The Morning After

Turkey Day and Black Friday have passed, typically two days of consumer excess.  By now the good dishes have been washed and put away, the holiday silverware is safely back in the special green felt-lined wooden box tucked back in the buffet. Most of the leftover turkey and sides have been whittled down thanks to an almost endless series of sandwiches and snacking.  To be sure there’s nothing like a good turkey-dressing-cranberry sauce-sweet potato-mayo-all on white bread sandwich to go with ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’.

That’s how it’s supposed to be, we’re told.

But, of course there’s another side, which as a culture― to our disgrace ―we often choose to ignore.  Now, before you think I’ve forgotten that this blog is about writing and am about to get on a social responsibility soapbox, read on a little farther.  I want to tell you about a conversation I recently had with a couple of corporate co-workers.

As we sat in the lunch room, something I rarely do, one of the men (I’ll call him Bubba) mentioned that one of his favorite TV shows was ‘Storage Wars’ on A&E.  If you haven’t seen it, ‘Storage Wars’ is a “reality” show about auctioning off the contents of abandoned storage units.

Bubba: “I can’t believe that people are so stupid they just leave all their stuff.”

Me: “Maybe they can’t pay the rent.”

Bubba: “Those storage sheds don’t hardly cost anything.  If they can’t pay the rent, how come they don’t just pull their stuff out?”

Me: “Maybe they lost their house and don’t have anywhere to take their stuff to.  If you’re living in your car, you might have to choose between bread and rent.”

Bubba: “If it’s that bad, why not just sell the stuff?”

Me: “Maybe that stuff is their past― family photos, records, mementos ―everything that defines who they are.  Would you sell your past? Once those things are gone, there’s nothing left, nothing.  No identity.  Suddenly you’re no one.  Many people can’t face that.”

Needless to say my last comment was a conversation stopper.  Challenge anyone’s core perceptions and everything stops.  Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Bubba’s a bad person.  However I do think that like many Americans his thoughts go no deeper than the gloss of Hollywood’s reality.

Now, before I go off on a tangent about how America has failed it’s poor and everyone should occupy something to try and make substantive change for the better, I want to turn this post back to writing and how our realization of the American drama can contribute to fiction.

Think about what I said to Bubba about losing everything, becoming no one.  How could you use that?  What story line could be built around the greatest of all losses?  What’s worse, to lose your life or your identity, to be cut off from everything and everyone?

In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a gentleman approaching Scrooge for a donation to help the poor noted that even though there were prisons and work houses, “Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”  “‘If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.'”  Unfortunately Scrooge’s infamous reply resounds in our society today.  In Brevard County, Florida, alone, there are over 600 homeless veterans.  Like the poor in Dickens’ time, you won’t find these men and women standing on the street corner begging for change.  For the sacrifices they made for our country, they ask nothing and deserve everything.  Volunteers actually have to hunt for them in the woods in an effort to provide them with the basic requirements of life like a tent, a blanket, sleeping mat, dry socks, and MREs.  These are proud people reduced by circumstance, often beyond their control, to the lowest common denominator of life― homeless poverty.

Can you write about that?  Can you make your readers share their experience?  Can you turn that into a compelling story that pulls the reader into the life of those who live on the razor edge of existence?  Other writers have done it.  Consider John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath or Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth.  Can you name others?

Throughout this post I’ve talked about not only physical poverty, but poverty of the spirit.  To my way of thinking, it’s not the fiction writer’s job to preach about social responsibility, but to weave the message he or she wishes to communicate into a compelling, entertaining narrative.  If the story is strong enough and the message is woven deeply enough, the reader can be moved in ways he or she doesn’t even realize.

So I guess I’ll close this post by encouraging you to enjoy your leftovers and your bargains, there’s nothing wrong with either. All I would ask is that as you do so, consider that there are others out there who are without those things. There are those who won’t be heating up leftovers, because they didn’t have a turkey dinner to begin with.  Now just think about how you can weave that into the next story you write.

Okay, it’s time to stop preaching and get back to that novel.  I told you not to get me started.

If you’d like to leave a comment about this post or any other, please do I so.  I’d love to hear from you.

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About Kevin_Fraleigh

I am a novelist, and much of my writing is predicated on the concept that within each of us is a hole. For some of us, the hole is a divot, shallow and insignificant. But for many of us the hole is a cavern, deep and expansive. We try to fill it with sex or drugs or religion, but the cavern has an insatiable appetite. This is where the dark things live―the things that fill our nightmares. The things that claw at our minds. The things that inspire the stories of horror, madness, and twisted realities. From the depths of that cavern come the seeds of my stories. Won’t you join me in the dark edges of reality? Learn more about me from my blog at anytomorrow.wordpress.com. You can find my novels at amazon.com, smashwords.com, and most eBook retailers. You can also read some of my full length short stories at http://www.wattpad.com/user/Kevin_Fraleigh
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4 Responses to The Morning After

  1. alice says:

    It’s good food for thought; something to consider while enjoying leftovers, or, now that we’ve moved on to seasonal shopping, while deciding where to spread the holiday largesse.

    • bert1482 says:

      In our me-me-me culture I wonder if having a donation of time or service made in our name would bring a more genuine smile than from some new electronic thingamajig that is obsolete before we open the package. It’s too bad our culture is so much about acquiring stuff rather than helping those who have so little.

  2. alice says:

    When my daughter was challenged to buy a present for an unknown cowoker (it’s a Christmas potluck at work), she opted to make a donation on behalf of her mystery gift recipient. I thought it was a great idea.

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