Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Shock of the Fall

Lately, fictional worlds have commanded the lion’s share of my real world (with the exceptions of work and pup time, of course).  With a first book out and second to be released at the end of November, every hour I can find I am molding the series, finessing the second book, delving into the third book, and dreaming futures for my characters that will bring us through to the finale (whenever I reach it).  First books are like first love.  We have no expectations, no experience, and we fall head over heels into the adventure.  Second books are different.  We are seasoned by life, as are our characters.  Second books can break our hearts... and do.  Second books, in the ramping up of the overall series’ arc, teach our characters that the fall is much farther than they ever knew and the landing so much harder.  

Presiding over story worlds can be a rush—the power in our hands.  But when we love our characters (yes, even the bad guys), the responsibility we feel to our story children mutes the power grab and we are left feeling like tormenters as their worlds fall into chaos.  We watch them see the world and become scarred by it as we all have the chance to do in real life.  And this is what I have been thinking about lately.  Life.  Real life.  And how incredibly shocking is the reality of how far we can fall.

Weekend before last, I attended a funeral for a man who made the world sparkle.  His laughter.  His outrageous language and frenetic energy.  Gestures wild and alive.  The most animated face of any person I’ve ever met.  I see him in my mind right now.  Life has been very busy, but I had to go to his funeral.  I wouldn’t have missed it because I loved him, but also because he was the man who always showed up for his family.  He even came to my Master’s graduation even though I didn’t invite anyone other than immediate family (it wasn’t a big deal to me to graduate but having him show up taught me that it did matter and I had accomplished something important).  He was family, the family member who made me feel normal instead of the oddball I’d always felt like... or rather, he celebrated being an oddball enough to make me feel like it was a badge of honor not something to hide.

He lived life as though it were the greatest adventure and his adventures put most fiction to shame.  He was a man who had an affirmative answer always ready for the world.  The last time I saw him was when I stayed at his place on my way to Minnesota to adopt my puppy (a crazy thing to do maybe... look for a rescue dog eight hundred miles away), but he thought it was funny and took me to dinner (even told me my puppy could stay in his very clean house after I picked her up... Aggie and I thought the better of it and I brought her home to learn proper house behavior).  But he wouldn’t have minded a puppy accident and now I really wish we had stayed with him longer or that life didn’t get so darn busy that I didn’t think to take more trips (with pup or without) to see him.  I didn’t know he would be gone so fast.  I didn’t know how far we could fall once the man who made the world shiny vanished from us.

But then we don’t know how far we can and will fall and we don’t want to because even a tremendous fall teaches us more about life.  Gives us more perspective.  Jimmy didn’t know how far he could fall and then he lost his wife.  I can’t imagine what that was like for him, but what I learned from him is that even after you fall, lose more than you ever thought you would, the world is still a thing of beauty.  Laughter is and always can be our soundtrack.  Good exists.  And today is the best day we can do anything about.

And that is what I will tell my characters as their journey continues, great falls impending, because every fall is a chance for us to rise.  I can only hope that when I reach my end in life, I will have the same peace Jimmy did that he had taken care of his family, created an amazing community, and bettered the lives of every person lucky enough to know him, and consequently the world we all live in.

Rest in Peace Jimmy Tilden.