Hi all. I know what you’re thinking, “It’s been a year, what kind of blog continuity is this?” I humbly apologize for the delay.
I have an unpredictable ebb and flow to my writing, but I strive to give you something worth waiting for…
I have been journaling a lot as of late in reflection of life events, changes mostly, things that have opened my head and my heart. Even with all that to keep me preoccupied I have book two in the forefront of my thoughts every day.
In all stories, the premise is never new, and I'm sure that book two’s concept of an uptown girl is a trope that has been retold many times in songs, poetry, and in books. It’s not meant to be formula, but you can route it back to some fairy tale, somewhere. And as with all art it’s the telling of the story that makes it special.
A quote from the movie THE TRIP comes to mind:
Rob: “You should write about it…write about the food.”
Steve: “No. It’s been done. That’s been done before.”
Rob: “It’s 2010, everything’s been done before. All you can do is do something that someone’s done before, but do it better or differently.”
This applies to all creative pursuits: writing, acting, comedy, music, dance, you name it.
And while I don’t consider myself a word virtuoso, I have been circling my story, examining it from all angles, to find what is unique about it and go from there.
In romantic fiction the conflict is what keeps the lovers apart, and in my book the social status has to be strong enough wedge to divide my two characters. My girl comes from a different world, one of money and structure.
Big shocker, right?
There a million books out there where the heroine’s motive is no more than the stereotypical need to rebel for love. The rich girl goes for poor boy.
**back-of-hand slap against forehead**
“I’m so repressed by the class systems that have held me back all these years!”
I know, the nausea needs to stop.
I’m not saying that wealth and affluence is all fun and polo. I’m sure there a wellspring of internal and external pressures that comprise a great conflict from which the heroine wishes to break free. Within reason.
Here I’m going to touch back on my A_Z Challenge blog post, THE UNUSUAL SUSPECTS. Defy the stereotype.
In fiction, not all the rich fathers have to be the dogmatic, oppressive types.
I’ll even play Wealthy Dad Devil’s Advocate: Let's say that rich father has kept a roof over our heroine’s head as well as clad her in couture all her life. The heroine has thus benefited from the best education, and more opportunities than other kids because of her father’s financial stability. While that may make dad controlling, that needn’t make him hateful.
And keeping in tune with my astrological theme, the earth element contains the signs Taurus, Virgo, and Capricorn. They’re the practical, money conscious, worker bees. They’re the slow-climb-to-the-top achievers. The long-road-equals-big-results-in-the-end people.
Capricorn males are the cardinal image of patriarchs, the male figures that represent the head of the family, the man of the house; the shoulder daughters and granddaughters can always cry on.
This theme conjures up personal memories for me. The reminiscent smell of cherry tobacco in particular, like my grandfather's pipe. Billows of smoke used to waft around him when he smoked, infusing his clothes. My grandpa was a college professor, a teacher of teachers, and a kindred spirit. From the time I was a toddler we’d been thick as thieves. He had dark curly hair, the same texture as mine, and he used to kneel down when he’d talk to me, mono e nieta, about the importance of keeping the head-thatch brushed before it started to resemble a bird’s nest. My sister and I would wait patiently at the kitchen table while he made us waffles, asking us what toppings we wanted in a Donald Duck voice.
In my eyes, my grandfather held the answers to every question in the Universe, and in his embrace there was protection from all harms.
I want the heroine in my story to come from this same base of reliability and realism. She is the epitome of the earth element, so she has a strong father.
So, now I have to twist the backstory with my hero, of course.
Yes, I’m a bully – it’s in the author job description.
My poor, sweet, hard-working hero has to come from a place of lack, his father figure missing, or absent. He must become a man without the luxury of an instruction manual of life, as sadly so many young males are forced to do nowadays...
My hero’s experiences are deep for that reason, it’s heart-breaking. He has to do all the work without immediate reward. He has earn his man card with the industriousness of his actions. But that’s the earth element for you. The incentive isn’t worth it unless it’s earned.
And here is where real life for the writer comes into play. For as imaginative as I am, it’s hard for me to envision a lifestyle that I don’t live every day. From all outward appearances, my heroine has it good. I’m tempted to call her spoiled. But from my side of the fence the grass can look pretty green for those who have the comfort of a disposable income. It looks like my heroine has it easy, but in reality, one never know the struggles of others.
And a person’s beliefs are their most powerful influence. Belief can unite or isolate. Beliefs are the basis of peace and war, of reason and distrust. Most of what people believe are based in their memories. Fiscal hardships, dysfunction, betrayal, lack of support or opportunities, all of it can skew one’s mental view of the world.
It can certainly alter the definition of what it means to be mature and responsible.
When I think of adversity my mind goes to the lines of separation in culture, particularly the walls built by socio-economic status – a huge theme in my story.
The concept takes me back to an event that happened while I was attending community college:
It was the middle of summer, the grey sky outside a hot contrast to the cool lingering air within the room. Students from an array of ages filed into the classroom as my Women’s Studies teacher stood at the front, a variety of non-standard education equipment anchoring her desk; the odd lot including a pan of brownies, a thin roll of masking tape, and a piece of paper with numbers on it. She asked us to sit down quickly, but to “not get too comfortable.”
Once at our desks, she shook a bowl full of little, folded pieces of paper; doling out the slips, one to each person, as she informed us that we’d be conducting a social experiment that evening. When directed, I unfurled my piece of paper, the word “Middle” scratched out in blue ink. Confused, I looked up to see our teacher running the tape from one wall to another, cording off areas of the space. Enlisting help, she directed us to push a certain percentage of the rooms’ contents into the various sections, the center lot the largest, then getting progressively smaller.
When all the allotments where arranged we waited for an explanation, the lesson clearly more interactive than one any of us had seen before.
“Today we are talking about caste systems, specifically, socio-economic class. Basically, how much money you make, and where that tier ranges in the US system.”
Our teacher described it impartially, the differences in how someone raised poor had a certain chance of achieving a higher level of earning, based on their background, education, and a ratio of other factors. The paper on her desk outlined the current breakdown of earners in the United States at that time:
Poor – 13% - The homeless, jobless and impoverished.
Working Poor – 26% - Earn less than $20K annually, on welfare.
Middle Class – 47% - Majority of workers, basis of US economy.
Upper Middle – 11% - Below wealthy, six-digit annual earners.
Affluent – 3% - Elite, small percentage earning the most.
She did the math, splitting our group into the same factions by way of random selection (the drawing of the slips). Each group was given the amount of resources that they would receive in real life, each caste allotted their “tier.” I was one of the sixteen students in the middle class caste, the blue-colored worker, the same tribe I called home every day. Three people were deemed Poor, five Working Poor, six Upper Middle, and the remaining two brandishing the golden label of Affluent.
In collaboration we divvied up everything around us, the desks, the books, and the space, the masking tape barriers keeping us corralled in our places. The purpose of the brownie became clear, as that too was to be “paid out” by percentage. The Affulent got everything first; 67% percent of the room, furniture, and textbooks. The girl representative for their caste had scooped out such a bulk of the brownie that I’d given up hope of there being any left.
The three Poor students didn’t even fit in the space calculation, and were told to wait out in the hallway. The six Upper Middle milled about the back-left corner of the room, away from the deliberation and noise, and within minutes I'd forgotten they were there. I remember the two Affluent by how comfortable they got so quickly, lounging on top of the tables that were pushed together, unencumbered by any constraints, eating their fill of brownie with plenty to spare.
My group stayed in the Middle Class in every way. Our percentage of classroom space hovered around 21%, the sixteen of us huddled together with just enough room for us to fit shoulder-to-shoulder, the sardine routine only uncomfortable when someone had to move, or God forbid, sneeze.
The moment of reckoning came when it was our turn for brownies, the remaining fragment of chocolate seeming pathetically small, and that was before the Working Poor got their portion.
I remember the moment clearly, our teacher coming over, presenting the pan to us as a group, as if bidding us to elect a leader. No one stepped forward though, and we continued to stand still, not moving, careful to maintain the peace of our unit. Staring at the food square, my eyes began to see a pattern, a grid. And something snapped. I ducked the tape rope, mindful to not jostle my neighbors. My teacher stared at me as I carried the brownies over to her desk and asked for a knife. Looking back I realize how much trust my colleagues had given me, watching without objection as I darted off with what was our collective "capitol".
I kept my hands steady as I cut, turning the four-by-four inch brown remnant into sixteen equal, bite-sized pieces. I’d even left some extra frosting for the folks after us, thinking that my group’s rations looked fair, no one receiving more than another.
Pan in hand, I traveled the circumference of the tape fence, ensuring that each of my Middle Class brethren got their treat before retrieving the last sliver of chocolate for myself. The class exercise required that we stand in our castes for fifteen minutes, and admittedly the wait was far more bearable after the brownies. While the sixteen of us Middle Class chewed, we slowly loosened up in our close confinement. After we were done eating, we started to converse, keeping still while turning our heads to nod and show acknowledgement to one another.
After a few more minutes our teacher called an end to the experiment, the Poor kids coming back in as we returned the classroom to its previous layout, but the revert did not clear the air. I could tell something was different. That the atmosphere had changed in the room somehow.
The rest of the lecture flew by in a blink as the period came to a close. Students stood, gathering their books in unison. I froze when my teacher called out to me, asking me to stay after class. My natural sense of duty flaring, I got nervous as the room emptied, my mind running over the events of the evening.
Did I make a mistake? I wondered.
The lesson seemed objective, a review of societal statistics. I silently hoped that my deviation with the brownie didn’t cost me any grade points, but I didn’t see why that would be an issue.
“You did well tonight,” my teacher said, her smile reassuring as I approached her desk, still worried that I’d thrown some kind of wrench into her lesson plan. I watched as she packed up her materials, stowing the tape and papers into a long-handled, canvas bag while balancing the now empty brownie pan on top of her arms.
“I got it,” she said when I beckoned to help, ushering me toward the door as she clicked off the lights. “That was a fun, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. It makes you think,” I replied as I followed her into the hallway.
She paused. “Do you know how many times I’ve taught that lesson?”
Confused, I shook my head. “No. How many?”
She let the bag dangle in hand, the weight registering.
“Twelve times,” she said, her eyes catching mine, her gaze direct.
“Really?” I felt my brow furrow, waiting for a reprimand that didn't come.
She smiled again, the expression softening her face.