Journal 2--Narrative--Distracted

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

An exercise from Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter's What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, 80.
Write a scene in which a character's body, as well as his mind, is engaged in doing something--stage business.  Here are some possibilities:

repairing something
playing solitaire or a game involving other players
doing exercises
painting a canvas or a wall
doing dishes
having a baby
robbing a store
waiting in line
shucking corn

Maria is sitting in the middle of her kitchen floor, surrounded by recycled cottage cheese containers filled with paints.  She has one leg folded under the other, a paintbrush behind one ear, and a rainbow of paints splattered on her fingers.  She is humming to the Bruce Springsteen tune playing on her phone, which is safely stationed on the counter.  The canvas, covered in bright stripes, leans against the wooden cabinets, and Maria dips into yellow with a tiny detail brush.

Taking things a day at a time is tricky when you’re dying.  Mom would say that a family’s job is to take care of the people in it, and the family deserves the right to say goodbye, but as a floor nurse, Maria had seen too many goodbyes stretch from moments to months to years.  Dad would say it’s God’s Picture, and we’re just a part of it.  It’s the Artist’s prerogative what flair our part adds to the Picture.  Bobby would grab his keys and take me to the beach—if this is what we’ve got of life, let’s live it.

She painted an empty yellow Paisley across a cotton-candy-pink stripe and switched the playlist to Dave Matthews.  The Maker played, live.  My body is bent and broken . . . I’m not a stranger in the hands of the Maker.

Some days were reflective like this.  Some days, painting and music seemed like peace.  Some days, in the midst of the notes of color and sound, Maria felt a glimmer of what it might feel like to surrender, to understand, and to know something bigger. 

She retied the bandana around her head and pulled the bigger brush from around her ear.  She dipped the brush in dark red paint and stabbed it at the canvas.

Other days weren’t so bright.  Other days, she filled up her tank and drove down I-90 through the Badlands with all the windows down.  Ninety miles an hour-- daring a State Trooper to pull her over.  One more ticket and her license would be suspended, but it didn’t really matter.  The rock formations were like the intestines of a giant, full of fissures and dust.  She’d park the car and jump from peak to peak, sliding down ledges and usually limping back to the car at dusk, bloody and exhausted.

She added a blue river across the stripes on the canvas and got up to stretch and grab some chocolate milk.

She knew she would reach a point when she couldn’t pretend anymore.  She knew her body would betray her and fail.  Americans were terrified of sickness and anything uncontrollable.  Even childbirth was like something to be cured.  Death was Saran wrapped and confined to sterile white Styrofoam or sterile white rooms filled with machines and strangers.

Maria squatted before the canvas and picked up some paper letters.  There were five letters.  She carefully smoothed them into blobs of white paint, so they would stick.  Then, she pulled out her laptop and sent invitations to a party. 

 Next weekend would be different.

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