Scandal at Maple Valley Grows – Episode 2

Obviously, the nature of scandal is to grow. In the history of mankind, not a single scandal germinated lacking ravenous hunger for more flesh. Think about it for a moment. What is scandal if not the fodder for gums to flap over, giving each gum owner the satisfaction of being the one with the latest and best information. The telling widens a little more with each sharing, making the teller a little happier. The eyes of the tellees widen slightly, thereby informing the teller the telling is working. Scandal is a glorious, living creature.

At this point, the scandal in Maple Valley has not disappointed. It’s expanding sufficiently to allow a few people who don’t know Sylvia Meisner to be included, each in their own way having a crucial part. It matters to no one that these have never actually met Sylvia. Sylvia Meisner. The woman who has been missing for two weeks. But, you see, this is a very important element of scandal that cannot be overlooked. With each reiteration, the circumstances become more and more about the tellers, less about the central figure. So, reiteration becomes iteration. Each telling is a new story. Each teller becomes a creator, bathed in their own endless concern.

The scandal surrounding the missing Sylvia Meisner has given Maple Valley a breath of fresh air. Towns people have a story everyone is talking about, so they aren’t wondering if someone is talking about them. In a way, Sylvia is helping people by not being here. We all have something to talk about! Fred Crickston isn’t worrying about his garden anymore. (There hasn’t been any rain in Maple Valley since the middle of April.) Anabel Wizzleby no longer cares that choir members aren’t showing up for rehearsal of the musical score she wrote for the upcoming start of tourist season in Maple Valley. The Reverend Shermer of Maple Valley Church hasn’t mentioned dwindling offering totals since Sylvia first disappeared. Folks are gathering on the street corners again. The scandal celebration is bringing new life to Maple Valley.

Scandal news always has its key voices, the few who are held in high esteem for their ability to stir. Within an hour of Tom Swagmon and Patty Philers discovering Sylvia’s burned car under three tower bridge, Wanita Havertons and Velma Kreitzhammer were connected by their umbilical phone cord. They knew Sylvia was missing, what she was wearing, her hair style, the color of her purse, style of her shoes, and most importantly, what she was thinking when she left Maple Valley the night before. Velma called Gwendalyn, yes, that Gwendalyn, Mayor Thrashborn’s second wife. Wanita called Arleta Forner (Gwendalyn and Arleta are not speaking to each other, and haven’t spoken since the town picnic three years ago when Arleta said Gwendalyn obviously forgot to put salt in her three-bean salad), and the scandal embers quickly became a roaring flame to the delight of all.

We are only certain of two things. Sylvia is missing. The burned car under three tower bridge is hers. She bought it used two years ago at Brimmerton’s Auto Sales in Maple Valley. Oh, that’s another scandal we don’t have time to talk about right now. Just ask Wanita about Henry Brimmerton. Better yet, don’t. No matter, Henry Brimmerton has been selling bad cars to Maple Valley residents for more than a generation. His father, Albert, sold bad cars before him.

No one has heard from Sylvia Meisner for two weeks. The car has revealed no secrets. Maybe that’s the way it was meant to be.

How to Avoid Writing Enemies

Let’s be honest. A lack of time really isn’t an enemy to writing. Literary masterpieces were written in the same amount of minutes in a day we have now. Poor use of the time is the real enemy. I am a master at finding all kinds of things to do instead of writing.

It’s amazing how much time is available to binge on Netflix reruns. It won’t matter if we just watch one more show. It would be irresponsible to stop watching now that we’re really into the plot. Let’s just keep watching to see what happens.

There is always something more demanding than writing. Projects on the house are endless. Errands requiring no more than thirty minutes turn into an afternoon after a trip through Starbucks, an unplanned stop at Home Depot, waiting at the train station long enough to catch a freight run-by, and deciding to pick up a few things at the grocery store. Once I’m finally headed home, I remember something I should have purchased so I turn around and go back.

Remember, poor use of time is the enemy. That’s not to say errands aren’t important and we shouldn’t spend any time watching a favorite show. It’s just amazing, however, how fast the time flies when we’re doing things that don’t produce good writing.

How do you stop wasting time? (C’mon, I know you do it too.) Start with a plan. Decide on a time and place during the day you will commit to writing, and only writing, and then stick to it. Don’t let a fleeting idea lead you to start scrolling the internet. Jot the idea down (on a real piece of paper with a pencil – remember those?) and don’t click away from the screen you’re working on.

If you work at it, you can get really creative with your writing opportunities.

Here are some options:

1. Early morning – a quiet house can be a writer’s best friend. Allow enough time to write without rushing.

2. Late at night. Same idea.

3. On your lunch break at work. Here’s where a real piece of paper and a pen might work for you. Pick up an inexpensive journal and use it when you only have a few moments of writing time between bites.

4. Use your phone. I have lists of writing topics in my reminders app. It’s easy to jot a line and come back to it later.

5. Dedicate a weekend to writing. If you have a busy family life, maybe a full morning or afternoon will work.

6. A writing get-away. Do you have a RV? A cottage? Do you have a friend with a cottage? Do you have a tent? Do you have a car? (I have spent many afternoons at the train depot with an iPad on my lap. And I’ve even been lucky enough to see several trains!) Do you have a garage? A yard? Do you have a closet? Is there a local library? You get the idea.

7. Your favorite coffee shop. Every writer’s idea of the perfect setting is the laptop on a table with a steaming brew close by. Coffee is the universal inspiration for fantastic writing.

8. A doctor appointment. Really. Do you have any idea how many hours you have wasted waiting? Waiting rooms should be called writing rooms. Then patients might begin to understand they are not required to handle magazines that have been fingered through by very sick person within fifty miles. Writing while waiting is a great idea!

9. A dentist appointment. It’s the same idea as the doctor’s office with a few variables. At the doctor’s office you don’t have the option of breathing that wonderful mixture of novocaine, formaldehyde, alcohol, polycarbonates, cleanser, and sweat. Fear can be an incredible writing motivator.

10. Church. If you go to church, maybe go back to what we used to do as kids. Draw during the sermon. Instead of drawing, write. (Just a caveat, it probably wouldn’t be a great idea to laugh out loud at your own whit when you write a brilliant line.) It might be a little bit like when the preacher was being all fake humble and said, “Now, folks, I know you have heard preachers who were much better than I.” And an old woman in the back said, “Amen!” (That really happened at our church when I was a kid. Remember it like yesterday! (Wait a minute, I can’t remember anything about yesterday.) I remember it like it was over fifty years ago!

11. If you’re a student, write at school. Your teachers will think there’s something wrong with you. When I was a middle school counselor, I loved encouraging students in their writing. There were a few that were actually brilliant, at least I thought so. It was worth every minute to read and then watch the glow on their face as approval washed over them.

12. The car wash. What do you do while you’re sitting in your car being pulled through the whale’s mouth, swallowed, digested, then spewed out the other end? See? You could use those few moments of solitude to write!

13. Family reunions. NO ONE likes family reunions. If someone tells you they do, they’re lying. “You look just like your father!” “I remember changing your diaper once when it was running all down your leg! What a mess!” “You don’t remember throwing up on Uncle Elmer, do you?” “I once thought you stole money out of my purse! I’m so sorry, I know you didn’t really do it. It was your brother!” Hearing Aunt Mable fart during the saying of grace was worth it. And the time a calf was born during the prayer. That was a classic. Family reunions are only meaningful to grocery store owners. More pineapple chunks, cottage cheese, Jello, potatoes, mustard, celery, and baloney are sold during family reunion season than at any other time of year. Use the family reunion to sneak into the haymow and write. (Alone.)

14. The bathroom. C’mon, seriously. What if, instead of scrolling, reading news, deleting emails, rereading texts, checking bank accounts, writing grocery lists, looking up the definition of “fart”, or sorting photos, why not write?

Our lives are full of opportunities to write if we just look.

Do you have a treehouse? What a great place to write!


How to Find a Writing Topic

If you are one of those people who take a break from writing only long enough to sleep, you are in a pretty small group, and I envy you. You are most likely among the writers like me who work hard for a period of time followed by long spans of nothing. It’s so frustrating!

For two years I had a weekly column in a small newspaper with a circulation of 50,000. I loved the opportunity and it was rewarding. It was also challenging. I didn’t write in series, so every column was a new topic. There were weeks that reminded me of my many years of piano lessons. I usually didn’t work on the assigned music until the day of my visit with the teacher. The music I played all week was what I wanted to play. Sometimes I wrote the column and dashed to the newspaper office a few minutes before it was due.

The column was called “Issues of the Heart”. Even though I was a pastor of a small church at the time, I didn’t write about religion and my topics were anything but preachy. I found my writing inspiration from the things I saw and experienced during the week. For example, I was at the grocery store and noticed a police officer standing next to his patrol car using one of those long blade-like tools to unlock his door. He had locked his keys in his own police car! So, that week the column was about taking notice of things that are out of the ordinary and being awake to the possibility of seeing the unexpected.

I didn’t write about my church or the people in it, although I had access to a great many writing topics. I avoided them for obvious reasons. That was almost thirty years ago, so maybe it’s safe to talk about an example or two now. I always despised visiting people in their homes. I felt trapped by them even though I don’t think that’s how they felt. Or maybe they did. I don’t know. I just hated it. I didn’t mind going to hospitals, and I visited every-other day one of our parishioners was a patient. It always amazed me, almost to the point of gagging, literally, how folks were so willing to talk about their physical problems in gross detail! One man who was having some urinary issues said, “They reamed out the penis!” I thought I would faint. His wife was sitting right there beside him! I wanted to yell, “Stop talking!!” I left almost immediately. I could have written about the organist who played a funeral dirge every Sunday before service. Or about the board member who came in my office five minutes before I was to go to the pulpit and say something that might mean something to someone, to tell me our dog bit the building contractor.

I wrote about every day life stuff. I wrote about the death of JP McCarthy, the well-loved voice of WJR in Detroit. His was the voice everyone listened to for calm in storms and answers to questions. He was taken many years before retirement from radio was in sight. I wrote about an argument our community was having about a company that wanted to build a juvenile detention facility in our small town. That was a hot topic and there were many responses to the column.

Finding topics really isn’t the issue with writing. They’re everywhere. The problem is dealing with the fear that stops us from writing because we’re not sure people will like what we say. Our mind challenges every line. Every time we start writing we think of a dozen reasons why we can’t write the topic well enough.

If the question of people liking what we say is the reason we write, then we’re wrong for writing. The basis of writing should be having something to say, not detailed calculations about how many likes we’ll get or how many books we’ll sell. People see right through that. No one likes to listen to someone who they know is only saying things they suspect the listener wants to hear.

If you have something to say, than you are the best person to write it. If writing pleases you, then do it. Just write.

So, do you wait until something hits you, or just write to write? If you’re waiting for something from the outside, then you’re not in charge of your writing. If you write because you love writing then the world of topics is yours.