Friday, July 2, 2010

The Carnival-Planning Committee: On Getting Started

A carnival-planning committee gathers in my brain every time I start a new story.

The first to talk is always the wide-eyed girl in a plaid jumper--JCPenney catalogue circa 1979--who wants nothing more than a Ferris Wheel. Make it the highest, truest, most devasting and wonderful Ferris Wheel in the World, she says, hand to heart. The tiny, overly made-up woman with the massive hair-do disagrees: What we need is pizazz! Lights! Sparkle! Her accent is strong but hard to place; she could be from Alabama or London. The quiet boy in the back mumbles, Oh, the humanity. He wants a house of mirrors. A snake pit. Fire. Lizard-lady. There's the farmer who makes a case for tons of livestock. Every kind of animal. Do-it-yourself milking exhibitions. And frozen lemonade, he adds, mopping his forehead with his handkerchief. What we really need, he says, is local flavor.

Ms. Big-Hair is again calling for excitement: We've got to draw them in! Special effects! Wonders! The boy speaks up: Pirates, he says. Ghosts. The nerdy girl clasps her hands together: Oh! This could be so good, if only we could get started! There's a guy in a suit who consults his watch. He doesn't know how exactly he got wrangled into this meeting. He speaks up to say he supposes they could use a tilt-a-whirl of some sort, like every good carnival has, and he wonders, consequently, how long will this production take to put together? The boy groans. You can't rush the perfect carnival. Ms. Big Hair pops a pill. She has a headache, she wants to give up. The boy rolls his eyes. The spectacle of it all, he sighs. The farmer pours more coffee. He examines his fingernails and frowns at a thought he's not willing to express.

And suddenly, they all have places to go: The farmer has something to feed or mow. The Suit is always busy. Ms. Big Hair wants to go check what's on ebay, what might the committee buy? You know, to get inspired? The boy shuffles away to play music, take a rest. Who needs this? Aren't there enough shitty carnivals out there, taking up space in the world?

And the earnest little plaid-jumper girl is finally left alone. She herself has chores to do, emails to check, but if she stays a minute, she just might come up with something. She might be able to shake off all the other suggestions, forget the little boy's angst, the big-hair woman's anxiety, the suit's practicalities. She longs to return to the Ferris Wheel of her imagination. She longs to begin.


katrina said...

Love it!

sherylmonks said...

Yes! Yes! That's it exactly. Wonderful post, Susan.

Kathy said...

That's it, all right. Except my little girl's plaid jumper is from the 1959 Sears, Roebuck catalog.

Jessie Carty said...

Love this! It is a story within itself :)

Tracy Crow said...

I believe this is the opening chapter of your first craft book on writing.... ;) Hint-hint.

Susan Woodring said...

So glad this post rings true for you guys. It's such a psychological process, isn't it? Wrestling away all of your doubts and quieting the panicky voices, getting down to the actual story.

We live right next to our small town's fairgrounds, and so for two weeks a year, the fair is basically right in our backyard. We go to sleep by the lights of the rides, listening to everyone scream. So, it's both a literal and a metaphorical distraction for me.

Tracy, ha! What an idea!!