Have you ever tried to write as someone different than yourself? I took a writing class a couple years ago, and this was the assignment: To write a story with at least three characters, and to write the story three times from the perspective of each character.
I thought that was a fascinating writing exercise. The teacher did too, because we had other assignments like that; another time she wanted us to write a story in first person from the perspective of someone as opposite from us as we could be.
I wasn’t too successful at that one. I decided to write as a teenage boy, but he ended up having a strong voice that wanted to come through, and at stories end, I looked it over and saw a lot of me in it. But I kinda… I mean I liked the person I created, I liked his speech tics and his earnestness and his poorly constructed facade that the world just bounced off him when everything clearly went right inside. I’m giving him another airing here.
Did you know an elk can kill a bear? Though you won’t hear about it so much now, or wolves either. I mean, they’re around, but they’re always getting their head’s blown off and the ranchers bury them, so you definitely don’t hear about it.
I’m not about the endangered species, though. I’ve never really cared you know, if they want to cut down the trees to build a super highway, well, alright. There’s a lot of highways but you can’t get bogged down in that shit, you know? Do you know a bear will eat moths and live off of that? I saw it once on a television show.
I cried once, over a tree. It was the most futile thing. People just stare at you like, it’s a tree, you know? And you just stand there with your eyes closed, like this slit across your face leaking, and my dad said, “You wanna know real pain, son? Here’s my friend Kelly, yeah? Kelly was up on the plateau chopping down trees and a chainsaw went clear through his leg, and no woman would look at him after that. He just hauls himself from place to place, and that’s Kelly’s life forever, now, boy. So don’t tell me sob stories about plants and trees and grass.”
My father’s narratives leave all these questions littered around me, and I can’t draw the conclusions together, not really. They’re like parallel lines that you try and bend together but they don’t touch, at least not in a way I can see, and I just struggle there, with the ugliness of it. Is there justice, then? Does the tree getting buzzed down to sawdust equal out somehow with Kelly’s stump? But I don’t know, you know, so. Now I don’t cry about things like I used to.
So Eliana, she was an exchange student from Brazil, and she was gorgeous. I mean startlingly lovely. Striking, at least to my eyes. She was like a bird with that grace, and that loveliness. None of the other kids ever seemed to see it though. I mean, she didn’t talk any decent English, and she had this host family, and the girl, it was Becca White. Becca was all proud of her and told everyone, but noone wanted to know the Brazilian chick. I’m serious, it was like she got cursed by the unpopular disease, because right from the first everyone ignored her, and then some of the cocky kids made comments when she talked and I couldn’t believe it, you know. This was supposed to be culture, and it was supposed to be pride, but these guys, they all knew it and they weren’t having it.
It got worse and worse; they’d eat her lunch right in front of her and Eliana would just sit, cuz… I don’t know, maybe it was her culture or maybe she was just like, frightened all to hell. And they’d push her around in gym class, particularly ‘the Women’ (that’s what we call the popular girls at my school). The Women wouldn’t have her there. Maybe cuz she was lovely, they threw her right out. I didn’t see her smile anymore after the first week, and then these boys did something. I’m not exactly sure, there was a commotion on the bus, and she didn’t come to school, and the host girl, Becca, she was all tight around the mouth like having the Brazilian chick in her house was something to be ashamed of.
And then the girl went home. It wasn’t the end of the term, but she went home. I wanted to tell her, I mean I didn’t want to say it out loud, but in my head I was always telling her that she was so incredibly lovely. And I said it in her language, and she smiled at me, …but those images faded too. It’s like she wilted. You can’t cry about a girl who doesn’t take- …some kids just don’t take.
Right, so they’ll only shoot a bear if it gets aggressive. Aggressive! Like, you have this enormous omnivore that eats everything, but if it gets aggressive, baby, watch out! Who decides that, huh? Well I guess what it means is the bears who get all up in the human territories, right? If you’ve got a bear attacking people then you can shoot it. I think the beauty of that is that you can’t really expect the bear to understand the rules. It isn’t written in like, bearish or anything; so maybe the bear’s guessing about the boundaries? But my dad says a bear doesn’t think, so I guess they’re just stumbling around in the world doing what bears do and the lucky bears don’t break the rules and get shot. They eat fish and berries and frogs and shit, and try to raise babies, and some of the bears live and some of the bears cross that invisible line.
I wonder if there’s even a bear sense, …like a twinge when they near that line that’s going to get them turned into a throw rug. You know what I mean? Like some sniffling snout sound in the darker chambers of the bear’s heart that goes, “No. Turn back, Mr Bear! Go back! You head down this path too far, you’re gonna end up horribly smashed up and damaged for it!”
But bears don’t have that kinda sense. It’s a good thing people do, I guess. Ya know?
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Feels good to try fiction again. I’m going to blog some short stories this week; both writing a story from two different perspectives and writing in different voice. (Babe Ruth? President Truman? The ugly step-sister?) If anyone wants to try one of these writing exercises and post it, I’ll link it up from here. Happy Monday.