If We Were Having Coffee 4

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you the story of my wedding.

My wife, Vicki, is a bit older than me and we’ve known one another since 1993. We met when I was an undergraduate in college and she was working on her Master’s degree. We shared a house for awhile with another coffeefriend in the late 90s and eventually came to be best friends. I moved to Texas in 2000 and stayed there most of the year, then lived in Mobile, AL for awhile after that. The whole time I was gone, I called her, on average, at least twice a week.

We became romantic in 2003 and got married in the spring of 2004. Vicki initiated both the romance and the engagement, which is one of my favorite parts of the story. We chose May 13 as the day because Vicki’s grandparents were married on May 13, 1929.

We didn’t want to spend a ton of money on our wedding, and we didn’t want it to be a big production with everyone we knew looking on. We wanted it to be serious and intimate. Once we’d made the decision, we told our families we’d be getting married soon, but didn’t tell them the date. When the day arrived, we took Vicki’s daughter, who was already grown and married by that time, with us to be our flower girl and drove across the state line to Alabama. Mississippians elope to Alabama quite frequently. Alabama doesn’t require a blood test or a waiting period for a marriage license. In Alabama, you can walk into a courthouse with $50 and no appointment and walk out married half an hour later.

The courthouse scene is what makes this a story worthy of a writing blog. After we filled out the paperwork for the license, the clerk congratulated us and presented us with a care package. This was a small, white satin bag which contained the following items:

  • Travel-sized his and hers deodorant,
  • two disposable toothbrushes like the ones you get in hospitals,
  • a tiny tube of toothpaste,
  • some coupons (I forget what they were for), and
  • three condoms.

Amused as we were, we appreciated the thought. We had a long discussion on the drive home about what sort of situation prompted the Circuit Clerk of Washington County, Alabama to decide those care packages were necessary. We didn’t use the care items, but we kept the bag. Now it contains ten years’ worth of keepsakes from things we’ve done together – seashells from the beach, ticket stubs from plays we’ve seen, things like that.

The clerk went and told the judge we were there, and when he came out of his office, he was putting his portion of the marriage license fee in his coat pocket. We’ve always imagined that he spent it on lunch. He was very judgely, but friendly with a sense of humor. Just the sort of person you want to pronounce you married.

We went into the office and there was a bit of awkwardness for a minute while the judge figured out which one of the beautiful ladies accompanying me was the bride. Once that was sorted, we said the vows. It was solemn and it was sweet.

We went outside, took a few photos in front of the courthouse, then took the stepdaughter home and went out of town for a couple of days. After we called our mothers and told them we were married, of course. We had a small reception with just the family a few weeks later.

And after I told you that, I’d ask you how your week went.


A to Z Day 25: Yarn

I can’t do any better for a definition of Yarn than Dr. L. Kip Wheeler of Carson-Newman University:

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YARN (Old English gearn): An informal name for a long, rambling story–especially one dealing with adventure or tall-tales. The genre typically involves a strong narrative presence and colloquial or idiomatic English. The tone is realistic, but the content is typically fantastic or hyperbolic. Cf. the Chinese p’ing hua and the Russian skaz.

When I think of yarns, I think of Mark Twain stories, Davy Crockett, and Paul Bunyan. I loved a good yarn as a child — that’s probably one of the sources of my love of stories and storytelling. Here’s what makes a good yarn. It’s a story you tell in conversational language, and you tell it as though it’s true. But at the same time, the actual events you’re narrating are so fantastical that no one could possibly believe them. The effect is usually humor.

Some people limit yarns to campfire stories and shaggy dog stories. Include folk tales in them, so long as they’re long-winded, exaggerated, and use colloquial language. In other words, I don’t think a story necessarily has to be pointless or anti-climactic to qualify as a yarn.

Feel free to drop the titles or links to your favorite yarns, or yarns you’ve written, in the comments in this next-to-last day of the A to Z Challenge.

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A to Z Day 14: Narrative

Narrative was my only real choice for today. It is that important.

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Click for A-Z blog list.

It’s difficult to come up with a medium of communication that resists narrative entirely. “Narrative” just means “story,” and stories are almost as important to humans as food.

We can find narrative in tapestries, and in other visual media that pre-date phonemic writing. It is possible to tell stories in sculpture. And then of course, there are all the usual suspects: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, film, painting, marketing, religious discourse, political communication, and on and on. Basically, if people are speaking to one another, they are telling or talking about stories.

So, what is narrative, then, and why is it so supremely important to human experience? I’ll lay it all out in the order I learned it.

1. A story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s not to say those three parts require an equal amount of words. The beginning can be a paragraph, a page, or a couple of chapters. The middle can be 9/10ths of the story. The end can be a single chapter, or a single line if you think you’re good enough to try that. And of course, the lines between the three are a bit blurry.

2. Characters are a must. They don’t need to be human (check out Flatland sometime), but they do need to be people. Characters can even be mostly-inanimate objects, as long as they have enough agency to influence the drama. (If you don’t believe me, try reading The Lord of the Rings and thinking of the Ring of Power as an independent character. Or read Tom Robbins’ Skinny Legs and All, which features a conch shell, a painted stick, and a spoon as prominent characters.)

3. Conflict is helpful, and compelling. There’s the whole “man v. nature, man v. man, man v. himself” thing. But really, conflict is just one very dramatic form of change. I think it’s possible to write a conflict-free story if you really know what you’re doing. I am not so sure it’s possible to write a story that is entirely free of change. I’m of the opinion that if you’re creating scene-based art, you need something to change in every scene, unless you have a very good artistic reason for painting a static picture.

So, that’s what narrative is. Now. Why is it so important? I say it’s important because humans are a bundle of sensory organs that exist in a universe of phenomena so diverse, it appears to be random (we can argue about the existence of the soul some other time, but for the record, I am an optimist where immortality is concerned).

We use stories to impose order on the chaos that is the natural world. In some cases, stories are a way of telling ourselves what we want to hear. In others, they are a way of getting at truth. We categorize things and trace their origins. We recount chains of events as a way of making sense of them. Without stories, there would be no order, no commerce, no progress. All we would do is respond to direct stimuli when we had to, and spend the rest of our time trying to figure out what things mean.

Narrative gives meaning to existence. It allows us to believe that one day we might find the still point of the turning world. That chaos is not a real thing.

Stories are illusions, but they are illusions we cannot do without.

So I am a storyteller, first and foremost. Without stories to tell, I have nothing to write.

A to Z Badge by Jeremy of Being RetroPins from Part Time Monster.




A to Z Day 13: Motif

Ahh. The half-way point!

I define a motif as a pattern of images or ideas that runs through an entire work of art or type of art. Some of the easiest examples in writing come from fantasy and its most delicious antecedent — fairy tales. Here are a couple examples:

  • The commoner who grows up to discover they’re really nobility.
  • The damsel locked away, for whatever reason, with no way to escape until a most attractive prince sets her free.
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We could also throw in messiah figures, knowledge guarded by supernatural agents with the power of life and death, and self-fulfilling prophecies; but those are all rather older than fairy tales.

And then there are modern motifs. You can find tragic heroes or outright anti-heroes who enforce their own code of justice everywhere, from barely-modern tales of ronin samurai, to the earliest days of comics, to ultra-contemporary tales of the American West.

Motifs can be purely visual as well – hunting scenes, marriages, funerals. All can be depicted on pottery and canvas and cave walls in fine detail or with just a few strokes. And the reason we find these motifs in particular depicted in so many different ways by so many different cultures is that they are powerful. Food and clothing. Bonding with another human being. Mortality. What is more important than those? There are darker, but no-less-important, motifs that run through many cultural records as well. Armed conflict. Massacre. Blood sacrifice.

Here’s how I deal with motifs in my own writing. I use them to generate ideas sometimes. Unbending anti-heroes are useful characters, though not fit for center stage these days, unless you’re a real genius. And who doesn’t love a visceral, high-stakes hunting scene or a really screwed-up wedding? Aside from that, I try not to think about them. I don’t intentionally embed motifs in my writing – they’re not something I use to structure a plot (at least not consciously).

But I do try to be alert to what I’ve done, once I get into the late stages of revision, and sometimes the patterns of images and ideas I find in my own writing are pretty interesting.

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Inspired by Strangers

I say don’t ask, but do file the details away, and when it comes time to use them in a story, just make something up.

Carving Out a Space

Psst. You see that guy across the coffee shop, the one with the hole in his sleeve? What about the lady in the supermarket checkout line buying a roll of duct tape and two steaks? Don’t forget the gentleman you pass on the way to work every morning– you know, the one pushing the powder blue bicycle?

These folks have stories. There’s a reason why the lady in the supermarket is buying that roll of duct tape. There’s a story behind the hole in the sleeve of the guy at the coffee shop. And why is the man on the street pushing that bike, but never riding it?


Inspiration is everywhere, in the present and past of every person we meet. We could ask what the duct tape is for. If she’s only using it to fix a busted dashboard, she’s likely to say so quickly and easily, and…

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