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Monday, December 24, 2018

The Long Journey of Imagination


By Courtney Pierce

On this wondrous Christmas Eve, like all Christmas Eves of my life, I reflect on where I am today and how I got here. A writer’s journey is a long one. In my case, stories burned from a very young age. I didn’t do anything about them, though, until I was over fifty. No one could show me how to be a writer; I could only be taught the craft of construction to make my stories compelling and readable. The ideas, though, were completely on my head—or in my head, so to speak.

This writing journey started with my being a mimic at the age of four or five, regurgitating up jingles from commercials and imitating the talking heads on newscasts. If I say so myself, I did a pretty good Walter Cronkite with my version of "Now for the news..." I’d dance around and sing the day's headlines for my Mom while she made dinner. When my Dad came home from work, I’d assault him at the door with my latest tune about Vietnam, the Marlboro Man, or Mao Zedong. Sometimes I’d snap my fingers with new words to the theme song from The Addams Family.

Jingles turned into stories. I’d spout out only a sentence or two that started with “What if this guy was a concert pianist and he had eyes on his fingers?” or “So there was a kid who had three ears, and one of them could hear things in outer space . . . ” And on it went.

My parents would just shake their heads and say, “Where does she come up with this stuff?”

As a baby boomer, I’m obsessed with analyzing those wondrous moments of youth, as if I could capture and bottle them. Now that I’m all grown up, I like to pull apart those emotions of puberty and young adulthood to see how they shaped the person I am today. Without a doubt, my spirit is still based on three major food groups: wishes, dreams, and being in love.

I’m still the same. Nothing has changed, except that the made-up stories are more intense when combined with colorful history and life experience.

Recently, my older sister and I were comparing notes about getting into trouble in middle school. I was a goody-two-shoes; she was a sneaky rebel. I distinctly remember one incident in 6th grade where my teacher gave me detention for not paying attention in class—repeatedly. Mrs. Truesdale was her name. She was over 6-foot tall, intimidating, old, and a grump. And not only did she give me detention, she called my parents to come to the school for a gang-up meeting.

To be clear, my parents found this a loathsome chore, as if they, themselves, had also been ordered to squirm in detention. I was the meat in a double-trouble sandwich of Mrs. Truesdale and my parents. Here’s an annotated version of how the scoldy meeting went:

“Your daughter doesn’t pay attention in my class,” Mrs. Truesdale announced. She punctuated the statement by smacking her hand on the desk. “Courtney just stares out the window. I don’t know what to do with her.”

My father turned to me. “Is this true?”One of his vivid aqua eyes floated 45 degrees west of my right shoulder. Craziest thing that eye, but it was focused on me from somewhere over there.

“Yes,” I said and gnarled my fingers. Then I turned to the window. Slight shimmers of the fall maple leaves were much more interesting than this conversation.

My mother chimed in and pointed. “What’s out there?”

“I don’t know,” I said and shrugged. “All kinds of things.”

Mrs. Truesdale eased with an expression of triumph. “See? She doesn’t pay attention.”

My mother pinned Mrs. Truesdale with a scrutinizing stare. “But she gets As on all her tests. I don’t understand what the problem is.”

“That’s the most frustrating part,” my teacher countered. “I never know if I’m getting through.”

Dad started laughing. “Join the club. Courtney's bored. You'll need to be more interesting or she's liable to break into song when you least expect it.”

Mom pursed her lips and stood. “I think we’re done here. Leave our daughter alone. She’s fine.”

Go Mom and Dad! I will forever thank them for coming to my defense. My parents saw something in me that my teacher didn’t. From then on, they never scoffed at my stories or jingles again.

Those moments of staring out the window became the fodder of future stories that would percolate for over forty years. The seeds of them were never dormant as I went to college, got married at twenty, became responsible, and nurtured a career. Then they sprung to life with the fuel of burning desire. When I finally learned how to turn my ideas into books, it was like starting over. My young-girl imagination blossomed again with the infusion of experience, wisdom, and education.

Every thought I had in my budding youth felt original and fresh, as if ideas had bubbled up from inside instead of coming from somewhere or someone else. I grew up without the crutch of electronic devices. A set of World Books and a library card gave me the ability to verify facts. The rest of my great wisdom came from Bugs BunnyGilligan’s IslandBewitched, and I Dream of JeannieIn the new world of Google, smartphones, NetFlix, and texts, I often wonder what the future holds for stories by writers who are growing up in this electronic age. Will young writers not be able to come up with anything on their own? 

I've heard it said that the older we get, the younger we grow.  I think that's all too true. Those confusing thoughts of my youth and hard knocks of adulthood eventually did give way to greater understanding, and along with it came confidence and self-respect. But make no mistake—imagination is hard work. It’s an investment in one’s self to mold who we are and shape the person we’ll become. And the reward is to turn creative thoughts into a book, a song, or a magnificent work of art.

And on this beautiful Christmas Eve at our home in Montana, the CrockPot releases the aroma of the self-managed beef stew. My stepdaughter works on a complicated puzzle at a card table. Next to me on the couch, my husband studies a detailed map of Glacier National Park to plan our next hike. Me? Well . . . my gaze pulls to the window. A light snowfall whirls on a breeze around the lights on the patio. Their dance is accompanied by the snap and pop inside the wood stove. The combination of ice and fire gives me dialogue ideas as I work on my next book, Big Sky Talk.

I wish you all a loving and safe holiday. I'll be back at you in the New Year with all kinds of new stuff!.

Courtney Pierce is a fiction writer living in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her husband. stepdaughter, and their brainiac cat, Princeton. Courtney writes for the baby boomer audience. By day, she is an executive in the entertainment industry and uses her time in a theater seat to create stories that are filled with heart, humor and mystery. She has studied craft and storytelling at the Attic Institute and has completed the Hawthorne Fellows Program for writing and publishing. Active in the writing community, Courtney is a board member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association and on the Advisory Council of the Independent Publishing Resource Center. She is a member of Willamette Writers, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and She Writes. The Executrix received the Library Journal Self-E recommendation seal.

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Available Now!
Book 3 of the
Dushane Sisters
Trilogy
The Dushane Sisters Trilogy concludes with Indigo Legacy, available now. There's love in the air for Olivia and Woody, but will family intrigue get in the way? Ride along for the wild trip that starts in a New York auction house and peaks in a mansion on Boston's Beacon Hill. 

The Dushane sisters finally get to the truth about their mother.

New York Times best-selling author Karen Karbo says, "Courtney Pierce spins a madcap tale of family grudges, sisterly love, unexpected romance, mysterious mobsters and dog love. Reading Indigo Lake is like drinking champagne with a chaser of Mountain Dew. Pure Delight."

8 comments:

Judith Ashley said...

Courtney, I was one of those window gazers in elementary school. My memories of high school? Our backs were to the windows so that dream-time didn't happen in class. Back in the day walking to school was time-limited (never was a morning person) but the walk home could take at least twice as long. Sometimes, even now when I'm out on my daily walk, I find my imagination soaring as something catches my eye, nose, ears or I stop to ruffle a dog's ears. Ah, taste? Maybe not in winter but other times of the year, backyard BBQ aromas drift out to the street.

Enjoy Montana and the time to imagine.

CourtneyPDX said...

Ah, yes. Walks to and from school birthed a bounty of ideas. I grew up in a small New England town without school buses. I guess those are the kind of moments that train us to be comfortable in our own skins and treasure alone time. Kids today have a hard time with that.

Have a wonderful holiday! I'm working away on the next book, and last night a three-point buck came to the window to check us out. We have a resident grizzly, but I haven't spotted him yet.

Sarah Raplee said...

Mom would read to us kids almost every night from fairytale books, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, 1001 Arabian Nights, and other books that stretched the imagination. Dad was an airline pilot who traveled the globe, making sure we understood what a big, diverse, magical world we live in. They always encouraged us to use our imaginations. Looking back, I am soooo greatful!

Maggie Lynch said...

I ALWAYS love reading your posts, Courtney. You reflect so much of my own life. In elementary school I was a window gazer, but learned that wasn't acceptable so I developed away to look at the teacher without paying attention to what he/she was saying unless it was something new and interesting. Far too many teachers ask you to read a chapter in a textbook and then they tell you the whole thing again.

I loved learning about your mimic headlines and jingle memories. For me, being the oldest, I would organize my siblings and any kids on the block to re-create plays or musicals. When the Sound of Music came out we were all members of the cast in our backyard. We knew all the songs by heart and then each made up their part based on what they could remember from seeing the movie at the local drive-in.

Imagination is critical in all aspects of life. It requires imagination to see different options, to get out of trouble spots, and to plan a life that you want. Without that you are stuck repeating what everyone else does or only those things you know.

My favorite part of your post is this: "...my spirit is still based on three major food groups: wishes, dreams, and being in love." That is a beautiful spirit to have and to nurture.

I can picture you in your Montana cabin, snuggled together as a family, looking out at the snow, the mountains, the trees, and the wildlife. You are making your wishes and dreams come true every day. As for being in love, it is obvious you are. Merry Christmas!

Diana McCollum said...

What a wonderful uplifting blog post. Thank you , Courtney! Happy Holidays to you and your family.

Peter Gale nonsuch said...

Mic drop! Amazing post as always.You are the #1!

Kofi Danso said...

Got some good ideas, thanks for sharing!

Junaid Iqbal Memon said...

Love your blog!