Friday, March 16, 2007

Lost and Found

Last weekend, I took a day-long workshop about writing for children. It was my Kris Kringle gift from Peter's brother. I'd taken another class from the same organizer last year and am signed up for two more (writing popular women's fiction and getting published) and am also debating a third (memoir).

The format of the workshop is good and goes a little like this:

  • Coffee reception followed by about an hour-long lecture by reasonably well-known writer.

  • Coffee break with chance to make small talk with author (or, in my case, stand around awkwardly.

  • Coffee is then taken back to the classroom where a second reasonably well-known writer gives a lecture and then a high-level overview of what the afternoon sessions will entail. The afternoon sessions are the writing and working bit of the workshop.

  • Lunch with more opportunities to chat with well-known author.

  • Writing workshop sessions, punctuated guessed breaks.

  • The workshops are fantastic because they provide the three things every aspiring writer desperately needs: a chance to commiserate with fellow writers, a chance to network with successful writers, and a chance to guzzle "free" coffee.

    So, at last weekend's workshop, the writing session leader set us a quick writing task before lunch - 10 minutes of writing a scene in which 2 children are lost and one is a dominant leader-type and the other is a more passive follower-type. It provided to be not only a good writing ice-breaker, but also a good social ice-breaker, as lunch was dominated by childhood recollections of getting lost. When you're five years old, getting lost is a major trauma. The parents you will sullenly abandon at age 15 are the centre of your universe when you're 5.

    I remember getting lost in an unfamiliar shopping mall when I was about 5. My memories are sketchy and vague, distilled into visual flashes involving walking past the same enormous fountain. I seem to remember I was found relatively quickly and I don't remember any tears or angst on my part.

    My best getting-lost story is one in which I was a searcher. My brothers, mother and I were at a wedding reception for one of my mom's cousins. I was about 11, Middle Brother (MB) was around 9, and Youngest Brother (YB) was about 5. My father was in New Jersey because his youngest brother (our favourite uncle) was dying. We were all distressed by the situation and YB was especially agitated and did not want to go to the wedding or the reception. He spent most of the morning, most of the wedding, and the beginning of the reception threatening to run away.

    The reception was in an Elks Lodge hall - a cavernous and dark barn of a place. (Or so I remember - I would probably be shocked now to find that it's small.) The lodge was on the edge of a strip mall. And when I saw edge, I mean edge. Its parking lot ended in a thicket of trees and brush, beyond which was a maybe 50-foot drop into a place we called The Ravine. Although there were places where one could walk down into The Ravine, near the Elks Lodge was not one of them. That side of the Ravine was comprised mostly of giant slabs of rock with a creek at the bottom.

    The Ravine was a Bad and Dangerous Place and was strictly verboten. I'd been told it was full of Bad Men who carried worse intentions involving young girls, so there was no way I was ever going down there. (My brothers, in their teenage years, both did some exploring. I have never, ever been down there.)

    About half-way through the reception - call it after the buffet but before the wedding cake and Chicken Dance, someone realised that YB didn't seem to be around. Given his unhappiness and threats, my mother feared the worst. We began searching the Elks Lodge - the bar, the storeroom, the bathrooms, the area just around the building, but there was no sign of YB.

    I can't remember how long he was missing or if my mother actually called the police. All I remember is the sense of panic and the run away What-Ifs that crowded into my mind. What if one of the Bad Men got him? What if he fell into The Ravine? What if he got hit by a car on the busy road? What if we never saw him again?

    In the end, YB returned to the reception with my mother's uncle, who was visiting from Minnesota. The uncle was charming and personable and bore more than a passing resemblence to Bob Hope. The uncle realised that YB was upset and that the buffet wasn't really suitable for the discerning palate of a five year old, so he took YB and MB to McDonalds for a treat. It never occured to him to tell my mother.

    Think about that last sentence for a minute. He took both my brothers, but my mother only realised one was missing. I don't know who felt worse about it - my mother for only missing one of her sons or my MB for missing out on being missed altogether. It's the worst sort of illustration of the travails of the middle child and I'm sure it wasn't a novel experience for him.

    I don't know if the moral of the story is the squeaky wheel gets the grease (if they'd both threatened to run away, would my mother have realised MB was gone too?) or the middle child gets the raw deal.


    At 16 March 2007 at 13:06, Blogger Terri said...

    Definitely "the middle child gets the raw deal". I'm a middle child. I always got the raw deal. Or so we middle-children tend to tell ourselves anyway ;)
    Your mother must have felt terrible when she realised MB had been gone too!

    btw Thanks for the link to Inkwell - I think I'll go check 'em out.

    At 16 March 2007 at 13:24, Blogger laurie said...

    great posting. are you sure you need writing workshops? you're a terrific writer.

    i once hid my little brother in a closet. we did it as a joke. (i was very young, and i clearly remember trying to understand the humor in saying one thing when you mean something else--irony, i guess, but i was too young to get it.)

    so i hid him, told him to stay quiet, and as people shouted and called all around me, i kept innocently saying that nope, hadn't seen tommy...

    finally tommy, to his credit, got nervous and popped out of the closet to the great relief of everyone except me. he'd ruined my joke!

    my mother snapped, it's not funny!

    and i was confused, left to ponder anew the precise nature of irony....

    At 19 March 2007 at 17:03, Blogger Shane said...

    I'm the middle child in this story so I'd like to weigh-in. First of all, the three of us were met by two police officers in in the parking lot on our way back to the Elks lodge. At least I think they were police officers. I remember one of them saying, "oh you went to Mickey-D's! It was the first time I heard someone refer to it that way so it stuck with me.

    Also I've always felt overlooked and I'm ok with that. I don't so much like attention in public places. Makes me feel uncomfortable.

    For some reason I forgot YB was threatening to run away. That seems understandable that mom would forget me since Pat threatened to run away.

    At 22 March 2007 at 06:01, Blogger -Ann said...

    Terri - Definitely think about taking one of the Inkwell classes. They really are quite good.

    Laurie - Stop, it's all going to go to my head. :) I do the workshops partially because of the contacts thing - pretty much everything happens in this country because someone know's someone whose sister's cousin-in-law does that very thing. I also like the fresh ideas that I tend to get from the workshops. Great story about hiding your brother.

    Shaney! I was hoping you would add your recollections to mine. Now that you mention it. I do remember the Mickey-Ds thing , but I didn't remember that they were cops.


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