Monthly Archives: September 2013

Writing, reading, and thinking about ‘Unfinished’ Stories…

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Here is a mountain steeped in legend—centuries ago, it is whispered, ferocious dragons lived there. To this mountain come two friends and one of them decides to explore the mysterious mountains. By accident he stumbles into a deep hole, and while he is desperately trying to climb out he turns around and sees a pair of crimson eyes glowing in the dark watching him…

And that is the end of  “DragonMountain”* which I wrote some time ago. This unfinished story leaves the ending to the reader’s imagination. Would the eyes that glowed so fiercely in the dark belong to a real dragon? A cougar? A mutant bat? Oh, the frustration of not knowing, but oh, the joy of being able to write and ending to the yarn!

Haven’t you ever wished you could change how a story ended? I have, many times. If only the hero had some brains! I have often muttered to myself. Or—oh, for pity’s sake! Can’t they see what’s going on? So there really seems to be a place for the Unfinished Story.

It’s no original concept, either. Remember “The Lady And The Tiger,” the tale of a proud princess in love with a handsome man who has been sentenced to an unusual fate? In that story he is fated to walk into an arena and confront two doors. Behind one is a beautiful maiden whom he will immediately marry; behind the other paces a snarling tiger who hasn’t eaten for a week! Before he opens the door he looks up at the princess who nods to the left. And he opens the door…

But, we say, the princess loves the man. She won’t let him get eaten by a tiger! Still, she is proud, used to get her own way, and does she really want to see the love of her life joyously embracing another woman? So… which door?

We will never know. There are other stories, too, like the “The Golden Key” written by those brothers Grimm. In it a poor boy finds a chest and takes it home imagining all sorts of riches that might be found within it. Then he opens it and…? and…? but again, we are left hanging. The purpose, I have read, is to show that there can be no final word to folktales.

There are several examples of these incomplete works of fiction, and adding to the list by writing one’s own open-ended yarn is actually fun. One gets to pick a hero, concoct a gripping conflict, set up a soul-shattering climax and then walk away chuckling. No need for us to figure out how the poor main character gets out of his or her mess . No need to worry about piecing together loose ends! But… and of course there is always a ‘but’… there has to be a plausible conclusion to even the most maddening of unfinished stories. Otherwise nobody would bother reading it.

Even when a story or a book is finished, there is very often a question mark at the end. What happens next? We ask ourselves when we close the book and stare into space. Gone With The Wind has such an ending. So does M.M. Kaye’s Far Pavilions—a book that I loved and never wanted to see end. And, yes, I have written the next chapter of that novel in my mind, shading, altering, watching the beloved characters move into another epoch in their lives.

As for “DragonMountain,” my grand daughter has already come up with an ending. “The eyes belong to a friendly dragon,” she has decided. “It carries him to the surface, and he’s fine.”

But there are a hundred ways to finish an Unfinished Story, and I’m told that many such are coming in…

 

When the tale ended

We sat by the fire and dreamed

Of what could have been.

 

     * you can read DRAGON MOUNTAIN  at http://bookzone.boyslife.org/you-be-the-writer-contest/

The Dragon and the Frog

     

 

A simple, true story about diamond ear rings…

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“Do you really think she will like them?” he worried.

Nestled in the little box were a pair of ear rings set with little diamonds— the total weight probably not a quarter of a carat. A week’s salary had gone into the purchase of the ear-rings, a hard but honest week’s labor.

They are beautiful, he was told. She will love them.

But still he fretted. “Maybe she won’t like them.”

He had bought his gift for his wife’s birthday. He said that he had shopped carefully and finally settled on these ear rings because that was all he could afford. When the heart is full of love, it is hard to settle for something that is perceived as less than perfect. When the world’s gaze rests on the finest gems, the largest houses, the most expensive cars, a pair of ear rings might seem a poor way to express that love.

“What will I do if she doesn’t like them?” he agonized, and nothing that could be said would put his mind at rest.

His wife liked diamonds. He suspected this though she never came out and said it. Perhaps her friends had bigger, more expensive gems. Perhaps, secretly, she envied them. “She deserves a lot more,” he muttered as he closed the box.

Nothing that was said could take away his worry and the worry was contagious and slid into the days that passed because almost everyone has had that thought and that worry sometime and has wondered: is my gift good enough? Will it be pleasing? Is what I do really enough or am I lacking somehow? But when the birthday date had come and gone, there he was again and the question had to be asked—had his wife liked the diamond ear rings?

“She loved them!” He almost shouted the words. “She screamed when she saw them and then she called her mother and her brother and her friends… and anyone else she could think of. She wears them every day—she won’t take them off!”

His smile was incandescent, and if his heart had suddenly become transparent, it would undoubtedly have glowed with that special light reserved for the truly joyful.

So the question is, who is the more fortunate– the wife who thought that those small diamonds were worth the world because she loved her husband or the man who would, if he could,  have handed his wife that world along with the moon and the stars?

But perhaps we know the answer already.

To the fortunate

The dewdrops on that flower

Are like diamonds.

 "moonsilver"

 

 

 

On The Road… And It’s 9/11

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I tend to lose all sense of time when away from home, and so it was during our trip to Boston this last week. With old friends to visit, news and experiences to share and memories in which to revel, all tomorrows and yesterdays seemed to merge into one delightful now.

Sadly all things come to an end and so this morning, filled with happy thoughts, we are taking to the road again and traveling 95 South toward home. I have always enjoyed a long drive, and today I’m feeling relaxed and entertained by all the billboards that loom over the highway.

Some are contradictory. One huge billboard expostulates: “Don’t bank and drive!” while one some distance away suggests: “Banking on the go?” and proffers a convenient AP. Other billboards offer self-improvement—of sorts. “Keep the beach beautiful,” crows one that sports a lady in a bikini and an ad for cosmetic surgery. Another hints, “Keep the love, lose the handles,” and advertises something called body sculpting—whatever that may be.

Mike and I begin to look for clever or amusing billboards. One says that it is a Monogamous Billboard but offers no explanation. Is it lonely? Does it require dating services? But here is another that might help. “Big, strong billboard seeks advertiser—ready to communicate.” Now, there’s an offer no billboard can refuse!

Here’s one that asks, “What do you love?” another that suggests alternate therapies for dogs, a third that sports George Washington in sunglasses and declares: “It’s not your father’s Valley Forge.” Finally, here comes one that simply says, “Be brave!”

I am mouthing these rather cryptic words when we see a large American flag flying at half mast. “Oh,” Mike exclaims, suddenly somber. “Of course. It’s 9/11.”

We look at each other. How could we have forgotten? The sun suddenly seems less bright, and the fun of travel and the road slips away into terrible memories. I switch on the radio and hear that in Pennsylvania people are commemorating the heroes of Flight 93. Tremulous voices in New York pronounce the names of those who died when the TwinTowers fell.

Now, we travel in a hush of remembrance. We both recall where we were on that day, twelve years ago, and we tell each other, softly, how we felt. We recount our sense of disbelief and unbearable loss. I brush away tears and feel a heaviness that is almost despair. In a world where such terrible things happen—where awful things are happening this moment, how can anyone be truly happy?

Suddenly, there is a roaring sound nearby, and a motorcycle passes.  There’s a second one—and then another thunders by. “It’s a convoy,” Mike says, and here they come—one after another, motorcycles with flags attached. A rider waves at us, smiling cheerfully, and I wave back. “They must be going to a rally—maybe a parade commemorating 9/11. In Washington, maybe, or Virginia,” Mike says.

There are at least a hundred riders. One biker rides ahead of the others—perhaps he’s the leader, for his large flag has unfurled and stars and stripes ripple in the wind. He rides with head held high and so do the others and watching them I feel an uprush of spirit. And I think—this is a reminder that though we grieve for what was destroyed and who was lost, the spirit of our country and its people remains strong. It is a reminder that all of us must ride ahead, bravely and with hope, into whatever winds may come.

That terrible day

I sat on the warm back steps

Holding grand daughter

012.

A Certain Smile… maybe

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If you think celebrities have a hard time dealing with fans and paparazzi, think of poor Mona Lisa. She has been analyzed, studied, featured in song and worked into novels. Her smile has been considered innocent and sweet or—if Nat King Cole is to be believed—a way to hide a broken heart. There’s even talk that Lisa isn’t Lisa at all.

It’s true! Lisa Gherardini,  second wife of a well to do Florentine silk merchant, sat for a portrait by Leonardo da Vinci somewhere between  1503 and 1506 ACE.  So much is fact. But scientists like Silvano Vinceti feel that Da Vinci only used some of her features when he painted his portrait. The famous smile was added later, Vinceti believes, and was probably modeled after Gian Giacomo Caprotti, the maestro’s assistant. Why? Because Lisa was—according to Viceti’s theory—a dark and depressed person and definitely not the lady with the elusive smile.

Researchers from the University of Amsterdam have actually put poor Mona through an ‘emotion recognition’ computer software test in collaboration. They decided (electronically) that her smile was 83% happy, 9% disgusted, 6% fearful, 2% angry, and 0% surprised. Actually, I disagree. I am sure that the lady would have been really surprised at all the fuss about her smile.

Other scientists—and there are quite a few—maintain that Mona Lisa’s smile changes according to the way in which cells in our retinas pick up images transmit them to the brain. Dr. Martinex Otero, a neuroscientist in Spain, suggests that because of this, sometimes one sees the smile—sometimes not. According to his research, the smile is more visible if the viewer stands close to the painting. Then, there are the two scientists of the Smith-Kettlewell Institute  who feel that the smile changes because of shifting levels of noise in the human visual system. And Dina Goldin, Adjunct Professor at Brown, argues that the smile lies in the dynamic juxtaposition of Mona Lisa’s facial muscles.

Enough, already! Why, I asked myself, does there have to be all this fuss about a smile? Ah, but the latest studies have shown that smiling can change our brain.  Our brains, clever things that they are, keep track of our smiles and figures out what emotional state we are likely to be in. Smiling, apparently, reduces stress and acts almost like a good night’s sleep. So next time we are awakened at 4:00 AM and our eyes stay wide open, we need only to smile and all will be well.

If smiling is so good for us, I wondered, how often do we smile during a day? There’s a study for that, too. Children apparently smile about 400 times during a 24 hour period. Happy adults indulge in smiling 40 to 50 times with the average coming in at about 20 times. Women, apparently, smile more than men—not that they are happier but because society expects women to smile more. Keen observers that we women are, studies show, (of course there are studies for this, too!) we are far more able to see through a fake smile.

So smiling is a good thing. But wait, wait— there is confusion here. Japanese may smile when angry, confused or shy. Smiles can cover embarrassment in parts of Asia. And in some countries people don’t smile at everyone but just reserve them for friends.

As Mona Lisa can tell you, a smile is no simple thing. Still, as George Eliot remarked, it’s really the only option. “Wear a smile,” she advised, “and have friends; scowl and have wrinkles.”

Wearing a bright smile

Is better than wearing gems

And so much cheaper.

"Lorelei"

“Lorelei”