I’ve never known anyone with a greater capacity for taking himself too seriously than my old friend Matt. Admittedly, we knew each other best when we were teenagers, a time in which melodrama is often the norm. But even allowing for the emotion-scrambling potential of coursing hormones, Matt was in a class by himself. He seemed to thrive on inventing a life that was far more compelling than our mundane, Midwestern reality. It was a tendency that often alienated him from our peers.
But then it was always something of an uphill struggle for Matt. He was an alien from the start, a rare transplant from the Carolinas with a strict, Southern father whom he addressed as Sir. Some time around third grade he appeared at our little Catholic school. He was very sociable and seemed to make friends quickly, and it wasn’t long before his mother was hosting our Cub Scout den meetings from the basement of their modest home just down the street. From the beginning, however, Matt spoke in a way that seemed aimed at eliciting our sympathy and admiration. He was candid about the heart surgery he had endured as a toddler, an apparently true event for which he would gladly provide evidence by displaying his scar. As time went on, he would embellish his medical history with statements to the effect that he “technically shouldn’t even be alive,” that he stoically faced greatly reduced longevity, and that he had been “clinically dead” for some matter of minutes. Read More
Creativity is an enticingly rewarding yet elusive pursuit. It seems to spring into existence like a strange and wondrous flowering plant, popping up in our gardens now and then regardless of whether or not we attempt to cultivate it. Those of us who appreciate the blooming presence of creative inspiration do all that we can to nurture it, to keep it alive and thriving for as long as possible. Despite our efforts, creativity withers, dies, and springs anew according to its own natural laws, an unfathomable set of principles that we sense yet cannot know. How is it that one can be all fired up to create something one day yet utterly unmotivated and bereft of ideas the next? The answer is as difficult to grasp as the creative muse itself.
While I cannot pin down the cause of creativity, I can vouch for its beneficial effect on my psyche: creating something (almost anything) simply makes me feel better. Conversely, enduring a period of creative stagnation makes me feel worse. As this correlation has gradually become apparent to me over the years, I have concluded that there is a physiological basis for it, hence the tagline for my blog: Stories. Commentary. Endorphins. Endorphins are naturally occurring substances that are released by the brain. They are known to deaden sensations of pain and are thought to produce feelings of well-being. Some people think endorphins foster creativity, but I suspect it also works in the opposite direction. I know that I need to be in a good frame of mind in order to write well, yet I also know that I always feel better after I write well than I did before I started. So, Stories. Commentary. Endorphins. The stories and commentary are for you, and the endorphins are for me. Read More
An early influence?
When children express their boundless imagination in writing, the results can be bizarre. I am regularly reminded of this as a teacher of elementary-age students. It is my privilege to observe their literary development at a formative stage, when their novice attempts to emulate various styles sometimes merge with their limited background knowledge to surreal and unintentionally humorous effect.
What I try to remember when evaluating student narratives is how incredibly strange my own attempts at storytelling were at that age. As unusual as some of the student work I’ve encountered has been, none of it has surpassed some of my juvenile efforts in their breadth and depth of sheer weirdness. Take, for example, The Glass Eye, a macabre stab at humor that I wrote circa second or third grade. Its off-kilter flavor is apparent even in its byline, as I attributed the work to Edward Cramer. Read More
What do Bugs Bunny, taking a bath, and a precocious vocabulary have in common?
This is a cautionary tale, a story of how ignorance and the nuances of language can combine with coincidence to convey an unintended message of a mortifying caliber. It is the true account of a boy who was unaware that the unpleasantness confronting him was a consequence of his own actions, for he knew not what he was doing. Thankfully he remained in this state of immaturity for several years, allowing his fragile psyche to recover from the staggering truth when, at last, the individual links merged into an undeniable chain of events.
To appreciate the predicament fully, we must begin in the middle. Our protagonist – let’s call him, say, Bobby – is a quiet second grader at a Catholic elementary school. He is in the class of one Miss M., a teacher beloved by most students and yet prone to a certain foulness of mood when crossed. It is the very same Miss M. who once made a spectacle of her displeasure with Bobby’s older brother (whom we shall call B.J.) and the sloppiness of his desk by dumping B.J.’s accumulated possessions onto the floor before his peers. B.J. stood there stunned and uncomprehending, wondering why Miss M. did not simply order him to clean out his desk rather than unleashing her pent-up fury. But Bobby does not know about this darker side of his instructor, nor can he conceive that he is about to similarly provoke her ire. Read More