Meeting

Children can get tired of being told what to do pretty quickly. The novelty of being human wears off, and while there’s still a lot they don’t know about the world that all of the adults around them know, they’d rather learn about it in their own time and by the route of their own curiosity. This is why a parent’s jokes can often fall flat. It is easy as a parent to become so preoccupied with your child’s well being that even jokes become a form of care-taking, delivered like chicken soup to raise their poor little spirits.

I am happy to report that my boys laugh at a lot (though by no means all) of my jokes, and I believe this is because I never try to make them laugh. Instead, I make myself laugh and look for crossover. It’s an important distinction. I know my boys are fierce about wanting to make up their own minds, which means they must be given full permission not to laugh. The only way to give that permission is to not care whether they find it funny, only whether I find it funny.

Of course I do want them to laugh, and so this is why I look for crossover. I notice the type of humor we both find funny and aim for it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way I’m still laughing, sometimes to their annoyance. I married my wife because there was so much crossover. That crossover is where we really meet, usually in love, sometimes in frustration.

I’m looking for this same meeting with my readers, but I do not have the luxury of observing their reactions. Moreover, I do not want to. The page must be as open to my full curiosity as my own mind. It is the only way to meet myself, without any requirements or expectations, and when that meeting occurs I believe I have given my readers the best opportunity to find themselves.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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Seeing Castles

Writing is about creative selection. You may see the whole castle from which your imaginary king and queen rule, but you must select those few, delicious details that suggest its complete majesty or decrepitude. Your details are markers for the reader’s imagination, which, if stimulated, rushes in to decorate your world and bring it fully to life. It is easy, however, when rereading your own work to imagine the whole from which you chose your parts and believe the reader sees this whole as well. Which is why we sometimes share our works in progress with a friend or editor or fellow writer. A reader’s innocence can be invaluable to help us see where our details suggested an incomplete world.

But it is not always easy to hear what is missing from your stories. And so time is another kind of beta reader. After enough time you have forgotten the whole from which you selected your parts, and you read the story as if it were someone else’s. And it is, in a way. If enough time has passed, you have changed in ways small and large, and this New You can read the story and not be hurt by what is missing.

Life, meanwhile, remains a story we are telling ourselves and telling ourselves. If we have been alive long enough, we have been telling this story for quite a long time. It is hard to put this story down, however, but fortunately life provides fresh eyes again and again to help us see the story new. These are called children. The old – myself, unfortunately, included – always assume it is their job to teach the young. It is exactly the other way around. Children do not come in knowing the story we have been telling and telling, and they always see the holes that we have not.

Who wants to hear what your story is missing? When we are told what is missing from our story we call children ungrateful or naïve. They’ll learn the truth. What they learn is what we have learned, to summon within us the simple courage to express that portion of the truth missing from the story we tell about life. And as this picture is completed, the castle is revealed, and we see the home in which we have always lived.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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Seeing Castles

Writing is about creative selection. You may see the whole castle from which your imaginary king and queen rule, but you must select those few, delicious details that suggest its complete majesty or decrepitude. Your details are markers for the reader’s imagination, which, if stimulated, rushes in to decorate your world and bring it fully to life. It is easy, however, when rereading your own work to imagine the whole from which you chose your parts and believe the reader sees this whole as well. Which is why we sometimes share our works in progress with a friend or editor or fellow writer. A reader’s innocence can be invaluable to help us see where our details suggested an incomplete world.

But it is not always easy to hear what is missing from your stories. And so time is another kind of beta reader. After enough time you have forgotten the whole from which you selected your parts, and you read the story as if it were someone else’s. And it is, in a way. If enough time has passed, you have changed in ways small and large, and this new you can read the story and not be hurt by what is missing.

Life, meanwhile, remains a story we are telling ourselves and telling ourselves. If we have been alive long enough, we have been telling this story for quite a long time. It is hard to put this story down, however, but fortunately life provides fresh eyes again and again to help us see the story new. These are called children. The old – myself, unfortunately, included – always assume it is their job to teach the young. It is exactly the other way around. Children do not come in knowing the story we have been telling and telling, and they always see the holes that we have not.

Who wants to hear what your story is missing? When we are told what is missing from our story we call children ungrateful or naïve. They’ll learn the truth. What they learn is what we have learned, to summon within us the simple courage to express that portion of the truth missing from the story we tell about life. And as this picture is completed, the castle is revealed, and we see the home in which we have always lived.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Seeing Castles

Writing is about creative selection. You may see the whole castle from which your imaginary king and queen rule, but you must select those few, delicious details that suggest its complete majesty or decrepitude. Your details are markers for the reader’s imagination, which, if stimulated, rushes in to decorate your world and bring it fully to life. It is easy, however, when rereading your own work to imagine the whole from which you chose your parts and believe the reader sees this whole as well. Which is why we sometimes share our works in progress with a friend or editor or fellow writer. A reader’s innocence can be invaluable to help us see where our details suggested an incomplete world.

But it is not always easy to hear what is missing from your stories. And so time is another kind of beta reader. After enough time you have forgotten the whole from which you selected your parts, and you read the story as if it were someone else’s. And it is, in a way. If enough time has passed, you have changed in ways small and large, and this new you can read the story and not be hurt by what is missing.

Life, meanwhile, remains a story we are telling ourselves and telling ourselves. If we have been alive long enough, we have been telling this story for quite a long time. It is hard to put this story down, however, but fortunately life provides fresh eyes again and again to help us see the story new. These are called children. The old – myself, unfortunately, included – always assume it is their job to teach the young. It is exactly the other way around. Children do not come in knowing the story we have been telling and telling, and they always see the holes that we have not.

Who wants to hear what your story is missing? When we are told what is missing from our story we call children ungrateful or naïve. They’ll learn the truth. What they learn is what we have learned, to summon within us the simple courage to express that portion of the truth missing from the story we tell about life. And as this picture is completed, the castle is revealed, and we see the home in which we have always lived.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Daffodils, the Dolphins, and Me

At some point early in my writing journey a well-meaning mentor informed me that I was, “No Faulkner.” I absorbed this information with red-cheeked silence, while inside me I heard, “That’s right. I’m Kenower.”

Perhaps this mentor only meant that I had yet to master my craft. Perhaps this mentor meant I needed to learn to walk steadily along the straight line of a story before I ran the slalom of experimental fiction. Just as likely, however, was that this mentor felt it was time I accepted the hard truth that only a handful of geniuses are born every generation, and I wasn’t one of them.

I declined to accept this, and over the years, despite rejection letters and an empty literary trophy case, I have done so again and again and again. I do not care whether anyone ever calls anything I write or have written “genius.” I do not care about literary awards or publishing contracts. I simply decline to call myself or the work I do lesser than the same as I decline to call my children lesser than. When I look at my children I mostly wonder how long it will take them to see their own perfection.

I feel often like a child of life. I am sure life wonders as only life can how long it will take me to see my own perfection. Life remains the parent upon which all parents should base their efforts, loving as it does with absolute equality the daffodil and the dolphin. And because life declines to judge its own creation, I won’t call any of its creations lesser than either, even when one of those creations is me.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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All My Children

My youngest son and I have been reading a short story collection by a well-known Seattle writer. The stories have a distinctly autobiographical feel to them, and so not surprisingly often involve writer-narrators. In one such story, the protagonists explains, “You can’t really be a good father and a good writer.” To which my son barked, “That’s BS!”

We try to keep the swearing down around our house, but I let this one slide. Funny, I’d remembered hearing this sentiment from Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison many years before. This was back when my children were consuming much of the time I wasn’t spending writing books no one would publish and waiting tables so we could eat and so on. As much as I respected Ms. Morrison’s work, I agreed then with the conclusion my son would reach the other night – and I still do.

But I’m sympathetic. As I mentioned in an earlier post, writing requires my full attention. Children would also prefer my full attention. Yet writing only requires my full attention when I am writing, and children only require my full attention when I am with them. It certainly seems sometimes that it is simply too much to ask that I give my full attention to a story, and then get up from my desk and give my full attention to a child. But really, what are the alternatives?

And I am not talking about children with failing grades or rap sheets, although these are possible alternatives. No, I am talking about my alternatives. What better alternative is there than giving everything I am doing my full attention? Has life ever been better when I am not paying full attention to it? Indeed it has not. What I call suffering arises not from my miserable surroundings, but from own attempts to navigate those surroundings with but a fraction of my attention, as if I could simply teleport myself through a challenge by ignoring it.

Yes, life can feel simpler in our stories without all those troublesome other people to tug at our attention, but in my own experience, children are no more or less complicated than a story. After all, they only want my full attention, which is all I ever have to give anything.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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All Choices Are Final

Ideas can be deceivingly appealing in utero. Here, all is possible. Here, just as in a human life, we can imagine only an idea’s most pleasing parts. The writer can be like a parent dreaming of an unborn child’s future – imagining if it is a girl that she might be a dancer, if it is a boy that he might be an architect – and then seeing in rapid succession the snapshots of this unlived life: the walking, the graduating, the marrying, the achieving, and of the course the adoring of the parent.

So too is it with an unwritten book. Now our protagonist is a man; now it is a woman. Now he is a pirate captain; now she is piloting a boat solo around the world. We can see the snapshots of that which is unwritten, the scenes and characters that came to us first, and the great wide swaths of unwritten scenes and unmet characters are easily relegated to that which will be figured out later.

But, just like with that child, eventually life and its unflinching demand for specificity insinuates itself on these unbridled ideas. Eventually the child will be born a boy or a girl and, barring surgery, remains so forever more, living with all the benefits of the one and without the benefits of the other. Eventually, we will have to choose if our protagonist is a hero or a heroine, what they do, how they talk, what they love and what they don’t. And eventually all those great wide open swaths of unwritten scenes will have to be written, filling in those emptinesses with choices that are always one thing and therefore not another.

For many years, I disliked this narrowness life required of me. In many ways, I preferred life in my imagination where anything was still possible, where I might still be an orchestral composer or a film director or an Olympic athlete. It’s not that those things were better than where I felt pulled, but to rule them out for good seemed, mathematically, to only make life lesser, not more.

Eventually, I began to face those swaths of unwritten scenes, and discovered that their emptiness and commensurate potential no longer satisfied me. A handful of seeds is no meal. There was the smallest twinge of sadness when I said goodbye to the composer, to the Olympic hurdler, but just as quickly it was replaced with curiosity as I leaned forward to meet what had been born.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Wise Child

Is there a more enduring and (once we are one ourselves) grating, television stereotype than the clueless parent? The goofy father spouting bromides; the stressed-out mom nagging over every detail. It seems sometimes as if every TV writer is still 16, having suddenly realized, in the light of his newfound street-savvy, that his parents have been dorks all along.

Yet I can’t chalk this up entirely to lazy writing. I believe there is something about being a parent that has the potential to bring out the dork in all of us. Before the tikes arrive it is just us, and we make our mistakes, and ramble on however we like, cursing, guffawing, snarking—whatever pleases us. It isn’t always pretty, but we alone suffer the bumps and scrapes of our experiments in human being-ness.

Then along come the children, and a staggering reality takes hold: we must be an example. These poor, trusting innocents are going to look to us as an example of how to live a meaningful life. And so we sometimes fold under the pressure. Faced with a son chosen last for kickball, or a daughter who won’t pick up her clothes, we find ourselves saying, “But you’re special in other ways;” or, “Cleaning your room isn’t a chore, it’s an act of respect.”

And we shudder. We’ve become a sit-com parent. Yet it’s so easy to mock the parent who reaches for the cliché, but not so easy to find a new way, a sincere way, to say that your son is in fact special and that in respecting her room your daughter respects herself. To do so, the parent must face his or her inner child who was bromided and nagged, and then forgive, forgive, forgive. Wisdom waits until you are honest with yourself.

All children want their parents to be wise and compassionate and honest and kind. All parents know this because they were children once. You do your best, and the children are quick to point out when you come up short. And so the cycle of love, and disappointment, and forgiveness turns on. In this way the child and the parent are bound forever, drawn together by the vision of how a saint might live, while learning by trial and error that forgiveness is the balm that reveals perfection.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Come Live It

Before I had children I thought my job would be to teach my boys how to do stuff. I’d teach them to run and shake hands and make jokes and generally get about on planet earth. I knew how to get about pretty well so I felt qualified.

But then I had a boy who for many years seemed primarily interested in talking only to himself. It was not so easy to teach him how to do stuff because for the most part he wasn’t listening to anyone that wasn’t him. Still, I was his father and had to do something for him, only what?

While I was a father, I was also a writer. Margaret George said a writer must never be dull. True enough. As a reader I certainly wanted to be entertained. But all the books I loved the most shared one thing in common—they reminded me why life was worth living. I suppose I forget from time to time. I suppose I start telling myself a story of emptiness and loss and hypocrisy and injustice and I call this story I’m telling myself Life As It Really Is—and then I read someone else’s story and I think, “Oh, I like that story much better.” And so that is my job as a writer, tall as it may seem: to remind my readers, in any way I can imagine, that life is worth living.

And so there is my son who seemed to have decided right off that the world outside his imagination was a place where the only thing certain was confusion. Yes you can teach him to shake hands, and yes you can teach him to use an inside voice, and yes you can teach him to make eye contact during a conversation, and yes that’s all practical and useful—but in the end he alone must make the choice. In the end he alone must choose between his imaginary world and the world you are asking him to join.

And how can you do that unless you believe it is a world worth joining? How do you do that unless you believe life is worth living? That is my job as a parent above and beyond all lessons, to say, “Life is worth living. Come live it!” That is a lesson worth teaching. A lesson I will teach exactly as well as I believe it myself.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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Evil Mirror

One day when I was 26 I was visiting my wife’s grandmother at her new apartment. The apartment was part of a complex whose units were arranged like a little village, set against winding paths, a playground and well kept lawns. My wife’s grandmother’s unit was on the ground floor, with a glass door that opened onto a little stone patio.

On this day, my father-in-law was also there to visit his mother. With him was his four year-old son Ben, the product of a second, quickly defunct, marriage. Somehow the care of Ben had briefly fallen to me, and somehow, because I was not yet used to looking after four year-olds, Ben had slipped out the sliding glass door and was gone.

I did not panic. He couldn’t have gone far. In fact, I was so certain that he was merely out of eyesight that I did not bother alerting the other adults. I stepped out onto the patio and called his name. Nothing. Perhaps he had wandered up the grassy slope to the path. I climbed up to the trail and looked left and right. No Ben. However, squatting on the sidewalk, outside the front steps of a nearby apartment, was a girl of no more than three drawing on the cement with chalk.

I approached the little girl and asked if a boy had passed this way. She looked up at me as if I were speaking French. I had just begun to understand the folly of asking a three year-old for help when the girl’s mother appeared on the front steps.

“Can I help you?” she asked in an odd tone of voice. People never used this tone with me. It was so foreign I didn’t recognize it at first.

“I’m looking for Ben—my father-in-law’s son. He’s four. I think he might have come this way.”

“No,” she said quickly, shaking her head. “We haven’t seen him.”

I understood. I was the strange man talking to her daughter whom she had left alone for a minute. It can happen just like that. I began explaining that I was visiting Betty Paros, and I pointed to her apartment, but the more I explained that I was the hero of this story, the guiltier I sounded, and the mother kept shaking her head and saying she couldn’t help me.

Ben had reappeared by the time I returned to the apartment. I wanted to drag him to that mother to prove I wasn’t the kidnapper she had mistaken me for. I was haunted for days afterwards by the memory of the look in that mother’s eye. Her eyes were a mirror of sorts, and in them I saw what evil looked like, and for that moment, it was me.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

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