This past week I participated in a writer's workshop at nearby Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was an incredible learning experience and I highly recommend it! It's called "Focusing on Form Workshop for Women Writers." You can check it out at: http://www.meredith.edu/english/community-programs.htm. Contact Ashley Hogan if you wish to attend it next summer. My teacher was Carol Henderson. http://carolhenderson.com She is a phenomenal teacher, leader, and skilled yet gentle miner of all the significant (or not) experiences of life. Our class of twelve women wrote lots of stories from all angles of life... and this week's book-of-the-week, Dwight and Ruby, is a small piece I wrote as a response to one of her prompts. By the way, Carol and her husband Bill will be teaching a writing workshop titled the "The Powerful Narrative" at Wildacres Retreat Center in the North Carolina mountains September 16-20, 2013. Consider it, if you have the chance..it'll be a wonderful opportunity to learn from Carol's outstanding writing tutelage.
This is the story of Dwight and Ruby, two siblings who are describing each other...
|The cover: a sort of family album...|
|...Turn to the title page: Dwight and Ruby|
|...the beginning of Dwight's chapter|
He was my hero. I was five and he was my big brother- a teenager- in the late ’50’s when teenagers ruled. He had his own car... a two-toned turquoise and white ’54 Dodge that he named Ethel - (that was our grandmother’s name)... He was popular. He had a gaggle of girlfriends... Betsy and Bunny, Sandra and Sharon... They were all debutantes and now are married to lawyers. And he had guy friends too... Richard and Jim and Terry. They were quiet and brainy. They each revolved around him like spokes on a bike wheel. We all did.
He was good at making you feel like you were part of something important... living the good life...just by hanging out with him. I guess you’d call it charisma. He didn’t really ask anything of you... just to be part of his world. Just go along with him and enjoy the ride. Looking back at it, it felt like he was on quest to experience life... the archetypal hero... and everything would always turn out OK. He seemed so strong. So afraid of nothing... willing to risk anything to win the gold ring. We all saw that in him. What made him feel that way? I always wondered what happened to make him so different from the rest of us.
He wasn’t any Adonis. He was only 5 foot 6 ...and he tended to be a bit chubby. He loved to eat. I think it was all part of how he embraced life. Anything that made him feel good... he was all for it! He loved food and he’d rave about a great restaurant he’d eaten at, or some beer he’d tasted. His senses must have been really sharp... or maybe he just found the good in things so easily. Maybe that’s why we all wanted to be around him so much. He was a winner. Years later... when I was visiting him and his third wife in Taipei, I asked him how he had done it. He said, “The trick is not caring.”
|Background of the '54 Dodge...|
Since the writing exercise dealt with point-of-view, in Chapter 2 Dwight tells us how he sees his little sister, Ruby.
She was the center of our family. We all revolved around her. At two-years old she had us wrapped around her little finger. She was so smart. But I worried about her because Momma and Dad just didn’t seem to get it. They didn’t tell her when to take a bath, or brush her teeth. Her table manners were awful. She was becoming a brat.
Ruby was good at getting what she wanted. She’d look up at you with those intense brown eyes - focused like lasers and demand whatever she wanted. She reminded me of a little water spout... one of those tiny tornados that spontaneously pop up out of the ocean. I called her Squirt. She hated that.
She was tiny... about half the size of the other girls her age.. and skinny...and pretty. She wore hand-me-downs from her friends for several years after they outgrew them. Years later she drove our mother crazy with her insistence on name-brand clothes. I wish that she could have believed in herself, because her power was inside- not in how she dressed.
A few years ago... after I’d been living in Taiwan for 10 years, and she'd come over for a visit... I explained the role of the Chinese matriarch... that singular female entity in every family that rules the whole group. Without outward power or trappings, the matriarch is responsible for every decision the family makes. They all revolve around her. She sees all, knows all, and holds all the power of the family. That’s my little sister, Ruby. I tried to tell her that. But she didn’t believe me.
|Background of tiny pink roses...|
And that's how this little exercise on character ends. In every family there are parts played over and over, and no doubt this has good as well as negative results. Yet, sometimes the roles become reversed and time changes the patterns started in childhood. ...I'm not sure how Dwight and Ruby end up... I like to think they eventually learn their own strengths and are fulfilled and happy.
|Cut-out paper dolls from an old Reader's Digest|
How rich our families are as a source for writing! ... and remembering.... Just looking at old photographs collected in a dusty box pulls up memories and visions we thought were long lost. Some pictures are posed and stilted.. those special celebratory events... and some pictures are casual shots of daily life. Yet, after years goes by and now becomes then, the stories behind the camera view-finder seem to bleed through. Fictional or set in truth, there is always a fascinating pull to these family stories.
|The last page, family photos...|