In isolation, I took to story, and traipsed through worlds impossible yet true, living life from infantile thru hoary, under skies: gunmetal to deepest blue, in lands where trucks were known to be lorries, and ancient cities breathed as though brand new. Where neither time nor bars could imprison, I found my phoenix had now arisen.
This philosopher continued:
“An idea unchallenged can’t claim merit. Sacred stories are paper tigers.”
“Anything sanctified may lead to murder. For one person’s sacred object will bump into that of another, and it’s only by brute force that such conflicts are resolved. ”
The mayor was captivated by the philosopher’s words, and thought:
The youth are lumps, existing free…
So the mayor invited the philosopher to his town.
The townsfolk were not pleased.
The philosopher’s first act was the erection of a sign that read,
Your god is the wrong God!
One resident said, “How can you make such a statement?”
“I’m not here to offer instruction about how language works, but — rather — about how a thoughtfully lived life can be achieved.”
The first man kicked the philosopher in his left shin, and stormed off.
The second shouted, “But what gives you the right?”
“The right to what? To write a statement? To expose it to public scrutiny?”
“To make claims about which god is the true God.”
“I make no such claims.”
“But your sign says so.”
“Do you claim the sign is wrong, or that I have no right to make the comment — regardless whether it is true or false?”
“Well, mostly, the first one. The sign is not right,”
“Perhaps the sign IS untrue, and if proven so, I would certainly have to remove it. So tell me, is your counter-claim that your god is truly God?”
“It most certainly is,”
“Then tell me, how can I know that your claim is the correct one?”
“It is written in the scriptures.”
“So anything that is written in a religion’s scripture is true?”
“No. Not just any religion’s scriptures, just ours.” said, the man, thinking he’d anticipated the philosopher’s argument about how mutually exclusive statements can be true.
“And why just yours?”
“Because ours were written by the hand of God,”
“And how could a person such as myself be convinced of the truth of such a statement?”
“Because it is written…”
“So the scriptures of other religions don’t say they are the truth from God?”
“They may say it, but it’s not true.”
“So do you have more of an argument than that you believe something written centuries before your birth must be true and statements contrary to it must be false? If not, I must maintain that the statement on the sign has as much validity as your counterclaim. Both statements may or may not be true and with unassignable probabilities.”
And so the second man punched the philosopher in his right eye, and walked off in a huff.
A third man, a missionary, said, “That man was wrong,”
“I agree,” said the philosopher holding his palm over his eye, “violence is not a winning argument,”
“No,” said the third man, “not about punching you. He was wrong that what matters is the scriptures. I know my god is the God because I feel it’s true.”
“I had vertigo once. It felt like the room was spinning and like I would fall over, but neither was true. So, I can’t say that I put much faith in what I feel as arbiter of truth, but I definitely don’t have any feeling about the existence of your god — one way or the other. Are you saying he might be god to you — who feel this presence — and not to me, and to all those others, who don’t have such a feeling?”
“I’m not saying that…”
“Oh, good, because I was going to ask why you make so much effort to convert people to a subjective god?”
The third man kicked the philosopher in the right shin, shook his head, and walked off.
A fourth man approached and said, “Your sign is wrong because I have no god. I don’t believe in such hokum.”
The philosopher took out a marker and made some editorial changes. He wedged a large “V” in between the word “Your” and the word “god” and wrote “lack of” above it. He then crossed out the words “the” and “God.” The edited sign read:
Your lack of god is wrong!
“Surely, you aren’t going to attempt a proof for the existence of god after what you told your previous conversant?”
“I am not. You watched the previous discussions and should realize that I claim no more than that my statement holds as much validity as yours. Unless, that is, you are more successful at proving the non-existence of a god than the previous individuals did at proving its existence.”
“I cite Occam’s razor,” the fourth man said smugly, adding, “are you familiar with it?”
The philosopher said, “Indeed I am. But I wonder, why is it not called ‘Occam’s Law?’ Is it always the case that the simplest explanation is invariably true? Could we not find in the natural world instances in which the explanation for an observed phenomena was more complicated than an explanation we could theoretically imagine?”
“Not invariably, but a good rule…”
“So you base an absolute conclusion on a ‘good rule of thumb?’ Isn’t there potential for…”
The fourth man socked the philosopher in his left eye.
The philosopher, blinded with two swollen eyes and with a knob under each knee, sat by his sign, awaiting more takers.
The mayor came by and said, “I’m afraid this hasn’t worked out as I’d hoped. I’ve gotten so many complaints. Perhaps, it would be best if you move along.”
So, the philosopher grabbed his meager possessions, and limped one painful step at a time out of town.
Two weeks later, a colonizing army invaded.
The officers told the residents that they must convert.
The townsfolk all said that they would never convert.
The generalissimo said, “Convert or die. Those are your options.”
“That’s unfair,” said one man.
“What gives you the right?” said a woman.
The generalissimo then said, “OK. OK. If any of you can give me a sound reason why your religion cannot be supplanted by our own, I will reconsider…”
Many books have been published on the science of story since the realization that storytelling is as fundamental to humanity as tool-making and bipedalism. The first such book that I reviewed was Lisa Cron’s 2012 “Wired for Story.” So, the question of interest isn’t whether the topic is fascinating (it is) but – instead – whether Storr’s book offers value-added. I believe it does. While Cron and Storr cover some of the same territory, the differences in approach lead to variations in the material covered and the emphasis given. Storr orders his book around his particular method of story building, which he refers to as “the sacred flaw approach.” He proposes that at the heart of a story is an erroneous assumption to which the lead character wishes to cling. This is where he tries to stake his claim among the vast number of books offering advice on story – i.e. by focusing on character flaw, rather than on the sequence of events (i.e. plotting.)
The appeal of this topic will vary according to who’s asking, but for writers there’s certainly a desire to unravel the mystery of story. Every story builder would like to venture into new and uncharted territory, but there seem to be key criteria around which stories live or die. The most glaring illumination of this can be seen when filmmakers spend tens or hundreds of millions on films that utterly flop, and when they spend that much money and flop it’s not because the CGI was hinky. It’s inevitably because the story lacked appeal. At its worst, this has led to strategies such only rebooting films that have worked in the past, and at it’s best it results in following one of the many fixed patterns (e.g. Joseph Campbell’s “the hero’s journey.”) Understanding the science of story offers the hope of being able give one’s audience what they need to find a story fulfilling without following a beat-by-beat sequencing from a manual — in the manner of a pre-flight checklist.
The book is divided into four chapters that are designed to look at story through its various levels, and within each chapter there are many subsections. The chapters are: 1.) creating a world; 2.) the flawed self; 3.) the dramatic question; and 4.) plots, endings, and meaning. Chapter 1 isn’t just advice about how to build the story environment, but rather it looks at how our brains take in and model the world as written so that one can use that knowledge to more smartly approach presenting a world. As one might guess, chapter two is a crucial one because it introduces the study of characters and their flaws, and why said flaws are critical to the appeal of a story. The author also addressed differences between Eastern and Western approaches to story and I found the discussion of culture to be an intriguing inclusion. Chapter three continues the work of the second by focusing on how the interaction of subconscious and conscious minds contribute to a protagonist’s problems. In keeping with the coverage of culture, there’s a section that looks at stories as tribal propaganda that was quite insightful. The final chapter examines how plots and good endings arise as a logical result from setting up the character.
There’s an appendix that lays out Storr’s “Sacred Flaw Approach.” This is the approach that he teaches in his writing course. The book is also annotated, though it is text-centric and doesn’t employ much in the way of graphics.
I found this book fascinating. It does rehash some of the same examples as other books on story (e.g. “The Godfather” movie,) that’s simply because those stories are widely known and thus have broad usefulness. But there were plenty of insights to keep me intrigued, even having read other books on the topic. If you’re interested in the science of storytelling, this book is worth giving a look.
During 2019, each month I gave special attention to studying some state of consciousness that exists outside of the normal waking state. (Of course, the folly of believing that there is one “normal waking state of consciousness” is one of the major lessons learned from this exercise.) My investigations included: meditation, hypnosis, lucid dreaming, sensory deprivation, psilocybin consumption, and various others — a number of which were variations on inducing a Flow state.
In December, because I was traveling so much I was reading even more than usual, and it occurred to me that there is a kind of reading in which the mind behaves differently from the norm. I’m not talking about all reading, but — specifically — when one gets lost in story. There’s run-of-the-mill reading, and then there’s the reading in which a hundred pages seem to fly by in minutes, but you realize you’ve lost a lot more time than that. This topic might seem like a dull ending to this project. Being absorbed in story might not appear as enthralling or “sexy” as mushroom tripping or floating in sensory deprivation tank, but the experience can be just as profound.
As I was looking into this, I discovered that there is a term that addresses what I’m talking about, “narrative transportation.” Narrative transportation relates to absorption, which I learned is a factor in hypnosis. That is, how easily does one become completely mentally occupied with an object of contemplation such that one loses awareness of the passage of time and external stimuli. In this type of reading, one is mentally reconstructing the world and events of a story, and that process is demanding of one’s attention. Furthermore, there is an intense emotional experience that one is feeling simultaneous to this mental construction. This doesn’t leave much room for the mind to wander — if the story is intriguing enough to hold one’s attention.
As a reader, one facilitates narrative transportation largely by picking stories that are appealing to one, and by finding extended time periods to read without distraction. However, what’s really interesting is how a writer can facilitate this state through his or her style and method. The most commonly discussed aspects of this facilitation are: the story arc (i.e. arranging events to create and maintain excitement) and building lovable or loathsome characters (either way, just as long as they aren’t tedious or boring.)
But there is another aspect that I think of as readability. How easy does the storyteller make it for the reader to create their own mental story-world? In large part, this has to do with the art of finding the Goldilocks Zone of description. If one describes too little one creates “floating head syndrome” in which the reader (if they continue reading at all) may imagine floating heads conversing in a blank white room. On the other hand, if one spends twelve pages describing the drapes or the weather, one is unlikely to keep readers engaged. Coincidentally, one of the books that I read in December that was educational (though not transportational) was Milan Kundera’s “The Art of the Novel.” In it, Kundera bemoans the tendency to over-describe characters such that one interferes in the reader’s imaginings. He points out that readers learn almost nothing about the physical description and background of some of the most important characters in literature.
And so concludes my year of altered states as I look forward to new adventures in 2020.
I’ve read enough books about writing to make it a challenge to pick a top five, but not so many that I would dare consider this list definitive. I know there are many great books on the subject that I’ve missed or are yet to come. I’m always interested in hearing about the picks of others, so feel free to comment.
5.) Writing Fiction from the Gotham Writers’ Workshop: This book is one-stop shopping for the fiction writer. Besides offering lessons on writing, it presents exercises to help one get down to the nitty-gritty. It explores character development, plotting, pacing, dialogue, revising — i.e. the whole ball of wax. While the book offers the advice of many and varied experts, it uses a Raymond Carver story [which is included as an appendix] as a connective tissue across the various chapters.
4.) Wired for Story by Lisa Cron: Cron explores what it is about stories that appeal to the human brain, and how to take advantage of such knowledge in crafting effective stories.
3.) Building Great Sentences by Brooks Landon: I bought the audio course from The Great Courses that this book is based upon and listened to it many times over. Landon’s approach to sentence crafting resonated with me, and while it might seem overly technical as one is perusing the Table of Contents, the author’s use of examples and his manner of explanation is clear and informative.
2.) The Anatomy of Story by John Truby: Like the GWW book above, this is a guide to crafting stories. However, while Writing Fiction gets into a lot of concrete details, Truby keeps a systematic emphasis on taking a flawed character through a course of events and decisions that will result in the character coming out of the story changed. Writing Fiction presents a greater diversity of views about what is important, but The Anatomy of Story offers a more cohesive approach to building one’s story.
1.) Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury: Ray Bradbury was, in my opinion, one of the best when it came to combining story-crafting and creative use of language. One gets a lot of the latter in this book. It’s not a guide in the sense that most of the books above are. It’s inspiration — explicitly, and by example.
This is a book about story and story structure. While Yorke pokes fun at writers who have exacting structural formulae, one need not get past the subtitle to realize he’s advocating a form of structure himself: the five-act structure. And not just any old five-act structure, but Yorke proposes that there be symmetry around a third-act midpoint, and that the approach to story be fractal (to be elaborated upon below.)
The book is divided into five “acts,” or parts, but the theme of each part isn’t related to the role of that particular act in a story or play. The first act consists of five chapters that explain what makes a story. Yorke describes the three-act structure as well as five-act structure, and then explains how these forms are connected — i.e. how five acts can be overlaid, or mapped to, the three-act structure. One chapter, Chapter 4, is devoted to the crucial topic of change. After all, in a story we have a character who wants something and is put through the wringer as he / she attempts to get it, and the moral and / or psychological change that they experience as a result is a major determinant of how satisfying the story feels.
“Act II” explores the components of story – acts and scenes – and how they are arranged into a story. The first of the five chapters describes fractal structure. For those who don’t deal in mathematical concepts on a regular basis, a fractal is a shape that — if one zooms in — one finds smaller and smaller copies of the original shape. This applies to story telling in that one wants acts and scenes to follow a progression that echoes the overall story. That is, a character (at the scene level it may or may not be your hero) wants something, confronts opposition, and this clash either results in more conflict or a resolution. There’s a chapter devoted to the “inciting incident,” which is sometimes called the “first doorway,” and is an event that forces the hero to make a key decision that will put him or on the road of story.
The third “act” consists of only one chapter, Chapter 11, that is entitled “Showing and Telling.” This obviously references one of the most oft-recited (and trite) pieces of writing advice: “show, don’t tell!” As most writers soon discover, this advice is a great rule of thumb but a poor law. Hence, the need to discuss what would otherwise be a simple idea over the course of an entire chapter.
The penultimate “act” is about character, characterization, dialogue, and background. Like most books on story, the emphasis on making memorable characters is more about determining their wants, needs, and weaknesses, rather than being about figuring out how one will dress them or what accent one will assign them. Not that studying the latter isn’t worthwhile, but it’s a common error to produce a muddled character because one hasn’t given enough thought to who they are at the most fundamental level.
Chapters 15 through 17, address the subjects that are probably most responsible for poor story writing: dialogue, exposition, and subtext. The central challenge is to tell the reader just the right amount, neither letting the story get bogged down in needless information, nor leaving the reader thinking the story unbelievable because they don’t have the requisite background to understand what motivates characters. From “as you know, Bob” dialogue to Bond-villain monologuing, there are many ways to ruin a good premise by botching these story elements.
The final “act” deals mostly with the challenge of writing series. Series writing presents a huge challenge unto itself. We are all familiar with examples — such as the television show “Lost” — that started out with great promise and devolved into a pile of rubble by the end. The first three of the five chapters in the final part discuss television and series writing challenges in detail. The last couple chapters close out the book.
The book has seven appendices. Five of these are examinations of the structures of stories known for being exemplary: “Raiders of the Lost Arc,” “Hamlet,” “Being John Malkovich,” “My Zinc Bed,” and “The Godfather.” [“Being John Malkovich” may be included because Charlie Kaufman was known for strongly rejecting “formulaic” approaches to story structure, but Yorke wanted to show that structure happens organically even if it might not be purposely pursued.] The sixth appendix considers first and last act parallels. As I mentioned in the first paragraph, Yorke proposes that there is a symmetry around the midpoint that occurs in the third-act of a five-act story. The final appendix is a handy table that shows how the structures taught by masters of screenwriting (e.g. John Truby, Robert McKee, as well as Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” [which is referenced throughout Yorke’s book]) map to five-act structure.
I found this book interesting and informative. Like other great books on story, there is extensive use of well-known stories [particularly cinematic, e.g. “Star Wars,” “The Godfather,” “Casablanca,” etc.] to help clarify the author’s points. I would recommend this book for those is interested in story, and how stories are structured to be best received by an audience. The space the book occupies is bit different from Truby’s “The Anatomy of Story” [which I reviewed recently.] While Truby’s book is the kind one would sit down with as a reference after reading it in order to help one build one’s story structure and scene weave, Yorke’s book is less of a hands-on guide and more of a light read to improve one’s ideas about story more generally.
Whether a story works or not is often clear to small children and demented lunatics. Why a story does or doesn’t work requires a level of technical understanding not much less complex than that required to know why an internal combustion engine is or isn’t working. Why? Story structure rests invisibly below the surface (except to the writer and those who mine for it, and sometimes even to them,) and structure is where the story wins or fails.
John Truby’s book systematically explores what components are necessary to have an appealing story, and how those components are best arranged. It’s written for writers, allowing one to systematically proceed through the chapters in order to build a detailed outline of one’s story, but it could be beneficial for those who want to understand story in contexts other than writing (e.g. business uses, film-making, etc.)
As the subtitle mentions, Truby’s model of story revolves around a 22-step framework. It should be noted that this division is neither the only one imaginable, nor the only one that works. There are numerous great books on story available, and most have their own unique ways of organizing the details. While some authors focus heavily on screenplay versus the novel versus other story forms, Truby keeps his approach generalizable. Like others, he uses examples from both film and classic novels. Having said that Truby’s way isn’t the only way, it is a way that works, and it’s among the most popular works on story building.
While would-be writers may seek out books that focus on “concrete” issues, i.e. building character details, describing setting, plotting actions, etc., this book keeps eyes on the conceptual details that make or break a story. That is, the story consists of a flawed character with a need who experiences a chain of events or trials that results in him or her having a revelation and coming away changed. This is not to suggest that Truby doesn’t investigate issues like character development and creation of setting (there is a chapter each for those issues,) but he does so always with an eye to how one takes that character from a psychological and moral need through to a revelation, coming away somehow changed. I don’t want to make the book sound boring because it focuses on concepts like moral need, theme, and symbolism. Such concepts are what good stories are built upon. If one wonders why even movies with blockbuster budgets sometimes fail, it’s often because they lack such a conceptual framework.
The book consists of eleven chapters. The first sets up the idea of story and how stories work. The second chapter is about the premise of the story, the one-line idea that shapes the happenings of the story. Chapter three describes seven key steps of story, the seven are added to / expounded upon to develop the aforementioned 22 steps. The seven steps are: 1.) weakness & need, 2.) desire, 3.) opponent, 4.) plan, 5.) battle, 6.) self-revelation, 7.) new equilibrium.
The fourth chapter is about characters. However, it’s more about arranging characters in webs of interaction and considering them as archetypes in order to advance the story, rather than the usual types of advice on making unique characters. Chapter five is about the moral argument being made by the story. The hero’s path from need to revelation will reflect some sort of moral lesson. The sixth chapter is about story world, which other books might call “setting.” Again, the approach remains focused on advancing the story, and not on picking a time and place that seems neat or interesting for their own sake.
Chapter seven delves into territory that one doesn’t see in every book of writing advice, and that’s symbolism. The chapter describes building a symbol web that – like the story world – advances the feeling one is trying to create in the story. Chapter eight is about plot, and it fleshes out the seven key steps mentioned above to offer the full 22-step model. Chapters nine and ten discuss scene, the individual events happening in a story at a given time and place. The first deals with what Truby calls “scene weave” or how scenes are organized to create optimal tension. The penultimate chapter is about how individual scenes are constructed to advance the story. Chapter ten also explains how dialogue is most effectively written. The final chapter is a brief conclusion that explains how stories with good structure maintain relevance.
The book uses text-boxes, graphics, and notes as necessary.
I found this book to be tremendously useful. Truby spends a lot of time using well-known examples from film and literature to explore how the masters put together stories, and that benefits the reader greatly. 22 steps sounds like an unduly complex approach, but it works, especially as the focus remains so tightly on the hero’s arc. I’d highly recommend this book for writers, and anyone else who needs to understand story at a detailed level.
Hand him a glimpse of clear, clean water,
but let the mirage vanish into sand.
Trotting up to it as lamb to slaughter,
let him know he’s surely been damned.
Then he’ll succumb to a parched stupor.
The light fades from that cowboy’s eyes.
No spur-jangle of a nearing trooper,
but dark clouds off in the western skies.
A good story would see him wake with droplets on his cheeks.
But this ain’t that kind of story, the desert plays for keeps.
In a sacred forest
a Rodent roamed
who owned a sword
it freely loaned.
This was no hacking
but made of metal
of unmatched grade.
One day Lightening
made a request:
To borrow the blade
believed the best.
sliced, and zagged.
in its boastful brags.
The rightful owner
requested its return.
But the rodent’s
plea met only spurn.
So the critter devised
a clever, sensible plan
in order to bridge
the requisite span.
It needed to climb
from Earth to the sky
because it had no
wings with which to fly.
But it wasn’t just wings
which Rodent lacked.
It had only one item
to be skyward stacked.
So it piled its poop
as high as it could,
from the base of a tree
past the top of the woods.
Stacking and piling, the
poop nearly touched cloud.
When a thunder crack
struck ear-splitting loud.
Lightening saw rodent
would reclaim the sword
that Lightening had come
to so ardently adore.
Down fell the Rodent
to a pile of fried dung
that had once been its
steps and its ladder rungs.
You may think that
Lightening got its way.
But the Rodent piles
its poop to this very day.
Someday when Lightening
is momentarily distracted,
Rodent’s sword will be
Mama said, “Don’t touch that!
“That’s a Ming vase.”
[pronouncing it “vaaz”]
It probably wasn’t.
Mama calls things pricier things—e.g. Timex = Rolex.
Her gist is she can’t afford a broken one.
I’ll admit I’m no stranger to breaking stuff,
and not just flimsy stuff– cast iron, granite, you name it.
You could say breaking things is my superpower.
Anyhow, the vase is Chinese and looks old.
But my hand was already on it.
You’d think it would be cool and smooth.
But, it was tingly and, well, not solid.
My fingers seemed to sink into it–
like a hologram or a ghost.
So I nudged it a bit.
Turns out it was solid; it tipped.
I moved to catch it,
but it just hung there, tilted on air.
Well, I had to know how long it would stay tipped.
I stared, wondering if mama would snap a pic with her camera.
As I had this thought, the vase tumbled off its stand.
I grabbed for it, touching it with my fingertips
just as its lip—it was upside-down—crashed into the floor.
Time oozed; cracks spread through the vase and the world.
It shattered in slow motion.
A crackly light—blue and white—crinkled through the room.
No breaking noise, nor the expected holler from mama.
Just white and blue arcs of light, becoming blinding.
Then I was squatting and reaching in another room.
I toppled face-first onto brown floor boards.
The vase was upright, whole, and sitting by the wall,
seeming like a person watching me fall in quite amusement.
The vase’s glistening white and blue stood out in the dark brown room.
Dust or tarps covered everything else.
It was a storehouse packed with fancy junk.
It couldn’t be confused with the temple I’d been touring with my mom.
That was bright and neat, red and gold, and had ornamental dragons.
The door flew open.
I gasped, expecting a whooping, or at least a stern talking to.
I crab-walk scurried when I saw the man who charged in.
He wore an armor that looked like rows of little roof tiles.
And he had a straight sword stuck into his belt.
I feared he’d draw the sword and poke me in my tender bits,
but he didn’t seem to see me—hard to miss as I was.
Calmed by my invisibility, my attention went to soldier’s hand.
In it I spied the spitting image of the vase I’d knocked over.
I thought the soldier would notice the resemblance,
but he didn’t notice the vase on the floor–
even though it was clean and shiny like nothing else in the room.
He put his vase on a shelf with some cobwebby bric-a-brac.
Then he spun, moving back toward the door.
He didn’t get outside before a woman barged in.
She had a lot of hair parked up on top of her head.
She was pretty, except that her skirt went from her armpits to the floor.
She was shouting in Chinese.
I don’t know exactly what she was saying,
but she was angry and her gist was that she wanted the vase.
And it didn’t seem like she just needed to hold some flowers.
Well, the soldier shoved her roughly.
She fell square on her caboose.
He drew the sword, and started shouting back.
His gist was that the vase wasn’t hers anymore.
He pointed the tip of the sword right at her face.
I shouted, but he didn’t hear me any better than he saw me–
my voice like one of those whistles that dogs hear, but people can’t.
I was going to shove him,
but shoving an angry man with a pointy object seemed like a bad idea.
Anyhow, she stood, sobbed, talking less angry and more pleading.
He backed her out the door at sword point.
The door closed to wailing sobs and rattling chains.
It occurred to me then that I was locked in a storehouse for confiscated fancy junk.
I searched my musty new cell up and down.
There were stairs to a loft, and I climbed them.
It was more storage,
but there was a door to bring things up by a pulley that dangled from the ceiling.
But it wasn’t a door, more of a piece of wood cut to cover the opening.
I unlatched it.
It fell smack down onto the head of a green, glassy doggish-liony statue.
The dog-lion’s head broke right off at the neck.
[Establishing that my knack for breaking stuff extends to worlds in which I can’t be seen or heard.]
Anyhow, I looked out to see if I was clear to escape—
forgetting that no one seemed to be able to see me.
There was just the woman—once angry, now sad.
She was kneeling in the mud in her fancy up-to-the-armpits skirt.
She sure was broken up about that vase.
You’d think it was her dog or her granddaddy.
I couldn’t see why she was so upset,
but it only seemed right to give the vase back to her.
So I went and got the vase that the soldier put on the shelf.
[Right then, my plan was to put the vase that came with me in its place, but more on that…]
I couldn’t very well chuck the vase down to her, her all teary-eyed.
So I snagged a small tarp, folded it, and put the vase into the tarp.
Taking the tarp upstairs, I called to the lady.
But she couldn’t hear me—maybe she was just too sobby.
So I took a shard of the lionish-dog’s neck, and winged it in her direction.
The green piece bounced, spattering some mud onto her skirt.
She looked over.
She scurried toward the storehouse, wiping her eyes, when she saw me lowering the vase.
Wouldn’t you know it, that slippery vase shifted in the tarp, falling out the end.
I gasped again, remembering that my superpower worked here,
but the woman caught it, hugging it to her chest.
I dropped her the tarp, and she swaddled the vase in it.
She cradled the vase like a baby,
looking up in my direction, seemingly happy and grateful.
I had to work my nerve up to jump out of that loft,
but figured I should put the other vase in place of the one I’d given away.
I was sick with sad and lonely.
I was stuck in a place where I knew no one and couldn’t speak the language.
Even if I had spoken Chinese, no one could see or hear me.
But an idea formed.
I picked the vase up, and, instead of putting it on the shelf,
I smashed it against the floor.
[blue and white crackly light]
And there I was once again, a tourist in a temple in a far away land,
my fingers barely touching the vase.
I yanked my hand back like that vase was a scalding pot.
Mama said she had something called “temple fatigue.”
So we went for ice cream.
Ice cream is safe.
Ice cream never banished anyone to ancient lands or to an alternate dimension.
At least, I’d like to think that…