The original post appeared on the Rockville 8 blog in 2011. I’ve lightly edited the text.
Every year I fortunate to celebrate my birthday with a handful of folks who share the same happy date. Often we exchange small gifts. About ten years ago, a former coworker made cell phone bling and each had a silver bead with a power word. I snagged the one that read “change,” thinking to use it as a touchstone for meditation, for acceptance of that fact that, as Patty Loveless sings in that old song, “Life’s about changing, nothing ever stays the same.”
I’m not comfortable with change as a general rule. I don’t like surprises, curveballs or things I can’t anticipate. But back in 2011, I knew that I’d be enduring a gauntlet of changes and I thought: Bring it on. I know you’re coming for me. I’ll be ready.
Some things you are never ready for.
I wasn’t ready for my grandfather to die that spring, even though I knew the end was near. And in the summer, I wasn’t ready for two critique partners to choose new paths that lead away from our little band of writers. That fall, I was facing the prospect of saying good-bye to my boss of seven years. I wasn’t ready for the discombobulation that would come from that, either.
Change. It’s hard, dammit.
I think my favorite protagonists tend to hold a similar opinion. For all the sh** we writers put those poor folks through, it’s a wonder they’re willing to show up on the page to find out what we have in store for them next. Life is swell then, bam, they stumble across an unexpected betrothal, get caught up in the search for a murderer, or learn that humans aren’t the only species at the top of the food chain. But show up they do and watching how they triumph, sink, fight, persisting, persisting, persisting to rise again not only keeps me reading, it keeps me writing.
In 1930s Hollywood W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke (director of The Thin Man among other great films), used to push people into his pool during parties he hosted. How his guests responded to this unexpected turn of events helped him figure out whom he wanted to work with in his next films (thankfully for all of us, Myrna Loy passed the splash test with flying, if drenched, colors).
It got me wondering. My heroes tend to be the ones who’d stay in the pool for the rest of the party. Especially if they could entice their love interests to join them (“Come on in, the water’s fine. Clothing optional.”). My heroines on the other hand would probably fail the test (they end up liking change just about as much as I do. Go figure.). One of them, a detective in the royal guard, might even try to arrest Mr. Van Dyke for frivolous frivolity–if she could find the right statute on the books.
I’d like to think my little phone bling touchstone prepared me fully and lastingly to pass the pool plunge test like Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life. It probably hasn’t, but a gal can live in hope.
How would your favorite characters take to getting pushed into Van Dyke’s pool? How would you?