Writers' Workshop #5 - A 21-year-old in the 1930s

Reply Fri 18 Jul, 2003 05:10 am
I am not a writing teacher, and this is not school. The idea here is that we can all teach each other to be better writers. Constructive criticism (e. g. always welcomed. Destructive criticism (e. g. you stink!) is never welcomed. Vague criticisms and/or praise (e. g. that was amazing!) is lovely but it's a lot more helpful if there are some specifics.

Everyone is welcome to write, and everyone is welcome to critique. Anyone wishing to suggest a workshop topic should send me a Private Message. Workshop topics will be opened pretty much whenever I have topics.

Here's today's challenge:

If you've ever seen the "Up" series of documentaries, you'll know what I'm talking about. There's something about every seven years of your life. Seven years changes everything (most particularly when you're very young). You are a far different person at age twenty-one than you were at fourteen, and you will change again at twenty-eight and yet again at thirty-five.

I also love history and I like putting characters into historical situations. We're going to work with closer history, such as the forties, rather than go back into the mists of time and write about King Arthur. We are also going to bring our characters to today. Here's how we're going to do it (and this isn't the only one of these we'll do - remember, every seven years).

The time period is today, and it's also the 1930s. The age is 21 in the '30s, so the character will (depending upon which year of the 1930s you select) be anywhere from 85 to 94 years of age today. Write a scene in the 30s and a scene today, using the same main character. Tie the scenes together in whatever fashion you choose. This person doesn't have to be you; it can be anyone.

Thank You!

I'll post a sample below. Feel free to critique or add samples on this thread. If you're critiquing someone, please use the quote function and quote the first line or so of their piece so that we can keep everything straight. Pieces should be less than about 500 words long. Thanks!
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Reply Fri 18 Jul, 2003 05:39 am
Celia went out for the mail. Every day she went; this day was no different from any other. The postman would greet her if they saw one another, and she'd smile and they'd usually talk a little about the weather. Lately, the talk had gotten darker, though.

"Hello, Mr. Ferguson." she said, standing on the stoop.

"Hello, Miss Rosen." he replied. "Fine weather today."

"Yes, it's lovely. Have you any letters for us from overseas?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. Here, it's postmarked Stuttgart. I hear bad things are happening there."

"Yes, I know, Mr. Ferguson. We're trying our best." Celia didn't want to talk about it, not with him. She turned the letter over; the return address was written in both English and Yiddish, with a trembling hand.

"I'm sure you are." he smiled. It was nothing to him, Celia thought. "Good-bye!"

"See you tomorrow." She went back into the apartment and shut the door.

Up the stairs she climbed. One flight. The Lowensteins. Two floors. The Bravermans. Three flights. Home.

"Mama, I have the mail. There's a letter from the Kleins."

Celia's mother rushed over. "Here, let me see, child. Go fix us some tea."

Celia did as she was told. All the while she was preparing the tea, she asked questions. "Is everything all right there? When will Lou see his family? How bad has it gotten?" Mama waived her off until the tea was ready. Celia sat down with two glasses of hot tea. "Mama, I need to know. Will my in-laws be coming to America?"

"Future in-laws." corrected Mama. "And the answer is, I don't know. Their store was destroyed. The stock was stolen and the whole place was set on fire. The Kleins are lucky they lived, but now they have nothing."

"Isn't there anything we can do for them? I know Lou wants his parents to be here when we get married, and I want them here, too. We should all be together."

"Child, I don't know if that will be possible. I have written to our Congressman and I have talked to the Rebbe. Everyone says it won't work, the quotas are too full."

"I could write to the consulate or something. Or I could visit the Congressman, if you'd let me, or come along and we'll both go to Washington and talk to him in person. He's got to listen if we're right there."

"I don't know. A trip to Washington? I am almost thirty years in this country but I still sound like a greenhorn. Mr. Congressman will not listen to an old Yiddishe Mama like me. Kela Rosen is not Eleanor Roosevelt, you know."

"He will." Celia insisted. "We'll bring him rugelah and he can't possibly refuse two ladies with the best rugelah in the world. Mama," Celia was suddenly very serious, "I - we - need to do this. It means everything to Lou. And that means it means everything to me."

Mama smiled. "Child, maybe we can go. I'll ask your father if we can afford the train fare. You work a little overtime, I'll sew some more, we'll manage it somehow. I see how important it is to you."

"Thank you, Mama! Oh, thank you!" Celia jumped up and hugged Mama tightly.
She thought of that day as she slowly walked down the big pedestrian mall. The Capitol Building. The Jefferson Memorial. The big statue of Abraham Lincoln, so handsome, so sure of everything, so wise.

"Grandma, the museum is over this way." said Kelly, grasping her hand. Kelly, named after Mama, who was named Kela.

"Yes, the museum." said Celia.

"Grandma, I wish Grandpa were here."

"Me, too. I wish he had lived long enough to see this day." Celia stopped their slow walk and stood on the sidewalk. She began to cry. "Lou - Grandpa - he never even had a marker for them. No gravestones. No memorials. No statuary. Here, there are monuments everywhere, but none of them for the parents of Louis Klein."

"Grandma, there is one memorial. We're almost there. Do you want to rest? Here's a bench." said Kelly. "It's just a few more steps and we will see how the world remembers Nathan and Malka Klein and six million others."

"That is a lot. Too many, far too many." said Celia, shaking her head as they entered the Holocaust Museum.
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Reply Fri 18 Jul, 2003 10:26 am
"Granpa, here's your glass of water."
"Who asked for water?"
"You did."
"OK. The water fountains were beautiful".
"They actually worked back then".
"What water fountains? Sit up granpa."
"Why should I sit up?"
"To drink your water"
"They worked back then. And the soldiers were marching into the palace".
"I don't follow".
"You never follow, kid. The soldiers followed their captain".
"Come on, drink"
"The inauguration of the Bellas Artes Palace, I was there"
"I know, you've told us, granps".
"Never told you, but I do remember"
"You said you were a student back then".
"I was. But I didn't say that. I had a scholarship, you know?"
"Given by President Cardenas, you've told us".
"Where's my water?"
"You just drank it."
"Not true. Bring me a glass of water, please. I'm thirsty."
"Ok. I'll fetch one, you've had three in a row. But first, you tell me the story again".
"What story?"
"About the inauguration of the Palace"
"What Palace?"
"Bellas Artes. You were there, weren't you?
"Sure. They gave tickets to all the students with scholarships. The National Philarmonic played that day. I was eager to go. It was a great piece of architecture, a proof that a new age was dawning. The murals weren't there. back then, you know. They painted them in the forties".
"Siqueiros, Orozco and O'Gorman"
"Who are those?"
"The muralists."
"Oh yes. They painted the murals in the forties. They were not there the first time. They were painting other stuff. Meanwhile the soldiers were marching"
"They marched".
"They marched right to their places. Smoking mariguana into the hall. Such a stench".
"Couldn't do that now, eh?"
"No. They wouldn't get free tickets, now".
"I mean they couldn't smoke pot in the Palace, now".
"They were smoking mariguana and marching into their places. Soldiers. What do they know about classical music. Hardly anyone at that time was interested and the government had to fill the seats. It was the inauguration, you know".
"They also gave you the tickets".
"Yes, but I was a poor student from the desert, with a scholarship, a loner who liked music. And the soldiers liked to smoke mariguana in the new palace. Such a stench."
"And the fountains in the park were all working, right?"
"The fountains were working, the music was playing, they filled the hall with soldiers, I remember. Such a stench. That's how the revolution was. Music for the masses. But they cared about mariguana. Such a stench. I'm thirsty. You haven't given me water. The whole day and you haven't given me water, kid".
"I have, granpa."
"What do you have?"
"Given you water"
"Then bring me some. I mean, those soldiers. Such a stench".
"Time to change your diaper, gramps. Please lie down."
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Reply Thu 24 Jul, 2003 05:02 am
Eek, I just saw this. I love it, fbaezer! It really captures the kind of give and take with someone who doesn't have much short-term memory but can recall details of long-ago events. Plus, there's the near-continuous tape loop of memory. It reminds me a great deal of speaking with my husband's grandmother before she passed away - a lot of repetition, a lot of not really believing you'd done or said what you had done and said, etc.
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Reply Wed 6 Aug, 2003 08:18 am
Here's the next challenge: http://www.able2know.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=10280
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Reply Wed 6 Aug, 2003 10:16 am
Jespah, sorry to say that the character of my "story" -my former father in law- passed away last sunday.

I guess I thought it was going to happen any moment soon and wrote as part of a homage.

Did you notice that we both stressed the cultural heritage?
I guess it's because in the 30s national cultures were more important than today, with the "global village" and all.
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Reply Wed 6 Aug, 2003 11:12 am
I never commented?? Weird, I remember typing it. Maybe it was a site glitch thing.

I was blown away by yours, fbaezer... really well done. Sorry to learn of your loss.
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Reply Wed 6 Aug, 2003 03:50 pm
Wow, fbaezer, I'm very sorry to read that. Excellent homage to him.

Definitely, there's an emphasis on heritage that's lacking these days. It's just a different time we live in, a more homogenous time to a large extent.
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Reply Wed 6 Aug, 2003 03:52 pm
You think? Hmm. That might be an interesting topic for discussion.
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