Advance twice, set to partners…/Change lobsters, and retire in same order. Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
I have a very difficult time with transitions, with big and small changes, and of course I am not alone. In some areas, I’m an early adopter. It’s that curiosity thing I have spoken of so often. But life in general? No. Not so much. Change=worrisome.
What about transitions in writing? Early on, I remember being puzzled by details. To propel a character from bed to breakfast, for example, did I have to include getting out of bed, turning the doorknob, peeing, brushing teeth, traipsing downstairs, letting the dogs out, back in, out again, back in, out again, and so on? If not, would the reader understand what was going on? Of course the reader understands, and the accumulation of unnecessary details only leads to the cheese sandwich.* “I woke up. For breakfast, had pancakes [a nod to Tobin Anderson, who just adores pancakes in books, ha], and went to work.” [THIS IS JUST AN EXAMPLE. I WOULD NEVER BEGIN ANYTHING WITH WAKING UP AND HAVING BREAKFAST (Exception: Winnie Wakes Up). AND NEITHER WOULD YOU.]
I read, I thought, I listened, and I wrote. I learned to eliminate, cut, eviscerate; to tell only what propels the story. Studying how other writers moved characters about was ever so helpful. In fact, I soon wondered why I had puzzled so. Jump. Slow down when necessary. Crowding and leaping. Etc.
In real life, transitions are a wee bit more challenging. Change often=scary.
Life is its own journey, presupposes its own change and movement, and one tries to arrest them at one’s eternal peril. Laurens Van der Post, Venture to the Interior
Transition: I am no longer teaching at VCFA. This has been a particularly challenging change and not one I am navigating with great success. It is odd indeed to pop in for a visit and recognize none of the students. It is odd that they don’t recognize me. It is odd to have new faculty members I don’t really know. It is odd to become an outsider. I am lucky, however. I do get to pop in from time to time.
I do have my sources, however. They tell me the July residency was terrific.The Allies in Wonderland have graduated (and doesn’t the class name say it all? Aren’t we all allies in wonderland at VCFA and in the children’s book world?) Now they face the real world. When they return to campus, which almost all of them will at some point, they will see unfamiliar faces and may feel a bit lost. They’ll schedule group retreats and reunions; they’ll share writing online. Some will drift away. Some will be best friends forever.
Change everything, except your loves. Voltaire, Sur L’Usage de la Vie
My own VCFA class graduated in January, 2004. During the mini-residency, ten of us gathered once again on campus. All are writing. All still love each other. We ate, laughed, gossiped, and caught up. Marriages, divorces, publishing successes, children, grandchildren. Fortunately, no one is very ill and no one has died. For us, for now, the changes are mostly good ones, and for that I am very, very grateful.
I wish everybody a cheery end of summer, filled with good changes only.
In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways. Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance
All quotes from Bartlett’s.
*the cheese sandwich: Many VCFA students and alums will remember that this was from a talk by Alan Cumyn. If you bore your readers too much, they’ll go to make a cheese sandwich and likely not return.