Friday, July 10, 2009

Not the Norm

It's been a long time since I wrote anything about my mom on my blog. Yesterday was the fifth anniversary of her death. It's always a hard day for me--brings back sad memories of that day, of the whole time she was sick, and of everything we used to do together. I wasn't in a bad mood all day, but I was occasionally tearful. I was feeling generally down.

What was kind of odd for me was that while I wasn't my usual chipper self (at whatever degree of chipper qualifies as 'usual' for me), many people around me were perkier than usual. My kids and my husband are really the only ones who know and remember the significance this day holds for me, so I wasn't surprised that they were incredibly kind and well-behaved with me. (Thanks for the flowers, Honey!) But other people around me, for reasons I don't know, were happier and more up-beat than they normally are.

The contrast felt really strange and almost mysterious. My writer-brain turned on at some point, and thought, "If someone came into this room looking for an murder suspect, they would probably pick me, just because I'm the only one in the room who isn't happy." I was the odd man out, simply because I wasn't laughing, joking, smiling. I was the character unlike the others. What an easy way to stand out in a crowd--be the unhappy one.

So, how different are your characters? I'm back to work on my fantasy story, in which my main character wants desperately to be like the other kids in town. I've been realizing more and more that I can't make her stand out and be different until I determine what the norm is. What do all my town kids have in common? What draws her to them? I've been spending so much time looking at her that I haven't looked at what she's trying to blend into--the crowd she wants to join. She'll never stand out until I figure out not only what makes her different, but what makes them normal. Or, at least, what makes them different from her.

While I reminisce about my mom, memories of my adolescence come back to haunt me. How desperately I wanted to be in the 'popular' and 'pretty' crowd. Thick glasses and braces that stayed on forever pretty much killed my chances of being included in any of those groups. Now, looking back, I can't remember much more about the people who made up those cliques other than they were pretty, or popular, or both. I remember their names, but do I know a thing about them? Our prom queen was very pretty. I knew her since seventh grade. That's all I remember about her, and it might be all I ever knew about her. These are the characters who make up crowds in stories. They make up the "norm." Superficial details are all you really need for these insignificant characters--decide what 'normal' is in your town and paint a bunch of characters with details that fit this description. Then, your character who doesn't fit the definition of 'normal' will really pop out.

My favorite memories with my mom come from my young childhood--age five to seven. My least favorite memories (not just of my mom, but of my whole life!) come from age thirteen. I also love the memories I have of my mom with my kids. I'm glad she got to see them all, and most of them knew her. It makes me sad that they won't have any more memories with her... so, I think for at least one day, I'm allowed to be melancholy. Pretty soon, I'll go back to being my chipper old self.

I almost said "I'll go back to being normal," but then I realized that I don't think I ever made it into that group, either.


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