Monday, May 28, 2018

Narrative Point of View: Staying in Your Lane



When my daughter-in-law first moved here from China, among the first things she wanted was to get her driver’s license. She had never driven a car; she had never even been in the front seat of one.
I told her learning to drive looks differently depending on where you are seated inside the car. To prove my point, I gave her a quick driving lesson.
First, I verbalized all the steps I took, both physically and mentally, as I cruised around our three-acre property.
Next, we changed places and I walked her through all the same steps while she drove in between the house and the other four buildings on our place.  I helped her ease around corners, made her stop, start, reverse, and change direction and course.  The last trip around, I told her to drive the car and I would not say a word until I told her to stop.  
As the final step, I asked her to sit in the back seat while I drove into town on an errand. It was too soon to let her do anything but observe, but I hoped she was more aware of what it took to drive.  I wanted her to examine her perspective and see how it had changed.  
What does this have to do with narrative point of view? 
Everything.
In second person narrative, “you” are the instructor.  You give the directions and make comments. Opinions are thrown in extra at no cost. Though the driver is the central person in the car, the driver’s vision is limited, while the passenger is better able to both listen to the instructions and look about and see what is happening both inside and outside the car.  The driver decides the course but the person addressed as “you” sees how the instruction and the narrative come together.     
In first person narrative, “I” is the driver. The responsibility shifts onto “I’s” shoulders. The narrator relates the driving experience through what is seen, handled, smelled, or heard. “I” reacts when he/she goes through a red light or experiences a skid. Driving a car may be second nature to many of us now, but remember how it felt the first time we took off in Mom’s car?
In third person narrative, the narrator’s viewpoint shifts to that of the passenger. The narrator is there to observe and recount what the others are doing as they travel down the road.  If seated in the front seat, the narrative is expressed through more action and less telling because “his or her” actions are up close and tangible. If seated in the back seat, the scope widens with the distance. The narrator is able to observe everyone inside the car, along with some of what is happening outside. As more passengers come along for the ride, each one adds their own voice, personality, and quirks. Everyone will have an opinion on the speed limit, when to stop for lunch, and who gets to sit by the window the next time we all climb back into the car.   
On your next trip through a novel, whether as a reader or as a writer, keep an eye on the narrative point of view.  Where are you seated?  Who gets to call the shots? Is everyone staying in their own lane?  

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Passionate Pseudologist



When I was eleven, my teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I pondered that question with all earnestness and narrowed my options down to three:  doctor, writer, teacher.
She suggested I might want to narrow my choices further for the sake of the essay we were going to write, so I asked her for advice.  She said one should choose with passion; one should look forward to going to work every day.
I nixed “doctor” when she asked me how I felt about cutting people open, the sight of blood, and caring for the sick and dying. That was eye-opening and I quickly switched my essay topic to something less “passionate” - teacher, and years later, saw that become a reality.
Fast forward thirty-seven years, and I retired from a career where I was required to work twelve to fifteen-hour days, seven days a week. I spent my “vacation” time taking classes, compiling research, and writing curriculum units without pay. Only those close to me witnessed the hours I dedicated during my time off or the amount of my own money I invested fortifying classrooms with the necessary supplies and books we needed.  
If it sounds like grousing, it isn’t. I loved that career.  I was passionate about it and looked forward to going to work every day until I retired. A career well done takes time, effort, money, determination, dedication.
I am pursuing a second career now, an encore to the life I had before.  To pursue a career in writing takes all of the above plus more.  I am passionate about it.  I cannot go a day without writing something.  Pencils and pens lie in every room.  Stacks of papers cover tables and bed stands. Ideas surface at the oddest times and places, and I gleefully annoy everyone around me with my latest inspirations.
My sixth-grade teacher would be proud of me today.  I am still taking her advice.   

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Mother’s Day Without My Mother



This was the first Mother’s Day without my mother.  I tripped when I wandered by mistake into the grocery aisle with all the cards, the candy, the flowers, but I soldiered on and browsed at all the pretty things, knowing some other Mommy would be enjoying all those little trinkets.
I always bought childish cards for my mom though I haven’t been one in a long, long time.  She would get a kick out of my nonsense.  She would giggle and show it off over and over. “Aye, que muchacha.”
These last few years I stopped buying her presents and enclosed money, cold hard cash, into her envelope.  We never said it out loud, but we both knew she wouldn’t live to see things wear out, so why not spend it NOW, since she couldn’t take it with her?  I also learned my lesson the year I spent hours and hours (and a big chunk of change) selecting a present only to find it on her sales table at a garage sale two months later. We laughed about that and her audacity at trying to sell it back to me “for a price.” “Te lo doy barato.”
I loved my mom.  I miss her, but I do not wish her back. She is where she needs to be, and I am here.  She is at rest and enjoying glory.  
My loss does not keep me from celebrating Mother’s Day. Almost every woman I know has been a mom or a parent or a caregiver at some point in their lives, so why not enjoy the day, besides I don’t really believe in waiting to tell folks how much we love them on only one designated day of the year.
You see, my mom and I did it right.  We fought with each other, yet afterwards, we asked each other’s forgiveness and made up. There were times we hurt or disappointed each other, but yet again, we asked for forgiveness and made up. She wasn’t perfect and neither am I, but she was my mother, my strongest ally, my truest friend.
On the day before she passed away, she asked us to honor her DNR. She also asked us to celebrate her life, so we made sure to do what she asked.  “Gracias, hija.”
The day she died was our last Mother’s Day. She was a strong woman and taught us to be strong, so we said our goodbyes like the grown women we are.

Monday, May 7, 2018

White Carnations



          When I was a child, I remember the men’s society at our church would sell carnations before and after Mass on Mother’s Day weekend. My dad, always the gentleman, would buy a carnation corsage for my mother and another for my grandmother (his mother-in-law), and they would in turn buy him a carnation boutonniere. They would fuss and giggle as they pinned them on each other.
          I always asked for a carnation, either a tiny corsage with a sprig of baby’s breath or a long-stemmed beauty, but my mother would scold me that they “were for grownups only” and hurried us into the church for Mass.
          One year, as we walked out of the last service for the day, the men’s society announced that a few flowers hadn’t sold and were free to anyone who wanted one. I ran to claim a freebie before my mother could hold me back.  While others chose a corsage or boutonniere, I plucked a lonely, long stemmed carnation that sat by itself in a bucket filled with water. I would have preferred a red beauty but I was happy with my white carnation.
          As I walked back to my parents, I noticed that my flower had tiny red speckles on the edges of the petals.  This may have been why it hadn’t sold.
My grandmother said that wearing a red carnation on Mother’s Day meant you honored a mother who was still living and a white carnation meant you remembered a mother who had passed away. To help me remember, she said mothers in heaven wore angelic white gowns, and that was why she and my dad wore white flowers and my mother’s was red.
My mother scolded me for taking off without permission and – horrors! - for choosing a white carnation. I should have gotten a red one. I defended my choice, saying it looked abandoned in the bucket by itself.  I wanted it for all the mommies who didn’t have someone who remembered them that day.  I was allowed to keep it but not without a scowl.
This Mother’s Day, I am going to buy bunches of white carnations.  They will probably be the least expensive because everyone will fight over the reds or the most colorful.  I am going to trek out to the cemetery where we buried my dear grandmother, then my handsome dad, and just a few months ago, my formidable mom. I want them to look down from heaven and know I haven’t forgotten them. 
I am going to cover their lonely graves with white carnations.