Monday, March 5, 2012

MMWUC: Are you in Writing School

As we mature, people tend to surround themselves with mirror images. Career, family, school, our social media trends, and outside activities create a homogenous lifestyle. As a writer that's both instructive and deadly. Instructive, if we keep our senses attuned like John Updike, in understanding at a deeper level what is happening around us, capturing nuances and subtleties that others outside our circle might miss. It is also deadly in that our world gets isolated and the process of like-think begins. People with similar values, beliefs, and actions glued together. For a writer, like-think is deadly. No matter what lifestyle we live in, we are a minority and slowly lose our sense of other lifestyles. Save us Chuck Palahniuk.

I'm too old, settled, and not brave enough to live life on the edge--sleeping under railroad bridges, drinking myself into a stupor, or bitch-slapping some puny guy I picked up in a bar only realize that she's a he and only after the $20 bill in my wallet. That's why I go to Writing School.

I watch Maury Povich, COPS, Judge Judy, and sadly, Jerry Springer, when doing brain-idling chores like folding laundry, cleaning, or cutting caramel wrappers. "Who are these people, Maury?" You may prove whether or not he's the father, but the children of these louts don't stand a chance based on the sad overall behavior they put on for 10 million viewers for a few guest bucks. COPS is instructive for both the idealized cop and the irrationality of the criminal mind. "I don't have no dope," says the guy with a joint tucked behind his ear. Maybe the double negative gave him away. "You’re an idiot," screams Judge Judy to someone who thought that wrecking a car got them out of paying for their loan. And still believes it! And Springer proves that just when you thought life couldn't be more weird, out pops the mom who abandoned you to an alcoholic father, and she's now a transsexual who's there to tell you that your wife is really your sister with whom your mom's been having an affair.

It's Writing School. Exposure to characters I have a hard time dreaming up. But now I know they are real and necessary if my books want to dip a toe into some realities that my like-think readers might not have been exposed to and might feel a bit uncomfortable being around. Where is your personal Writing School.

1 comment:

Rick Bylina said...

Apparently my blog is not being nice today for comments. This is from Shelia Rudesil - Twitter: @Flash_OBlue .
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My writing school is my forty-five year career as a nurse. Most of my stories are written about people with unreasonable hardships—the people who survived horrendous odds. I have a library of facts that begins in a Jewish nursing school on Miami Beach. An elderly mama yenta reigned as house mother in our dorm. Tuition included free lunches in the kosher cafeteria where I was introduced to matzah ball soup, latkes, blintzes, and learned the difference between water and egg bagels. On Purim the patient trays were decorated with tiny plastic wine glasses with strips of shiny purple cellophane flowing from them. It was my first look at a culture different from my own. (I later worked in a NICU in Saudi Arabia.) The first death I witnessed was a young mother with three children and a handsome husband. I’d been jealous of her. It took quite a while to be able to look at myself in the mirror after her death. I learned about misconceptions and strength of character.

Most of my career took place in pediatric wards, then Pediatric Intensive Care, and finally Neonatal ICU. I kept moving on because of grief. I left pediatrics due to the high death rate caused by horrible diseases like cystic fibrosis, leukemia, brain and bone cancer as well as life threatening congenital anomalies. I learned something from every child, every family, every sibling and every grandparent. The sick kids were the heroes. Every family dealt with the illness of their child differently and I was constantly amazed.

Things didn’t get much better in PICU. During those years I experienced every form of child abuse and neglect, dysfunctional families, and even mothers who murdered their own children. The majority of the patients in PICU suffered some form of abuse.

Perhaps my greatest classroom was the NICU. I learned about AIDS, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, corrupt or maybe stupid or naive social workers, arrogant physicians, corrupt CEOs, misplaced loyalties, liars, back-stabbers. I met a male soldiers who sat by his preemie’s bed and crocheted blankets for all the babies in the pod. I watched strong men cry. I watched friendships develop between parents and nurses and doctors. The information I gathered taught me about life at it’s core.

Since I retired, I find storylines in reality TV: Sixteen and Pregnant, Teen Moms, Deliver Me, Four Weddings, and Say Yes to the Dress.

Finally, I listen when friends tell me how they met. I watch how my friends act and react to all kinds of circumstances. I have a tee-shirt that reads, “Be careful what you say, you might end up in my next novel.”