Wild Words . . . Photos & Fine Art

Co-creating by heart with sandy cathcart through writers helps and art info, focusing on all things wild.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Talk About Wild (Part 2)

Remember Charlie, the Native American street person I talked about in my last post? I hadn’t prayed for or thought about him in a very long while until I saw the street person in the black cape. Thinking of Charlie, I started praying for him. It was a short mile between the time I started praying and the time I arrived at Pacific Bible College to teach my writing class.

Lynn Ludwick is my co-teacher. She started the class with a grammar lesson while I stood on the other side of the rolling blackboard getting ready for my presentation. Twenty minutes later, I stepped from behind the blackboard and was shocked to see a street person sitting in the midst of our twenty students on the other side of the room.

Lynn was still talking, so I quietly made my way to the street person’s side, expecting to ask him to leave.

Goodness! As I got closer, it looked an awful lot like Charlie . . . but not like the Charlie I used to know. This was a shell of the clean, good-looking Native American I last saw dancing in the middle of the highway at midnight. This Charlie was hunched over with skin toughened and blackened more from living in the elements than from genetics.

I placed a hand on his shoulder. “Are you Charlie?”

He looked up and smiled. What teeth he had left were nearly as black as his skin. “Yeah.”

As soon as he smiled and I heard his voice, I knew . . . it was Charlie. “I used to know you,” I said.

He looked a little closer and smiled even broader. “Yeah. I remember you.”

I gave him a hug and straightened. How could I ask him to leave when I had just prayed for him and now here he was? Stepping away I noticed his trademark black felt hat with an eagle feather sitting on the counter. He had taken the time and effort to come in as much of a gentleman as possible.

Every student in the room followed me with their eyes while I returned to the front of the room. “I’d like you to meet an old friend of mine,” I said.

Every eye raised in a question mark as they turned to Charlie. I knew they were thinking I had some mighty strange friends. Well, so be it. One student tried to hide a fit of giggles. Another scooted her chair closer to the wall and away from Charlie. Yet another took on a fit of coughing.

Ignoring them all, I turned to Dan. “Charlie is the one I told you about last week,” I said, hoping he would catch my hint without me saying more. He didn’t. Last week, Dan had shared his idea for a knockout story involving a street person, and I told him that I used to know one. Now, the street person was here! What better moment of research could present itself? Dan’s eyes were wide as he looked from me to Charlie. No way was he going to interview this street person.

I excuse Dan for that, because he’s just starting out as a writer and everything can be a bit overwhelming at the start, but he missed a fabulous opportunity to get into a street person’s head and learn firsthand about life lived beneath a bridge. What better way to learn a street person’s motives than to actually talk with them?

I suspect lots of opportunities present themselves to us that we miss because we’re either too busy in our own world or fear holds us back.

I read an article a while back about some pretty amazing things that writers did to get their stories. One woman posed as a man for nearly a year. She was so traumatized at the end of that year, that she signed up for counseling. Another took a menial job and forced herself to live on her meager income. Both authors paid a heavy price, but they knew their subjects firsthand.

I’m not saying all of us writers need to get that deep, but I am saying that we need to get deeper than what most of us do when it comes to understanding what motivates characters. Characters are fictional people. People are characters. I’ve met a lot of characters by taking advantage of some rare circumstances and making an effort to be friendly. Most people open up pretty well when they know someone cares about them.

So, here’s the challenge. What character will you find this week? They’re all around you. Pick one.


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