race of each of the three boys trying to make it to “stupid” line before the others.
Conflict! It’s what a writer lives for.
Every beginning “how to write” book will tell you that you have to have “conflict” to have a good story. A good story is always told against a backdrop of drama and using conflicting frames of reference is a standard way to get characters to battle each other. It works even better if each character has considerable investment in their own respective positions.
After a few minutes of the ensuring war in the backseat, I’m pretty sure that my Dad regretted asking the question. A minute later, he swatted the fly.
I was traveling with a friend the other day, passing through the Jemez Mountains on the way to Albuquerque. My friend was visiting from California and had never been in New Mexico before. I thought that driving through the mountains would be a good introduction to the range of scenery that New Mexico has.
As we were driving it made me think about how we see things.
I, being a simple person, love the complexity of the landscape: the vast meadows of the Valle Grande, the stark cliffs above Jemez Springs, the mud-colored uniformity of the Jemez Pueblo, the change from a mountain environment to the arroyo-dominated sand and sagebrush flatlands. I saw each of these as a separate gift for my eyes.
I’m not sure what he saw, because he looked mostly at the screen on his GoPro and the screen on his smart phone.
First, he is a professional videographer. That’s his business. He works in the film industry, in advertising and marketing, and in creating messages and images on the screen for video audiences. He was, in fact, during our trip, taking video that would later be part of a long production about his trip around the Southwest.
Second, I am not a videographer. I see what I saw and, though being delighted in it, have only memories, which are more and more fleeting these days. My appreciation for the sights was immediate and then faded away.
Our little trip made me think of the different ways we see things, and I want to use the word “frame” in talking about it.
We see things in “frames”. That is, if I am in a “scenery” frame of mind, then I see landscapes filled with geology, trees, animals, water features, and register what I see in terms of beauty.
If I am in a “photographer” frame of mind, then I may be mentally arranging people, things, or backgrounds so that the photograph will have more of what I think is quality or content. I’m trying to make a “better” photograph.
If I am in a “history” frame of mind, which I often am in, I see the Valle Grande and think about Spanish Land Grants. That reminds me of the struggles New Mexico continues to have with historical land ownership. I also think about Jemez Springs as being one of the choices of the Manhattan Project, and then I wonder about Pueblos having independent nation status.
If I am in a “tour guide” frame of mind, then I will be reciting stories as I drive my guest along our route.
If I’m in a “thinking” frame of mind, I may not see anything out the window. I’ll be preoccupied with thinking about something else.
My friend, I believe, didn’t see anything like I saw it, and I’m not sure he’ll remember any of my scintillating historical highlights. He was seeing scenes from a movie not yet made. He saw pieces of a video that he was collecting and I’m sure that he was already doing his first edit. He was probably already imagining the reaction of the audience to his production, as well as balancing the amount of time that his New Mexico portion of his trip will play against his Colorado portion, his Utah portion, and his Death Valley portion, all of which he’ll see on his way back to Los Angeles.
If he does remember any historical highlights, they will appear in his memory as the narration that accompanies his video.
None of this is bad. How many times have I driven somewhere over and over, and then, on a trip when I’m not driving, say, “I’ve never noticed that before!”?
It’s because we see things differently at different times.
That’s my introduction to the next few blogs. I want to talk about how we see things because, as writers, it’s our job to control the frames that appear in our stories. Whether it’s a frame that shows us who a character is by what they think, a setting that creates the backdrop of our story, or an underlying frame that supports the purpose our book, it’s up to us to make the reader see what we want them to see.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.