Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Stalling, stalling

One of the trickier aspects of living a creative life is actually getting to work. I can spend hours stalling. Don't get me wrong, I love my work, but some days I'm like a dog circling a likely spot to lie down. I circle, circle, almost sit, then circle again. Right, I need to work on this new story, but first let me make a cup of tea. Okay, I'm ready now, but I think I'll just check my e-mail. Now I'm really going to work--wait, I didn't write an entry for my blog.

I'm noodling around with a story called "Crisp new bills for Mr. Teagle" by Frank Sullivan. If it turns out to be a keeper and I decide to tell it in paid performances, I'll write to the New Yorker for permission, but right now I'm just playing with it. I've been trying to explain it to people, because that's one way I work on stories: I tell friends about what I'm working on, and that shifts into actually telling the story.

Mr. Teagle remembers on Dec. 24 that he doesn't have a gift for his wife. He writes a check for cash at the bank and is taken aback when the bank gives him the money as a gift. The elevator boy, the doorman, the super all give him money. A cigar store proprietor gives him a box of Havana's finest. Cartier won't take payment for the emerald he chooses for his wife. On and on it goes, with everyone he meets extolling Mr. Teagle's good character and giving him gifts, until he breaks down sobbing, "God bless us everyone!"

This story has cracked me up for years. We had it in a collection of stories we read aloud from every Christmas Eve, along with "Dulce Domum" from "The Wind in the Willows" (I always hear the sad part of the story in my mother's reading voice) and an abridgment of "A Christmas Carol."

When I work on stories, I try to figure out what the nut is. What is the inside of the inside of the story, or as Doug Lipman calls it, "the MIT" (Most Important Thing)? Why do I love Mr. Teagle so much? Maybe it has to do with feeling that we all are blessed in this life, just for being who we are, and that if we could just relax, we could let in even more good to our lives.

Time to get back to telling the story to myself. That's my next step. I'll tell it out loud, as I walk around my living room, stopping occasionally to adjust a phrase or the sequence, to consider my facial expressions or hand gestures. I might extend my walk to include the kitchen and the office, but it's a cold day and I have a fire in the woodstove in the living room, nice and cozy.

More later.


true thomas said...

You are'nt stalling. Like any good predator, you are sneaking up on it. Maybe the nut is the fact that Mr. Teague is reversed (all good things flowing into someone who it would be expected to shell out such things.) Hmmn. Got a link?

PriscillaHowe said...

I like that! Sneaking up on it! I went out for coffee today with a friend and told the story to her. She had a great look on her face as she listened, so I know I'm closer to the right place. My brother Thomas joined us just as I finished. He agreed that it's a great story.

I found it in a collection of Christmas stories at the library, not online. I think that's my next post, about the library.