Writing Wednesday #2: Tell Me a Story

Novelists owe a lot to the bardic tradition, and in many societies (if not most) that tradition hasn’t died out.  We are storytellers by nature, almost from the time we’re old enough to speak.

With that in mind, today’s writing challenge is: tell a story from your past.  Long, short, funny, sad.  Tell it in the comments, on your blog (feel free to link) or to anyone who will listen.

Here’s mine:

When my son was three years old, I took him to the doctor for a checkup.  For a variety of reasons, mostly relating to my own shortsightedness, we ended up in the waiting room of a busy doctor’s office at 10am on a Saturday afternoon.

To call the place “packed” was an understatement akin to calling a saber-toothed tiger “cuddly.” Parents filled every full-sized seat and most of the molded plastic kids’ seats, too.  I squeezed myself into a chair that would have struggled to hold Anorexia Barbie and waited while my son joined the other toddlers fighting playing at the center of the room.

A few minutes later I looked up from my book to see my son standing before me.  “Mommy,” he asked, at a volume that carried clearly above the other voices in the room, “what does ‘virgin’ mean?”

I stared at my diminutive questioner, wondering when the Spanish Inquisition started hiring minors and realizing that I now had the attention of every other parent in the room.

“Excuse me?” I asked, hoping with all my heart that I had somehow heard the question wrong.

My son adjusted his volume to somewhere between a fire engine and a 747 preparing for takeoff.  “What does ‘virgin’ mean?”

“That’s an interesting word,” I replied, stalling for time.  “Where did you hear it?”  (Note: do not ever ask this question, no matter how good an idea it seems at the moment.)

“On television.”

The next question flew out before I could stop it.  “What program were you watching?”

“Not me.  Daddy was watching TV and I heard it.”

Wondering whether this could possibly get any worse, and fully expecting child protective services to materialize out of thin air and drag me away for questioning, I followed up with the one question I knew I really shouldn’t ask:  “What was Daddy watching?”

“It was a commercial,” my son replied.  Before I could react, he continued, “for Captain Crunch.  You get a CD in the cereal box, and it said it’s not a demo, it’s the full virgin game.

“Oh, you mean VERSION,” I replied, “The full version means you don’t get just one level, you get the whole game.  It’s all included on the CD.”

“Oh, okay,” my son said, turning away.

He returned to the tinkertoys as I huddled in my squeaky plastic chair, not quite believing how close I’d come to giving away far more information than the inquiry required.

The man beside me leaned over with a smile.  “Well played.”

Indeed.  To this day I can’t help thinking that a few less questions might have resulted in an entirely different virgin of the conversation.

12 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday #2: Tell Me a Story

  • September 22, 2010 at 9:28 am

    As cliché as this may sound it still rings true for quite a number of situations in life.

    “You don’t know what you have till it is gone!”

    There was a time in my past when I was a industrial carpenter. Industrial carpenter, you ask? IC’s generally spend most of their time pouring concrete and finishing large surface areas, such as ground floors of large plants. I say ground floor because the most memorable event in my life as an IC happened a wee bit higher than the ground floor.

    One cloudy February day while working on the eighth floor of a coal plant just outside of Kemmerer, Wyoming I avoided falling to my death by mere inches. Now that statement may seem overly dramatic, but I assure you at the time dramatic was an understatement to me. You see the crew I was on had just finished hauling out another section of a huge coal grinding machine. As the machine was just clearing the railing a guide line attached to the machine hung up on some steel decking.

    I was the last person to guide the machine off the side of the building and give the crane operator the all clear sign to bring the load down. That 1/2″ rope was now ready to become an emotionless predator. Having unhooked both lanyards we used for safety I had idiotically just put myself into a very rare but incredibly dangerous situation. Lets call it my own personal Black Swan event.

    As the crane operator lowered the machine down, that rope begin to tighten up and seek anything in its path to pin to the railing. I was now its primary target as I was vigilant enough to not keep track of the rope, nor my safety rigging. In roughly 2 seconds time I went from standing firmly on a eighth story cat walk, to holding on for dear life. The quickness of the event actually left me breathless. If there is one thing I remember with crystal clear vividness it was being out of breath.

    I owe my life to the friends I had up on that catwalk glancing back and rushing to haul me back to safety. Three days later I was on my way to California to start college. Rare events such as this can define our lives for years to come. As the years have gone by I think about that day less and less but every time I find myself out of breath there is a piece of me that remembers hanging 160 feet off the ground holding on for dear life.

    • September 22, 2010 at 9:42 am

      Yikes. Makes me glad I work with both feet on the ground, for sure. Thank you for sharing this one on the blog. Looking forward to seeing you a week from Sunday!

  • September 22, 2010 at 10:13 am

    You story is hilarious, Susan! Loved it.

    Side note question: how many hours must you have been up already that Saturday to call 10am “afternoon”? In my virgin, that would have been “morning” 🙂

    • September 22, 2010 at 10:24 am

      I was normally up about 5:30 because my son was a very early riser. Fortunately, now that he’s a teenager, 10am is the new 5:30. lol.

  • September 22, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Nice to read your response on Rachelle’s agent blog today. I believe you’re right. Even though writers crave a response from the submission void, the truth is, many of them would argue with the one that came to them, and that’s also probably why at least 80 percent of the sorry slush pile really is slush.

    • September 22, 2010 at 12:19 pm

      Definitely true, and thanks for the positive comment. I’ve “seen the elephant” of rejection – what writer hasn’t – but I’d rather have a sterile response that merely says “no thank you” than put even one agent through having to argue with someone who doesn’t understand or won’t accept a more detailed “no.” After all, that’s time the agent doesn’t have to read another query/partial/manuscript or get a client’s new work sold. In the long run, their time is better spent on positive things, even though it means the rest of the world has to accept a less detailed response.

  • September 22, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    My daughter’s text message: Please stop putting scrap paper in printer. I have your draft novel on reverse of my History homework. Teacher has just read all about 70 year old June going into Holland & Barrett to ask for Viagra. I texted back: Did your teacher like it?

    • September 23, 2010 at 8:35 am

      That’s hilarious. Never had a piece I’ve written go out quite that way, but it’s sure funny where things can end up!
      So…did the teacher like it?

  • September 23, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Running in the middle.

    I worked for a Chemical Refinery for 5 years. The first 2 years that I worked there we had this lovely French/Swiss man as our head of safety. Periodically he would have safety classes in which we learned many interesting facts, such as on some government lists coffee is listed as a carcinogen. It was in one of the last classes that he taught there before retiring that he imparted this bit of wisdom to us all.
    When you are running screaming for your life in a chemical spill be it epichlorohidrine or ammonia don’t be afraid to run in the middle of the pack. Sometimes the middle is the best place to be, because as you are running if the folks behind you start to drop you know to run faster and if the folks in front of you start dropping its time to turn the heck around.
    I have always kept that with me. Its always good to try to be the first out of the gate but sometimes it pays to hang back. You never know where the invisible cloud of death is coming from and keeping a weather eye out for that ill wind will save your life.

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  • September 27, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    It’s a really short story, somehow hilarious.
    We’re in June, it’s a particularly hot evening and I’m wearing a nice short black/little pink flowers dress. Just got out from the stylist and my long hair smells and looks nice. As I have to meet my husband at the other side of Paris, I take the subway and once at the right station, have to take the moving stairway in order to go out. It’s a long one.
    There’s a young man on the step, right behind me, and all of a sudden I hear *Hey, cutie? Are you free tonight?* I don’t move. Maybe he’s not talking to me?!
    Wrong choice. As he touches my shoulder he whispers a *Care for a drink?* that gets my skin crawling. I’m turning to look at him, so my body turns with me. You can’t see it from the back, but I’m 6 months pregnant and my tummy is HUGE.
    I will NEVER forget the puzzled/horrified look on his face. I point to my belly and tells him *I’m not sure HE would appreciate the drink, but thanks*. The stairway’s finally over, thanks God and I go away as quick as I can.
    I’m still laughing…

    • September 27, 2010 at 1:14 pm

      Great story. I especially love the reversal at the end. Great way to diffuse the situation too!

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