If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m officially a year older than I was last weekend. It’s one of those odd, nondescript birthdays that don’t mean much except that I’ve survived another year, but it’s been a good one. We had a few family members over for snacks and cake yesterday. It’s the first time in several years I’ve celebrated my birthday with anyone outside the immediate family, and it was nice. Having a decent-sized house with porches instead of a tiny, impossible-to-clean apartment really helps.
My grandson, who is seven, got me a push-broom for my birthday. He thought of it himself. Sweeping the porches is mostly his job. Since we only moved to this house recently, the novelty of having porches to sweep hasn’t worn off. It’s still more play than work for him.
We found an old pushbroom in the toolshed when we moved in and I taught him to use it because sweeping a carport, a front porch, and a back patio with a regular floor broom is a bit of a chore. We broke the old push broom last month, and when my wife and stepdaughter stated talking about gifts for me, he told them I would be “tickled” to get a new push broom. And he was right. I am tickled by it, because it’s a thoughtful gift.
The highlight of the day, though, was the gift my grandson gave me last night after everyone had left. He made me close my eyes and hold out my hand, and presented me with a tiny blue jay feather. I collect cool natural objects, and I have a little shelf where I keep them. I have an old deer antler, a 30-year old rattle from a rattlesnake one of my grandfathers killed a long time ago, and some other things there.
We picked up a barn owl feather and added it to the collection last week, and Blue Jay feathers are somewhat hard to come by in these parts. I was pleased that he picked it up and even more pleased that he saved it and made it into a birthday present for me. After we were done with that and had hugs all around, I helped him start his first short story.
The short story writing is something we’ve been talking about for a week or so. Last weekend, the grandson had to write several pages of sentences to correct a behavioral thing that was getting out of hand. I supervised that and made him report to me at the end of every page, because I wanted to see how quickly he could write a page of sentences for future reference. He did the sentences neatly, and in good time.
When he was done with the sentences he said, “writing is kinda fun,” and we had a conversation about things he could write other than sentences. That conversation turned to stories. What he wants is to write stories on a keyboard and publish them on the internet, but I’ve explained that he needs to start with stories on paper, and that it takes a while to get a story to the point that it’s ready to publish.
So, last night we sat down with a notebook and I helped him start his first story. I taught him about brainstorming, asked questions to help him keep his ideas in order, and helped him with spelling. The conversation started with him asking whether the story should be fiction or nonfiction. I told him to write whichever he wanted, and he decided to write fiction because, he said, “I don’t know any true stories to write about.”
An hour and a half after we started, we ended up with a single hand-written page, plus one line on the next page just to keep the thing rolling when he sits down to work on it again. It’s already better than the first story I ever tried to write, because it has a real plot. Here’s an excerpt.
Once upon a time, there lived a cow. The cow was magical. It was evil. It wanted to rule the world. It had a secret lair and lots of weapons. It made a war with the king.
The cow said lots of cuss words at the king . . .
He totally came up with that on his own. All I did was ask open-ended questions like “Okay, stories need characters. So, what sort of character do you want to start with? It can be a person, and animal, a talking car . . .” But you can definitely tell from this opening that he spends a lot of time with me.
He asked permission to put that last line in there, and given that I’m trying to teach him to think for himself and take risks with his writing, I thought it was important to let him include it. There’s also a queen who makes her first appearance in the next paragraph, armies with super-cool names, and a dungeon. All in the space of four paragraphs. I’m hoping he comes back to this and is able to sustain this narrative for another page or two.
I’ve promised to publish the full story for him if he finishes it. We’re negotiating a price for it. I’ve offered him $5. He isn’t sure he wants to sell his VERY FIRST STORY EVER for that small a sum. I can’t say I blame him, but I’m not sure he understands that all I’m going to do is type it and post it, and he gets to keep the physical copy.
And that was my weekend. We’ve got the usual comics coming at mid-week, but I’m not sure what we’re doing tomorrow. It will likely be something brief and strange.