I don’t normally write to agony aunts (or brothers in this case) but I’m seeking advice from those I’m sure will know. At the very least, there’s a short story plot tucked into the back pocket of my dilemma somewhere. Incidentally, I’m wary of giving free plots to the writing community in case they – the plots – turn out to be the last piece in the jigsaw of some budding genius who goes on to take the literary world by storm while I’m trying to sell copies of The Big Issue at their gate. However, as charity is at the centre of one of these fledgling plots, I’ll rely on Bill’s readers to do the right thing.
Take this, for instance, as the final line of a short story set in a model shop; not invented by me but overheard by a friend who was in that shop when the customer ahead of him asked the assistant, ‘That dragon in the window, is it to scale?’
For me, it’s a line that immediately sets off a delicious load of creative synaptic connections and feeds the hungry right half of my brain. (I’ve always treasured the thought that the right half of the brain is the right half of the brain). Alternatively, it’s a neat, finished piece of Flash Fiction which I hereby donate to my brother and his readers.
Here’s another plot, embodied in a piece of ‘found’ material. My neighbour keeps chickens. He gives me their waste for my compost heap. In return, I give him courgettes, strawberries, etc, when they’re in season. So where’s the short story potential in that? Well, because he has a surplus of those charity donation bags which come through the door, he puts the chicken shit in one of those and leaves it by the hedge just inside my gate: just about where I would leave a bag of clothes to be collected by the Salvation Army on, say, a Tuesday morning. So, when my neighbour’s usual ‘gift’ did not appear last Tuesday, I spent a few troubled hours pondering the headlines after my arrest and wondering whether I’d be referred to as ‘elderly’ or ‘pensioner’ or just plain villain:
CHICKEN-SHIT DONOR ‘SICK’ SAYS SALLY ARMY
In my defence, I’d have to say – to the magistrate – that I’d checked the ‘do not include’ on the side of the bag and there’s no mention of manure.
Instead of the germ of a substantial story I mentally felt it might be, the above reads more like an incidental scene from a 1980’s sit-com. Often, what seem in my head to be epic threads turn out to be postcard-length musings.
I was recently having a conversation with my son, Will – who, as you know, also writes – about those epic ideas turning out to be postcards. The conversation went something like this:
ME: It’s like I’ve laboured for months to uncover an aspect of the human condition, only for my reader to notice it was yet another example of… (and here I tried to add a silly, random phrase to elicit a giggle)… I don’t know… Freud’s … Hegehog… Paradox.
WILL: Hey, I was reading about that yesterday.
ME: No, I just made that up.
WILL: No, honestly, look it up. It’s about hedgehogs huddling closer in winter to share warmth but not being able to get too close for obvious reasons. Freud applied this to people and how they seek the warmth of close relationships but recoil if they get too close to others.
Even if that’s not Bill’s old friend, serendipity, it certainly belongs in my ‘weird’ tray.
Which brings me to my dilemma. Dear Bill, I keep getting this pair of junk emails. One asks whether my dating needs are being met and the other invites me to buy a Stannah stair-lift. Are they mutually exclusive? If I bought the stair lift, would riding on it leave me the energy to indulge in whatever might happen at the top of the stairs if I responded to the dating pitch? If I took the dating route, would the consequences lead to a stair lift becoming a physical necessity? If I combined the two…….no, stop it.
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Thanks, Ron. I always enjoy and am grateful for your guest posts. A wee PS, if I may, by way of response to your plea to my ‘Agony Brother’ side. I think your uncertainty about the nature of the relevant processes suggested by your ‘whatever-might-happen’ remark makes your question rhetorical. It did, though, remind me of a friend whose wife suggested recently that they should (quote) ‘rush upstairs and have sex’ (unquote). He had to admit to her that he could do one but not both.