Guardrail man

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Saturday, December 7, 2013


ONCE, on my way to work in the early morning, I saw a man sitting on the highway guardrail, his motorcycle parked behind him.

I could not clearly see the look in his eyes, but I imagined it must be the same far-away look of a caged eagle I once saw in a zoo.

The eagle’s story would be quite simple.

It must have been caught and held in captivity.

Now it lived the rest of its life in a cage, the look in its eyes the only hint that it once had a life of freedom.

I wanted to know the story of the man seated on the guardrail, looking out at the expanse of space and sky before him.

We said before that the reason for our writing is the exploration of being human, which makes character a central element in the writing of literature.

A character is always someone in the process of transformation.
This process is the “story” of your poem, fiction or creative non-fiction.

This is why a literary character must always have a desire.

Where does our guardrail man want to go (what does he desire)?

What is blocking him (what discoveries are made, what conflicts arise)?

What will he do to overcome these blocks (what decisions are made)?

Is the goal reached?

The element of “story” reveals all these transformational processes.
Story is taken as a journey from the familiar to the unfamiliar or vice versa.

Story assumes movement from one state of consciousness to another.
As in life, the only way to such transformations is the onset of “trouble.”

One writer submits that in literature, only trouble is interesting.
If you wish to add the element of “story” in your writing, your character must be shaken out of his/her complacent existence by the arrival of an event, person, or thing that will challenge his/her beliefs and assumptions.

Perhaps our man seated on the guardrail is facing a new addition in his life that has shaken his world, and he stops in his tracks, literally.
In the flow of story as an element of writing, these “life-shakers” can take the form of “conflict” which can happen within a character or without.

Conflict also points to the patterns of connection and disconnection, the ebb and flow, the highs and lows in all relationships.

Notice that the people we most care about in stories are those who go through patterns which we know well as we relate with others: love and hate, anger and forgiveness, closeness and distance.

Janet Burroway speaks of story this way: “Everything that you write is the same: two worlds collide; a love story.”

In a sense, all stories are love stories.

One day your life is going the way it should and always has.
Then wham, you fall in love, and everything changes – your world, yourself.

In story, the key word is change.

We have said before that we write because we want to become human, and to become human is to enter into suffering.

Looking into our inner pain, however, is not the end goal of our human story.

We befriend our darkness so that we may recognize our inner light.

We face our pain so that we may know what it means to be healed.

This is the secret of all literature.

In a process called “catharsis,” we are able to experience with the characters their suffering which may approximate our own.

This stepping away from the self in order to better perceive and understand one’s experiences is a key to healing.

This much needed distance between the self and the felt pain also occurs in the very act of writing.

Like our guardrail man, we sit on the sidelines and observe our lives, giving it space, allowing Life’s wisdom to show as it always does.
We step away by writing the words on the page, not just to acknowledge our being human, but to celebrate the life that always follows each inner death.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on December 07, 2013.

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