Writers’ Trigger: I’m reading Anne Tyler, the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Breathing Lessons. She has written many books – not one second-rate. At present, I’m reading Celestial Navigation. I had never heard of this title (one of her early ones, 1974), but her name alone made me choose it. And I am not disappointed. Tyler is the master of characterization. She reveals her characters through specific details; the characters reveal themselves by what they say and how they respond to what others say.
Two sisters come home for their mother’s funeral. Note the number of details that set this story in time. Amanda, the eldest sister, is the narrator. What does her tone reveal about her?
“We had to sit shivering on our suitcases with our feet tucked under us and plastic rainscarves over our hats. [… ] I had been ill for two weeks before this, just barely managing to continue with my classes, as I distrust substitute teachers. I shouldn’t have been out at all. Now Laura looked as though she were coming down with something. Folding and refolding a flowered handkerchief, blowing into it and then wiping the tip of her nose. She wore her maroon knit, which was supposed to slim her some but didn’t. Bulges showed in the gape of her coat. I was in my good black wool with the rhinestone buttons, and my squirrel collar coat and my gray bird-wing hat that exactly matches my hair. But I might as well not have bothered. The plastic scarf and the Rain Dears spoiled the effect.”
You would have to be a person of a certain age to know that “Rain Dears” were plastic overshoes worn to protect your shoes on a rainy day. Rainscarves, flowered handkerchiefs, knits, a good black wool, rhinestone buttons, the squirrel collar, a hat, and the Rain Dears all ground this story in time.
- Choose a time/date with which you are familiar. Without giving the decade or the date, write a scene in which you incorporate as many date-related details as you can. Let your reader connect the dots and discover the date for himself.
- If you have more time, choose a time/date with which you are not familiar. Choose a date… any date. 1397 perhaps? Doing so will call for research, but if you are like me, doing the research is the best part. Start with www.timelines.com and go from there.
“Ageism” usually refers to the younger generation dismissing the older generation. But I find the reverse to be true as well. I often hear people complaining that their doctor or dentist is young enough to be one of their kids! I find myself doing this. I am particularly annoyed when some young whippersnapper, barely dry behind the ears writes a well-received first novel. Or, worse yet, (given that one novel might be just a fluke) when a younger person has written a string of well-received novels.
And so when I learn that Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was born in 1950, I’m a bit put out. Yes, he looks old, but he is seven years younger than I am!
As for the Archbishop himself, I’m in the process of giving him a second chance. In 2003 when Rowan Williams first appointed Dr. Jeffrey John, a celibate homosexual, as Bishop of Reading, I was elated. I had heard Jeffrey John preach several times at Southwark Cathedral, and I was totally impressed.
I was uplifted by the Archbishop’s brave appointment- one that was bound to be controversial. However, I was disappointed when the “shit hit the fan,” and Rowan Williams withdrew Jeffrey John’s appointment to appease the outraged conservatives and the African Anglicans (more numerous than all the other Anglicans combined) who vowed to split from the Communion if the consecration went ahead.
It seemed to me that the Archbishop failed to have the courage of his convictions. But recently, having been bashed about myself, I’ve become a bit more forgiving of anyone being bloodied to a pulp in the political arena.
I particularly liked Ginny Dougary’s piece on Rowan Williams in The Times Magazine, 25 Sept. ’10. When questioned by Dougary as to his betrayal of Jeffrey John and the homosexual community, Williams spoke to the difficulty of being true to himself and holding the job of Archbishop.
“I think if I were to say my job was not to be true to myself that might suggest that my job required me to be dishonest and if that were the case, then I’d be really worried. Put it this way, it means that I’m not elected on a manifesto to further this agenda or that; I have to be someone who holds the reins for the whole debate. Tries to keep people at the table and to do that not just because it’s nicer to have people together than otherwise, but because there’s a real religious, spiritual dimension, saying ‘Unity matters to all of us; we actually need each other, however much we dislike each other.'”
Yes, I get that. I forgive him as I am sure Jeffery Johns has. What I did not know was that Rowan Williams is a poet. Consider just the first four lines of “Sin” translated from the Welsh by D. Gwenallt Jones:
“Take off the business suit, the old-school tie, / The gown, the cap, drop the reviews, awards, / Certificates, stand naked in your sty, / A little carnivore, clothed in dried turds…”
I’m not too keen on his choice of title and I’m not sure about his line-breaks, but the content is in-the-gut/heart visceral . How can you not love this man?