Thursday, March 24, 2011

Crybaby

Hello, I'm still here. Or, I'm back. Or something. Hi.

It's been awhile since a topic said "write about me on your blog." And I just can't write something that doesn't speak to me first, whether it wants to be here or there or wherever.

Do books ever make you cry? I can't remember the last time a book made me shed actual tears. I get that tight, choky feeling in my throat—sometimes. It happened with The Hunger Games. Curiously, it didn't happen for me with Thirteen Reasons Why, which is arguably more emotional and closer to home. And that got me wondering, what really makes people cry?

Yeah, there are the standard answers:  the characters are well-developed, the pacing is right, the stakes are big, the reader actually cares what happens to said characters. (That last one is a symptom rather than a goal. Some people will care, and some won't. Some people like enchiladas; some don't.)

What really makes people cry? Is there an answer? Sad things probably stand a better chance, but the same could be said about happy events. Reading out loud makes me cry far more reliably than reading to myself, which as I've said, never makes me shed tears. Pictures help, too. Children's picture books that I'm reading to my kids.

Or stories about mowing lawns that I'm reading to a group of twelve and thirteen-year-old boys. Yikes.

But the big winner in the competition to choke me up is music. No particular type, genre, or topic, but it needs words and can't be overly familiar. Also, if I'm listening with someone else, say my daughter or wife, the chokiness is greatly enhanced. But I'll choke up at completely unexpected times during songs that it makes no sense to cry about. It happens all the time. I just sit quietly, keep it to myself, and hope the tears don't show.

Why? Why does music make me cry? Is that normal, or some seriously crossed wires in my brain?

p.s. Singing is twice as bad. I can't actually sing the last verse of The Star Spangled Banner because I start crying. I'm choking up just thinking about it. I'm such a crybaby.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The First Line

I don't exist anymore.

That's it. The first line of Drivers. This story at once challenges and excites me. Maybe it's not the greatest first line. It's short. It doesn't tell you anything. It almost doesn't exist itself. But I LIKE it. The protagonist and narrator Ash is sarcastic, funny, and feeling intense pain. The other protagonist Zephyr is a major presence, physically and psychologically. I'm still figuring her out, but she's smart, intense, and also funny.

Man, I love writing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How Writing is Like Riding

Bike riding, that is. Cycling. Let me tell you a story.

A few years ago, I entered a 200 mile bike race from Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming. (Of course, the year I did it they changed the route due to road work and it ended in Alpine, Wyoming and was only 188 miles. But that's beside the point. Why am I even mentioning it?)

The last rest stop was in Star Valley. I don't remember which town. Star Valley is a beautiful, rolling break in the Rockies, dotted with small towns. The mountains cast long shadows. The riders are strung out over fifty miles of road by that point. I sat with my wife for as long as I dared, getting a foot rub and trying to eat despite queasiness.

When I finally got back on my bike, the saddle felt like a pile of pins. My legs felt like rubber. But the sky was gorgeous and I had a slight tailwind. I ended up riding with a guy who had the same idea that I had:  get to the end as fast as possible.

Without a word, we fell into the accepted pattern. One would pull (ride in front to break the air) as long and as fast as he felt he could, and then move over to let the other take his place. We averaged about twenty-five miles an hour, much faster than my average through the rest of the race.

We rode thirty miles together as the sun set to our left. At the 2k to go mark, the other guy hit the wall. I still had energy to spare. I could have ditched him and sprinted to the finish line, but it didn't seem right. So I stayed with him, in front. It didn't matter if I got there a few seconds later. The winners had crossed the line hours before.

It was the first time either of us had ridden that race. He found me afterwards. We shook sweat-crusted hands and he thanked me for staying with him. I thanked him for pulling me. That was all we said to each other.

Everyone can use a little help. When cyclists meet, whether it's during an organized ride or just a random crossing of paths, we help each other. (Riding behind another cyclist uses about 30% less energy.) Sometimes we just talk. We're automatically friends because we share something—the joy, the pain.

Writers are the same way. Thanks. Nice pull.