Writing Calisthenics

AvatarA collection of short stories, essays, and exercises to keep my brain from rusting between larger works.

My Mom Never... (pt. 1)

(Exercise info and explanation at the bottom)
My mother never drove a truck.  On the face of it, that doesn't seem terribly unusual, but if you knew my mother, you'd know it seems like something she was destined for.  At one time or another each of her brothers took a stab at professional trucking.  She likes big cars.  She likes heavy cars (this is a woman who had 1,000 pounds of metal welded to the frame of her Oldsmobile Delta 88 Royale because she didn't like the way it swayed when passing trucks.)  She hates to cook and she loves to drive.
    There's the matter of kids, but in the tradition of the American sit-com we shall do away with them as a matter of convenience.  They're at summer camp.  No, wait — military school.  She was constantly threatening to send us there anyway.  Her husband is gone: a matter of tragedy and not convenience, but the carefully invested money and generous life insurance checks are more than enough to purchase a handsome Mack truck.  My mother is fond of Mack trucks — not so much as a vehicle, but as a standard by which things of inestimable weight, solidity, or reliability are measured.  Without Mack trucks she'd have nothing with which to compare her beloved Oldsmobile.  Her easy description of it being "built like a… " — would hang there, that icon of shared experience that would describe it as the workhorse of a solitary life dangling just out of reach.

    Yes, it would be a Mack truck.  With big chromed stacks and wheels.  And since this is the 70's it'd be painted in a semi-gloss avocado with tangerine and forest green accents.  Possibly with walnut trim on the interior and cloth seats.  She'd special order the cloth even as automotive interiors trended towards leather because it's comfortable and doesn't become unbearably hot in the sunlight.  And since Mom likes a little whimsy, there'd be brightly painted Yosemite Sam mud flaps warning tailgaters to "Back Off".
    Mom has never been afraid of technology or gadgets.  The in-dash FM stereo with cassette player and the coaxial speakers hidden in the paneling of the bunk would be a source of pride.  The Cobra CB radio mounted to the console and amplified beyond FCC limits would be practical, mandatory, and often used.  Navigation would have still been by map back then, but she'd be an early adopter of the road atlas.  While most of her fellow truckers struggled with individual state maps, hers would be compiled in one volume with annual updates of the locations of fueling stations and mileage calculations printed in red and blue on the back pages.  She would have seen the benefits of Velcro early on, and probably would have used it to mount a handy push-to-light lamp to the window pillar, using it to illuminate the atlas for night driving.  There'd be a flip-up steering knob for tight turns that would tuck out of the way when the road was open, and a pneumatic, automatically leveling seat to smooth out the bumps in the road.
    Most striking to anyone but her children would be just how clean the truck was.  It would not be a matter of pride as much as it would be a matter of fact.  She'd wear a red and white bandana in her back pocket just like the rest of the truckers, but unlike them and their Jerry Reed aspirations, hers would be utilitarian.  A blue bottle of Windex in one hand, the bandana in the other, she'd scrub the corpses of splattered moths and grasshoppers from the chrome and steel with the diligence of a Civil War corpsman.  The Mack would never hit the road with the bunk unmade.  It would never see a mile without the atlas neatly folded in its Naugahyde holder, or the plastic garbage holder, anchored solid by lumpy beanbags that straddle the cab's center hump, emptied and wiped clean.
    And the road would peel by, and the past would roll up behind her in neat black strips that would disappear in the haze of heat lines that rise from the road.  She'd roll down her window and let the wind whip at the hair on her arm until it tingled and went numb. 
    And she would sing.  She would sing and sing like there had never been a reason not to.

Write "My mother never ..." at the top of the page, then complete the sentence and keep going.  Read what you've written only after you've finished the first draft.  As you write, begin to fictionalize.  Construct scenes.  Take out sentimentality (statements like "My mother is my truest friend."), and forget the subject is your mother.  Take yourself out, too.   Objective: To probe your background beyond the usual limits.  No harm — it'll be fiction.  If you think of what your mother does, you may not write fiction; but if you write what she doesn't do (what your mother never did) and imagine her doing it, you create an interesting match of character and action.

Note: I don't like this exercise.  I'm not really sure I even understand it.  This is my second attempt and even though this is better (I'll post the second one later) I'm still not sure this is exactly what the exercise is supposed to be.


June 18, 2010 at 12:03 PM Perplexio said...

This exercise, or at least the way it's described reminds me of a scene in Finding Forrester. Forrester (Sean Connery) gives his student an article he'd written several years before and a typewriter. He told him to start by copying his article word for word but then to let his own voice come in and take over.

The twist on the exercise though is you start with fact or truth about your mother but as you progress you remove more and more of the truth/fact from the piece and make it more fictional. I believe the objective is to help the writer with maintaining an emotional attachment with a fictional character. Most people have strong feelings about their mothers, thus the strong emotional attachment-- this exercise kind of helps channel that bond and those feelings into one's writing.

I enjoyed it though-- but I've enjoyed most of your writing since the first one I read (the one about the annenome (sp?)).

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