Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Value of a Word

This week has really just been one of those weeks. There wasn’t anything particularly traumatic, but I’ve worked about sixty-five hours in the last 5 days and I’ve encountered all sorts of ridiculous people. From the group of hollering youth holding an oil pipeline protest in the food court of a mall, to the young men who feel the best use of time is to get drunk and drive their cars into stationary objects, everything has been draining and I am completely out of steam.

But I found it only took a handful of words to fuel me up again.

As storytellers we are constantly on the search for the right words. We look for that perfect combination of syllables to evoke a feeling in our reader, to lift them up and propel the in the direction we think they need to go. I, for one, cannot say that I am always successful.  

But a couple days ago a friend of mine found the right words. Then she sent them to me.

At the midpoint in my work week I was feeling like ten pounds of shit stuffed into a five pound bag. I’d had almost zero time for writing, given the pressures of my work life, and I’ve been plagued by the feeling that my current project is absolute shit and I’ll never write anything worth reading, ever.

When I was at my lowest point, both exhausted and disheartened, my friend Holli ( a fantastic writer in her own right, http://thekickboxingwriter.blogspot.ca/), who had graciously offered to read my schlock, sent me a small message that had a big effect.  

“Your story doesn’t suck. You can do this.”

To the casual eye, the affirmation that I don’t completely suck might not seem like such a big deal. But, at that particular moment, it was like standing in the eye of the shit-storm that had become my week. That small affirmation took root and started to bloom into an honest belief. Perhaps my story didn’t suck, after all. Maybe I really could do this. The more I thought about what she’d said, the more firmly I began to think she might be right.

That night, after I was done arguing with a young lady about whether or not it was appropriate for her to bang a snare drum while she screamed about the evils of oil pipelines at some poor dude who was just trying to eat a taco, I went home and I found some words. They weren’t many, but they were good, and by the time I was done I was walking around and telling myself, “You really can do this.”

Just as we don’t always know what reaction our stories will elicit, I’m not sure that Holli knew exactly what her message would do for me. But her words were significant, just as the words in a story you’re currently working cranking away at, under the horrid fear that they are complete dreck, might be significant for the person reading them.  

I know it’s asking a lot, but go ahead and write that story, and write it without fear, cause there is someone who is going to think it doesn’t suck. And if you read something that you think doesn’t suck, let the author know, cause it might be exactly what they need to hear at that moment.

As always, thanks for reading.

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One Voice Among Many

People are funny, and Police work, just like writing, is all about people.

One of my favourite past times, recently, has been to immortalize on Facebook some of the stranger (hilarious) conversations I have with the people I come in contact with during the course of my work day. And since Police work is all about people, I have a lot of conversations. For example:

Guy: “Why do I have to go to the hospital? “
Me: “Cause you took too much heroin, and you were dead when the medics saved you.”
Guy: “What do you mean ‘dead’?”
Me: “I mean ‘go towards the light, grandma is waiting for you’ kind of dead.”
Guy: “But I’m cold!”
Me: “Probably because you were dead.”

And:

Me: “So, what are you doing here?”
Woman: “Collecting the scrap metal.”
Me: “Do you have permission to collect the metal?”
Woman: “Well, I talked to Tim, who knows Steve, who lived here a year ago, and knows the guy that might move in, and he said it was cool.”
Me: “So, what you’re saying is you don’t have permission.”
Woman: “Yeah, I got nothing.”

And one of my particular favourites:

Me: “So, what are you doing?”
Drunk guy: “I don’t need the police.”
Me: “Uh, since you’re standing in traffic without any pants on, I think you do.”

While I was chronicling one of these little interactions last night, I got to thinking about the nature and the meaning of the conversations I have with people.

When I talk to someone during the course of my shift, it is usually because I have to deal with a problem; either a problem that person is experiencing, or a problem they created for someone else. Often, these problems are ridiculous (hilarious), and I am able to chuckle about it afterwards and share it with people on the internet. Other times the problems are tragic and completely beyond my ability to solve, and the best I can do is try and control it so no one ends up dead…or no one else ends up dead. 

Almost invariably, that person I’m speaking to is going to be one of a dozen or more calls for service I’ll attend with the guys that work with/for me. I will deal with them and their problem, help them out as best I can, then move on to the next person with a problem. That person will be largely forgotten, just one voice among many that I’m going to hear that day.

The thing that I sometimes forget, is that while that person is just a blip on my workday radar, I may be the only policeman they will ever speak to directly for their entire lives, and I often wonder what they think of the experience afterwards.

Will they remember me fondly? Will I be the cop that picked them up when they’d fallen down, protected them when they were scared, maybe even saved their lives? Or will they hate me? A villain forever cemented in their memory because I showed up with a ministry worker and took their kids away, or hauled them off to jail after fighting with them over something they felt justified in doing?

I very often wonder if I’ve made any kind of impact in the life of the person I’ve finished speaking to. And if I did, was it a positive one?

This thought also crosses my mind when I sit down to write a story, as I think it does every other storyteller.

For a writer, a story is an epic endeavor; something you spent countless hours sweating over until you’d crafted what you view as a masterpiece from nothing but ether and imagination. It is a thing that you can’t stop thinking about and will never forget, because you poured your entire being into it while wading through the fires of its creation. When you finally type ‘the end’ and send that piece of yourself out into the world, you worry over how it will be received and how the world is going to treat it, because you had something to say and you really want someone to hear it. You want to have an impact on peoples lives, and for you that story is your voice.

For a reader, that story might be nothing more than a time killer on a plane ride or something to read while they’re taking a dump.

I am no different than any reader. Some stories really stick with me. For whatever reason – the entertainment of it, the way it makes me think, the way it changes me – there are books I cannot put down and will remember forever. Others, I quit thinking about by the time I close the back cover, and can’t remember the lead characters name a week after I’ve finished it. I don’t really know what the author was trying to tell me cause I didn’t care about the book enough, and I didn’t want to read anything else and ask any more questions.

Now, as I ask myself more often what people think of their policing experience after I get in my big white car and drive away, I’ve begun wondering if anyone cares about my stories, and if they’re hearing what I’m trying to say.

As storytellers our main goal is to get through to our reader. Whether the goal is to make them laugh, cry, fall in love, rally behind our hero or shit their pants and hide under their beds, we need them to hear us. We need to make an impact in their lives so they remember our names…or at least the names of our character. I think we all need to wonder, when we put our words down, whether the reader is really hearing us, or if we’re just another babbling voice among so many others.

Cause the world is filled with a lot of babble…and people walking through traffic without any pants.

As always, thanks for reading.

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