The Liturgy of the Word

Originally published in Headwaters 2011, the UNCA Creative Arts Magazine.

When I was a child, we attended mass every Sunday, arriving early so that my mother could prepare for the scripture readings. Always as we entered, the colors and smells of the church would overwhelm me: the white altar, the golden tabernacle, the heady odor of incense and of the wine that I was not yet allowed to take—more than a metaphor, the real blood of Christ. But then we would sit and my legs would itch, and I would wonder why anyone ever bothered with church.

My father cared little for the faith. He was there because my mother was there. He only listened when she read. Her strong voice, shaped and accented with the dark tints of her native tongue, would rise to fill the nave, and while I was too young to understand the meaning of the verses in full, this was the voice that had read me bedtime stories, and it soothed me.

I left the faith when I was sixteen. It ended when my religion teacher made a comment about homosexuality—about how their love was less pure: that it was not what god intended. I asked him how he could possibly know exactly what god intended. When he couldn’t answer, I politely told him I would not be taking my Confirmation and walked out of the classroom.

Mother shook her head when I told her. I wish you could see what I see. Then she pulled me into a hug and told me that it didn’t matter. So long as I believed in something—the sky, the stars, the possibility of good—she would be proud.

I was twenty three when we found her unconscious in her bedroom. I had awoken to the sound of my father crying into the telephone, yelling at someone for an ambulance. It took a moment for me to realize what was happening; even then, I didn’t understand until I walked into the bedroom and saw her lying there, her eyes blank, not breathing.

I began to scream.

My father dropped the phone in frustration, and I could hear the dispatcher asking if he was still there. I picked it up.

Can you do CPR?

The dispatcher told me how to find her sternum, how to place my hands. Push down two to three inches, firmly. I felt her ribs break under my palms.

I never heard the sirens, but I suddenly found myself pulled out of the way by the EMT. They loaded her into the ambulance, and my father drove us to the hospital in silence. After an hour of waiting, the doctor came in to talk to us. He told us they had managed to restore her heart beat, but that her brain was damaged beyond repair. She was gone. He asked my father whether they should keep her on the machines.

Her funeral was held in the new church that I had never seen built—the church that she and my father had donated to, after I had left the faith. It was the first time in seven years I had stepped foot into a Catholic place of worship. The smell of incense was overwhelming, the carpets red as the communion wine. When time came for the sacrament, I remained seated—I was a child once more, unworthy of the saving graces of communion. I fidgeted in my seat, my legs itching with the effort of sitting.

I waited for her voice to comfort me.

FINISH YOUR SHIT and other resolutions we all need to write for

Writers' New Year's Resolutions

Ten days in, it’s STILL a new year, and that means new goals, new missions, new inspirations, and hopefully keeping your motivation the whole year long. But as a writer, it’s easy to fall into the trap of simply making the resolution to “write more,” which rarely manages to actually motivate us to do anything more than stress about about how much we’re not writing. Continue reading

My Week in Tropes | Feb. 23rd

So, this week, after a flurry of activity trying to get my current projects—both freelance and writing—DONE, I find myself suddenly in project limbo. And, since I am absolutely dismal at passing time with that thing that people do called “relaxing,” I decided this weekend was as good a time as any to commit to churning out 10,000 words over the course of two days on one of the first drafts that’s been wallowing in my drawer over the past few months. There’s already been some devastating betrayals and a couple actiony bits, but sitting down to write this morning, I actually stumbled upon a scene between my protagonist and one of the major antagonists of this new story. It was a short scene—maybe three or four pages, but what struck me in this scene was the dialogue, which I won’t, for your own sanity, subject you to at this point. Suffice to say, it made me realize the tropes I wanted to write about this week:

Themes vs. Aesops

MORAL

Children, especially pretty, nicely brought-up young ladies, ought never to talk to strangers; if they are foolish enough to do so, they should not be surprised if some greedy wolf consumes them, elegant red riding hoods and all.

—Angela Carter’s Bluebeard

There are far too many stories where the moral of the story is painfully, sometimes anviliciously presented, the most famous of which are Aesop’s Fables (hence, the tvTrope term for overt story morals: the Aesop). And while there is nothing particularly wrong with a story having a message, a story whose message is the only important thing about it can hardly be called a story at all. Because stories are not just pretty vehicles for messages which might be better communicated through the post: the best stories are living, breathing entities, with a logic and a morality and a reality all their own. They don’t give simple messages, because simple messages exist only in simple worlds: and the best stories, no matter where they’re set, say something about our world, which is anything but simple.

Themes, on the other hand, are very useful both in making sense of the stories we read, as well as clarifying the heart of the stories we write—because Themes, unlike Aesops, do not pare down reality or feeling to some pithy declaration of UNIVERSAL SIGNIFICANCE. Themes, instead, pose a question. Where Aesops are declarative, Themes are interrogative, and it is this open-endedness, this invitation for readers to engage with the story, that makes themes so important. Not only that, a theme helps focus your writing without oversimplifying it—because if you know the aspects of life that you want to explore, it makes it that much easier to know what situations and conflicts and characters will best illuminate those aspects: it can guide your plotting, your dialogue, your everything, without constraining you to a single foregone conclusion: the villain doesn’t always receive their just punishment; the hero doesn’t always win. And while such endings might be enough to break an Aesop, they may also manage to say something very important about a more general theme.

MORAL

Do not believe everything your English teacher tells you: more than likely, they are making something up.

This also applies to things you read on the internet.

Do not trust this blog.