Why do writers write? And how do they find the inspiration to write about meaningful things? This is a question I have been asked to address many times, and here is my answer: Writing is not a choice for us; we have to write! Our every waking and dreaming moments are spent trying to make sense or beauty or catharsis out of our worlds. Sometimes it hurts to write, and sometimes it stops the hurt. Word Play is delicious! I personally enjoy arranging the words on the page as much as I enjoy thinking them up and writing them down.
Writers see things in a different way.
As for inspiration, I draw on the backstory that everyone has, their influences, teachers, friends and lovers (both mental and physical), their families and how they fit into those families, decisions they made and implemented and the repercussions thereof, and the codes they live by, moral-ethical-religious.
I invite you to check out my blog to see how I process my world through my poems and short stories and vignettes and books as I write them. I will tell you why I chose key words, the process I go through to capture a character’s exact personality, describe a setting so well that you feel you are there, and then try to explain the satisfaction I feel when I know that a poem or a story is “done”.
I am a Storyteller.
I embellish what I say.
If I don’t like what really happened,
I’ll re-tell it my way!
So read my words carefully –
(The facts may be skewed in your eyes)
But when you read my version,
You’ll understand my lies.
So, come sit beside me at my computer and watch me write a short story – a vignette, actually – about who I was as I entered the Freshman Class at Millsaps College in 1957 as a girl of 17. But first, the backstory about something very near and dear to a high school person’s heart – the high school PROM!
Unless you didn’t get to go, that is…
June 13, 1999. THE TENNESSEAN. This headline grabbed my attention: “Grads who never went to prom get chance to dance the night away.” Writer Sue McClure continued: “Anyone who missed his or her high school prom will have a chance to relish the experience of dancing the night away in a high school gymnasium under a spinning, sparkling silver ball when Retro Prom ’99 will be held in the old Spring Hill School.” Since I never got to go to my high school prom, to think I could go back and do it at the Retro Prom was almost beyond belief!
I was a Junior at my high school when I found out that I would be graduating in June. I was a girl “nerd” who took English courses each summer because It was both easy and fun! My plan was to take the harder physics, chemistry and higher math courses my Senior year and graduate with my class. But the school officials decided that since I had fulfilled all the requirements for graduation, I would graduate early at age 17. Since I had no boyfriend, a date was assigned to me from the Senior Class. I got an engraved invitation in the mail, naming my escort and giving the place, date and time of the event.
I – who had never even had a date – was thrilled to death!
Shopping for the perfect dress began in earnest. I finally found a teal blue strapless dress with a bouffant skirt that just skimmed my knees. It made my green eyes sparkle, mother said. But it wasn’t just the dress. It was THE PROM! The event warranted a trip to the beauty parlor, a luxury usually reserved for my elders. The beautician offered to do my makeup since I didn’t even wear lipstick! My mother kept saying “You look so grown up,” as she wiped her eyes. New shoes pinched my feet, but I was confident that I would break them in before the evening was over. Dancing was frowned on by my church, but this was THE PROM!, an occasion to celebrate. A lot of money (or so it seemed) was spent on getting me “all dolled up”, money my widowed mother could ill afford. But it was worth every penny because it was for THE PROM!
At last the big evening came! I was almost drunk with excitement, anticipating the wonderful evening ahead. I got dressed. And for the first time in my life, I got a glimpse of how I would look as a woman. My shoulder-length reddish-brown hair was the perfect background for the beautiful opal earrings my aunt lent me. The matching opal necklace and bracelet were just the icing on the cake! I felt like a queen all dressed in my finery as I went into the living room to await my date.
I sat down in the chair facing the front door. And I waited. Then I got nervous, just sitting, so I got up and paced. After a while, the new shoes began to pinch my feet, so I sat back down. And I waited. And I watched the clock. Then I got up and moved to the couch, to await the sound of the doorbell which would be rung by a Senior member of the FOOTBALL TEAM, who would then whisk me off to a fairy tale evening of dancing, and maybe even of romancing!
My mother came in to the living room every fifteen minutes or so to check on me for the next couple of hours. But no phone rang to tell me of my date’s wreck or sudden illness. When it finally occurred to me that my date wasn’t coming, I got up from the couch, took off my shoes and all the “finery”, washed my face, and went to bed.
The next day, no one in my family even mentioned The Prom. It was a non-event. Sunday, I went to church where I saw all my friends. No one said a word. And Monday I went to school. And thankfully, things seemed to be back to normal.
But things weren’t normal for me. I buried my feelings of anger, rejection, and betrayal for years. Whenever the event would surface in my memory – which it did at the most unexpected times – I still felt so numb that I couldn’t even cry. It was a gash in my very soul that never got better, never healed.
Years later, after college, I met and married a wonderful man. Dancing was not – and is not – a priority for my husband, but the need to dance still burned within my soul. And, after reading the “Invitation to the Dance” article, I asked my husband to the prom – and he accepted!
And so began the flurry of pre-Prom activity! I found the perfect dress – cerulean blue with a filmy matching scarf. I found the perfect (comfortable) shoes. How should I style my hair? Should I wear eye shadow? Would there be pictures? Would my “date” bring me a corsage? As I looked at my husband, who wore his dad’s tuxedo and looked so handsome, I realized that a mature man was a way better date than a high school football player!
The high school gym had been transformed into a dance venue, complete with a sparkling spinning silver ball! There was a buffet dinner. And then the swinging sounds of a dance band took over. That’s when I felt we were truly at THE PROM! We danced, and danced, and danced! And when it was over, we were ready to leave.
I had been so excited, looking forward to an evening of dancing – and romancing – with someone assigned to me NOT by the Senior Class, but by a Higher Power. I was 100% sure that THIS date would show up and whisk me off to a fairy tale evening! And the best part was that I got to go home with my Knight in Shining Armor, after the ball was over.
As I wrote this, I carefully chose words that not only expressed my feelings, but also the feelings of a 17-year-old girl. I used exclamations to show excitement, and run on sentences to imply breathlessness – and, and, and. I wanted to set the scene of a hugely hyped event with the attendant buildup of emotions balanced by the dull realization that something was over before it began. I carefully avoided using the word “Why?” I do not think I could have written this piece had it not had such a satisfying ending. I summed this up with one sentence. Can you guess which one it is?
Cynthia Chadwick said:
Oh Nancy, I love how you write. I hang onto every word with excitement. The words just flow so good, you don’t want to stop reading. Thank you for sharing.