Ain’t No River Wide Enough

“Choose a topic you’re interested in, something you’re willing to talk about on a regular basis.” Such is the advice routinely offered to people considering starting a blog – especially writers who want to get themselves and their ideas and their books – “out there” to be read. Simple advice, and totally useless to me, as my interests run wide more than deep. They are the Mississippi, not the Grand Canyon.

For nearly three years I wrote a weekly commentary column in a local paper, so I know I can keep to a regular posting schedule on a blog. Sitting in a workshop session at the recent New Mexico Book Fiesta held in Albuquerque, I suddenly realized that if I think of a blog as simply an updated, online weekly newspaper column, I know how to do that!

I’ve taught workshops on improving communication skills that include two exercises which are the inverse of one another. The first is “Making the Familiar Strange” – i.e. describing something with which one is intimately familiar in a manner that suggests one is seeing/experiencing it for the first time. Doing so helps the participant to appreciate how much in communication is taken for granted, and how easily therefore, it is possible for misunderstandings to arise.

The second, inverse activity is “Making the Strange Familiar”. That is what I accomplished when I was able to equate a blog (web log, web-related, still part of a relatively new world to this older person) to an opinion or commentary column. Suddenly the project transformed from daunting to fun and familiar. And here we are, with the first posting to 1eclecticwriter. I vividly recall a similar transformational insight, which occurred during a Southwest Writer’s monthly meeting, where the speaker used the phrase “character-driven plot.” I had, up to that point, published a host of articles and essays, but was stymied when I tried to ‘tell a story’ – i.e. generate fiction. I’m the opposite of a raconteur, quiet rather than voluble in groups. But I know characters! Boy do I know a host of characters – and once I recognized that I could be their ‘voice’, they began clamoring for me to tell their stories. Some pretty dark stories, so dark that I had to ask myself, “where in the world did that come from?” Because, yes, I’ve had some difficult times, and yes I’ve devoted time and energy to working toward understanding my own mind and emotions, and never did I come across anything THAT twisted!

I talked with Annam Manthiram at the NM Book Fiesta about these dysfunctional characters and how they take over and demand that I write what they want told. She laughingly acknowledged having the same sensation as she produced the stories collected in her recent book Dysfunction:[Stories]. What I didn’t get to ask her, but will try to going forward, is the same question a good friend recently asked me – why are there so comparatively few stories about good, happy, fulfilled people? I replied to my friend that, for me at least, it’s hard to write a good, happy, fulfilled character who doesn’t come across to the reader as insipid, or a goody-two-shoes. Stories require tension, conflict, something to move the characters to action and in search of a resolution – and a good, happy, fulfilled characters are the opposite of tense.

But there’s more. The unenviable human characteristics of envy, jealousy and mistrust seem to come into play quickly whenever a really good person is under consideration. “No one can really be that perfect,” is how the doubting may begin. I remember that there was carping about Mother Teresa’s interpersonal qualities with the sisters she supervised – along the lines that yes, she did good works but she was not an easy person to work with. Good, happy, fulfilled characters are apt to not be believed by the reader, and their stories will thereby not hold interest.

Sad, that fact… but proven true with every failed ‘good news’ paper or magazine. Even proven true in the difference in number of lines of print, and length of aired story about the rescuer of the three kidnapped girls in Cleveland, versus the number of lines of print and length of aired stories about their abductor. We think we know and understand and don’t need to hear more about goodness; we are fascinated by its opposite.

So what do good and evil have to do with being a renaissance writer, or offering a home to other eclectics? Being ‘focused’ is considered good. Having in-depth knowledge is considered good, while its opposite, being “a jack/jill of all trades” condemns one to being thought “a master of none.” I’m not even supposed to be able to blog until I select a topic! Well I’m selecting the topic of eclecticism – of interest in many different things – whether to the mastery level or not remains to be determined.

I hope you’ll join me, exploring the huge diversity of human nature, animal awareness, plant communication – you name it, we can reflect on and communicate about it. I’m working on a (fantasy? really?) story about animals attempting to communicate with humans regarding the challenges facing our environment. And a story about a man with multiple personality/dissociative disorder (the shrinks can’t agree on what to call the phenomenon, although those living with the problem are very clear about it). And an historical suspense novel set in Vietnam in the mid-1950s. And a short love story for Woman’s World. And… and… and. Eclectic. The Mississippi, in all its broad a sweeping variety. Join me!

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One Response to “Ain’t No River Wide Enough”

  1. Sharon Vander Meer Says:

    Very nice, Niki! Good luck, and I like the idea you are using an eclectic approach. You know so much about a variety of subjects, and are able to communicate it well.

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