Unheroic

When I found out he had two weeks to live, I didn’t go see him. Not that I don’t know what to say; I’ve had training in dealing with bereavement and grief and death.

I should have gone. But one time I thought about it, I felt like I didn’t know him well enough to matter. Another time, I let the unorthodox family situation stop me; wasn’t sure who’d be there and how they’d be feeling or acting. Another time, I felt overwhelmed because though we weren’t close, I’d thought we would be; he was a good guy, smart, good conversationalist, sense of humor.

Talked myself into it. Excused myself out of it. Talked myself into it. Waited too long.

In the end I just waited too long to do the right thing.

They say heroes dash into burning buildings or flaming cars to rescue people without thinking. They act before they have a chance to get scared. My first impulse when I heard was, I have to go see him.

But I gave myself time to think, and I kept thinking until it was too late.

How Evil Can You Get?

In Story Robert McKee talks about “the negation of the negation” (NotN). It’s not mathematical, the multiplication of two negatives leading to a positive. It is the end of the line in the emotional or moral value of the internal story.

Take the normal “worst case” scenario, and find the thing that’s so much worse it’s unthinkable.

In “living dead” stories, that’s often the fate worse than death: damnation, or living death.

McKee talks about four stages, from The Big Win through Not So Much to Real Bad and finally, the NotN. For instance, in a love story you can have true love, indifference, active dislike/hate, and the worst thing in a normal romance, hate masquerading as love.

Scifi adventure: success might be beating the aliens. The other end of the spectrum might be seeing your whole race enslaved by the aliens, in a manner which prevents mass suicide. Nope. You’re slaves, maybe even eternally because they gave you live-forever-juice.

For many stories, the NotN is going to be, if not unique, at east customized.

The lighter the story the less devastating the NotN. For instance, in my book A Long, Hard Look

  1. Success: Phil solves the case and gets the girl.
  2. The likely case is he doesn’t solve the case, but at least he gets the girl.
  3. Worst case, you’d think, is he doesn’t solve the case, doesn’t get the girl.
  4. What happens is he stands in a room full of his girl’s family and is helpless to prevent one from killing another, and in the end, his girl leaves because he reminds her of his failure and her family’s brokenness.

Not only does the case get solved too late to prevent another death, the girl despises him and runs away.

Figure out what your readers will assume equals “success” and if you choose a happy ending, deliver that and more.

Know, or define, what they’ll expect as the “less than success” the hero is worried will be his fate.

Know what your readers expect as a worst case scenario. That’s failure.

Make your protagonist suffer that failure, then give him a way out.

Then, come up with something so unimaginable your readers never saw it coming, couldn’t foresee it, won’t believe their eyes.

And aim it straight at your hero.

Loss

Found out this morning that a dear friend and spiritual mentor died yesterday.

We were supposed to get together for lunch soon. I keep thinking about what we would have chatted about, how much we laughed when we visited.

Death is not, as many claim, a natural part of life. Death is unnatural, an enemy.

This space is too small to hold everything I believe about life and death and love and loss. I’ll just say I’ll miss him, and hope all the rest of you are happy and well.

Hole in His Chest

His habit was to pop out of bed the instant he awoke. Today it felt good to lie there, eyes closed, sun glowing through the window onto the bed.

bedroom-dark-light“Know what I want to do today?”

The room was silent.

She’s still sleeping, he thought. Lazybones.

He rolled over to put his arms around her, knowing she’d open one eye, give him the grumpy face, then snuggle into his chest.

Her side of the bed was empty.

He opened his eyes.

Properly awake now, he threw himself down on her pillow.

His wounded animal cries made no difference. He’d done this every morning since he’d been able to sleep again, and it made no difference.

She was still dead.

On the Eve of My Daughter’s Wedding

Five weeks ago, I was one of the most important people in her life. Now, a near stranger is the most important person in her life, and I’m barely a part of it.

It feels like death. It feels, inside, exactly the way it felt when my father died.

I know that, one month ago, she left, and she’s never coming back. She’ll go away and be part of someone else’s life, and we’ll see her now and then, but she’ll never really be back.

After all the years of stress and frustration and countless hours of worry and talk and tears, someone else gets to have the almost adult we created, and we get an empty hole.

It’s not fair and it hurts, and all anyone else sees is the angry whining selfish old man. Someone is taking one of my most precious possessions, and doesn’t even seem to care how I feel.

I’m scared and sad and lonely. I’m heart-broken over the projects we’ll never finish because she’ll go away and be part of someone else’s life instead of mine.

It’s not anger. It’s pain. That sound in my voice; the look on my face.

That’s my heart breaking.

bride

Tragedy, or Comedy? Knowing the Ending Makes All the Difference

Happy endings ahead on all fronts. This could have all become tragedy on various levels. You may know that comedy = tragedy + time. This means that the time you backed into the 100,000-gallon aquarium and flooded your new Cadillac can become a great story you tell over and over rather than something you never speak of again. In this case, all ended well, so feel free to laugh at my antics. Someone should.

pocket-change

6:55am

Awoke to my phone ringing. I charge it in the living room, so there’s no way I was going to get the call. Sue tried to catch it but it stopped ringing.

Her phone rang seconds later. It was my mom, sounding pretty sick. She’d tried to get a doctor’s appointment the day before because she could barely breathe, but they didn’t have anything until today.

She said “I’ll try again tomorrow, if I live through the night.” My mother is famous for her positive perspective.

This morning she couldn’t breathe so she called to see if someone could take her to the emergency room.

Continue reading “Tragedy, or Comedy? Knowing the Ending Makes All the Difference”

Shipwreck and Salvation

Consider this scenario:

Barton and 51 acquaintances share ownership and use of a gorgeous sailboat. One week a year, they each get to take this beautiful home with sails wherever they want to go. Sometimes a few of them join together and spend two weeks, three weeks, even a month out at sea.

One dark night when Barton is sailing, the boat starts to sink. He doesn’t know why. He does everything in his power to prevent it, but it’s beyond what he can do to keep it afloat. Reluctantly, he abandons ship and watches it go down. He survives unscathed, other than the deep-seated emotional trauma of his loss.

But that’s not the end of it.

shipwreck and salvation
Continue reading “Shipwreck and Salvation”