Each year I celebrate my birthday with 5-6 folks who share the same happy date. Often we exchange small gifts. Last year, a former coworker made cell phone bling and gave us the opportunity to choose among several options. Each had a silver bead with a power word on it. I snagged the one that read “change,” thinking to use it as a touchstone for meditation, for acceptance of that fact that, as Patty Loveless sings in that old song, "Life's about changing, nothing ever stays the same."
I’m not comfortable with change as a general rule. I don’t like surprises, curveballs or things I can’t anticipate. But I knew last year that I’d be enduring a gauntlet of changes in 2011 and I thought: Bring it on. I know you’re coming for me. I’ll be ready.
Some things you are never ready for.
I wasn’t ready for my grandfather to die this spring, even though I knew the end was near. And this summer, I wasn’t ready for two critique partners to choose new paths that lead away from our little band of writers. In a few months’ time, I doubt I’ll truly be ready to say good-bye to my boss of seven years.
Change. It’s hard, dammit.
I think my favorite protagonists would hold a similar opinion. For all the sh** we writers put those poor folks through, it’s a wonder they’re willing to show up on the page to find out what we have in store for them next. Life is swell then, bam, they stumble across an unexpected betrothal, get caught up in the search for a murderer, or learn that humans aren’t the only species at the top of the food chain. Or they are forced to come to grips with all three changes to life-as-they-knew-it at once. But show up they do and watching how they triumph, sink, fight and rise again not only keeps me reading, it keeps me writing.
In 1930s Hollywood W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke (director of The Thin Man among other great films), used to push people into his pool during parties he hosted. How his guests responded to this unexpected turn of events helped him figure out whom he wanted to work with in his next films (thankfully for all of us, Myrna Loy passed the splash test with flying, if drenched, colors).
It got me wondering. My hero, Joe, would likely stay in the pool, naked, the rest of the night. Especially if he could entice his mate, Della, to join him. Della would probably fail the test (she likes change just about as much as I do. Go figure.). She might even try to arrest Mr. Van Dyke for frivolous frivolity. That is, if she were still a cop. And if she could find such a statute on the books. I’d like to think my little touchstone has prepared me so I could pass the pool plunge test like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It's a Wonderful Life.
But it probably hasn’t.
How about you and your characters? How would your favorite hero/ine take to getting pushed into Van Dyke’s pool? How would you?