Thursday, September 23, 2010

Inches and Miles

Today The Great Writing Experiment (hosted by Elana Johnson, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and Jennifer Daiker) is going on over at Elana's Blog. The topic is Writing Compelling Characters. There are no rules. So I'm posting about a character, one that I hope is compelling. I am so close to my work that I don't know if she is or not. I'm hoping that you'll be honest and tell me.

The Autumnal Equinox is the one time of the year when day equals night no matter where in the world you are. Sarah shuffles to her car in a gait that screams old lady. She makes a note of this and adds it to the pile of mounting evidence: the pale yellow raincoat, treasured but ancient; the slumped-over, caved-in posture; the lurking tears ready to spring forth and the teeth she’d forgotten to brush.

Yesterday it was the odor that clung to her two-day-old clothes as she left the Department of Family and Children’s Services. Not many of her clothes fit her anymore and, while she wanted to care, knew she should care, she couldn’t.

At least today she’d had a shower and colored her hair. But even that was evidence of the slide. Until a few months ago her luscious red hair had been managed by a high-priced stylist. Today her color came from a $5.97 box of Clairol Natural Instincts.

“How does one slide from the top of the world to an old lady in a raincoat with bad breath and b.o.?” she wondered.

Looking back she saw it had happened by inches and miles.

She remembered being a doctor, sought after and respected. She made good money, employed an assistant and paid her taxes. She was generous and talented. She had finally found the love of her life and he was in love with her. She owned a condo and lived in the land of her dreams.

Then her stepfather died and a few months later, her mother followed. The recession hit and her business suffered. She cared. She threw money at the problem but the outflow became a hemorrhage. She paid her mortgage with credit cards like a good little citizen and over time she lost it all.

She cared so much that it rocked her faith and cracked her foundation. Her indomitable spirit faltered.

The stress made her sick and she kept going. She'd had to. But nothing could stop that awful slide. The love of her life soured. He fell in love with a doctor, he said, not a failure. And that had been the final blow.

Adrift, treading in dangerous waters, she kept paddling even though some days she couldn't remember why. Till she met Eli.

And the inches became smiles.

Sarah swam toward him, excited and full of hope but his words were hollow. Instead of shelter and comfort she found rejection and heartache. Now she was alone, far from home, with nothing.

Miles became inches and inches became miles and there was no where and no way to escape. Denial was her blanket, her only comfort.

She sat, every day like an automaton, staring at her computer, wishing things were as they had been. Then the call came, a loved one suggesting Sarah apply for aid. It was then that Sarah knew what she had suspected for some time: she was no longer a productive member of society.

Surrounded by walls she couldn't scale, she made the call. She filled out the form. Candice the caseworker at the DFCS, was kind. She told Sarah there was no shame in needing help, that this is what DFCS was for.

Sarah cried in earnest then, hot tears of shame dripping down her cheeks as her world crumbled to dust. What she needed, more than food stamps, was help for her soul. The depression, so close at hand for four years running, consumed her. It dogged her footsteps, making her clothes too small and her sleep too long. It kept her from working. She was at the end of her money, her credit and her assets. And her prison cell was full of fleas.

Candice handed her a Kleenex and through the lump in her throat, Sarah asked if there was a free clinic that could help her escape. There is. Sarah whimpered and made another call.

That miserable day ended and Sarah slept for twelve long hours before waking to another miserable day.

This morning she sprayed for fleas and set a bomb for good measure, then trudged to a 12 Step Meeting where her wretchedness was confirmed. Even the steps had failed her.

Afterward, she found the clinic. She wondered how she had fallen so far and so hard. Taking the paperwork from Linda, she put on her glasses and sobbed, unable to see though the tears. Another patient, the only other soul in the waiting room, let her cry.

Linda is sorry but they can’t see Sarah today and not for another two weeks. Does Sarah mind driving to another town next Wednesday? Dumbfounded and unable to argue, Sarah agreed and left. But she can’t go home, her house is bug bombed. She did anyway and sat on the deck in a plastic chair. She sat so long that her hand went numb from leaning on her elbow.

Finally, she dragged her bones back to the car and drove to Five Guys for a hotdog and coke and a cool place to write. She deposited her laptop on a table and ordered, then came back and turned it on. The battery is low, she needs her power cord.

Sarah shuffles to her car in a gait that screams old lady. She feels more ancient than her raincoat. She wonders how she will muster the strength to make it until Wednesday. But it’s the Autumnal Equinox and she knows that she will.

It's only inches and miles.

This post is dedicated to the millions who suffer from chemical depression, an oftentimes fatal disease if left untreated. Thank you to Elana, Alex and Jen for hosting this 'experiment'. There are 177+ entries last time I checked. Click here to read all the other awesome posts and to add your own if you haven't already.


Unknown said...

Now that was compelling.
The affects of depression are so pervasive the person is too far under before they realise there is a problem. Sad.

GPs in the UK can earn more than our Prime Minister, just saying. ;)


Wonderful to read, good luck with the blogfest.


Jules said...

Okay I feel like I REALLY know this character ;) But a marvelous job at the challenge.

Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Christine Fonseca said...

Nice post! Loved the last line. Perfect

Unknown said...

Very compelling, your take will be the only one of its kind which makes it all the more special. Thank you for sharing, and how sweet to dedicate to those who have suffered.

Amazing. Thanks for taking part in the experiment.

Sangu Mandanna said...

This was compelling and I feel like I've gotten to know her! Great take on the blogfest challenge!

Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Elaine, so there's a long, long to fall from GP to DFCS. Thank you for commenting on whether you found her compelling or not.

Yvonne, thank you!

Jules, she could be any one of us. :( Thanks.


Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Christine, welcome and thanks! The piece felt unfinished so I used the inches and miles line to tie it all back together. Thank you for noticing!

Jen, it looks like everyone else actually did more of a writing article. I don't know why, but this experiment seemed to beg for a character sketch. Thank you so much for hosting and for commenting on my entry.

Sangu, I was wondering if anyone would relate at all. Thank you!


Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

I loved the inches and smiles line! I also liked how you returned to that theme throughout the story and referenced the Autumnal Equinox at both the beginning and the end.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

What an original way to tackle this blogfest! You DEFINITELY showed us a compelling character. :-)

Unknown said...

It is surprising just how much a series of random events can alter the course of a life.

Jen said...

Most DEFINITELY a compelling character. I ache for her! I almost cried for her.

Great spin on the blogfest topic :)

Hello from a fellow Georgian.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wow...that was riveting!

Wendy Tyler Ryan said...

Brilliant! Brilliant! You "showed" instead of "told". Very good.

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Well, Olivia you sure nailed "compelling." Great!

Nicole Zoltack said...

Definitely compelling. And I applaud you for your unique approach to the blogfest.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I so felt Sarah's heartbreak and pain. And "inches and miles," that's the way people fall.

In these hard times so many are falling.

My favorite: "Surrounded by walls she couldn't scale, she made the call."

This was better than advice. Great writing!

RaShelle Workman said...

Hi Olivia - it's certainly the way we fall isn't it? Compelling? Yes. It was a nice change of pace. I wanted a smidge of hope for her, poor thing. Wonderful. =D

Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Hi Sandra, thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I'll be making the rounds to your house tomorrow. Thank you so much!

Shannon, thank you, thank you, thank you! Welcome and thank you for following. I'll come round to see your entry tomorrow.

Kobico, surprising, yes, and scary.


Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Jen, hi there fellow Georgian! Thank you. I was really not sure how compelling she was and your comment helps a lot. Welcome. I'll be by to see you tomorrow, k?

Sharon, wow. Thank you so much!

Wendy, awwwww. You're so sweet. Thank you!


Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Mary, yay! Thank you!

Nicole, thank you so much. And thank you for stopping by!

Terry, hi beautiful lady! I am humbled in the presence of such wonderful praise from so many amazing writers. Thank you so much.


Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

RaShelle, I think your name is so beautiful. Thank you for coming by and commenting. I'm almost convinced that Sarah is indeed compelling. Why is it I have such a hard time seeing it in my own work?

One day I'll write another scene for Sarah. I have to believe there are good times in store for her yet. I like happy endings so...yeah.


Melissa said...

I know this character. You really made me feel like they were real. My friend. Someone I really cared about.

This is compelling.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

This character broke my heart. I felt the burden, the pain. Quite compelling, and clever of you to show it in a scene.

N. R. Williams said...

I enjoyed your post very much and yes, she is compelling. good luck with future endeavors.
N. R. Williams, fantasy author

Unknown said...

Thank you for the great example of a compelling character. It was vivid description of the cycle that revolves unending on itself. Totally awesome! Thanks!

Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Melissa, that's excellent, thank you!

Tricia, she broke mine, too. Thank you so much.

N.R., thank you so much for your kind feedback.

Pam, thank you. It's sad that so many must deal (or not) with this debilitating disease.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

How clever! Using a story to convey a compelling character. (I don't think anyone else did this.)

Misha Gerrick said...

Very well written.

I find myself wondering if she's going to make it back to the top...

Hope you write more about her journey!

Sorry I didn't comment earlier. I'll be much more loyal in future ;-)

Botanist said...

Very uncomfortable reading, which in itself shows that you are on to a good thing here.

Vivid and compelling description of a slide into the abyss. This could be any one of us.

I found the "old lady" comparison most telling. If I can dare make a suggestion, have you considered immersing us even more in the physical side of depression? The tears that break out with no warning and no obvious cause. Counting the steps in a flight of stairs...half way up...only three to go...because each one feels such an effort. You hint at it ("she dragged her bones back to the car") but I think you could do even more to make us feel it.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was really compelling. You held my interest all the way through till the end. I see you've applied the 'Show dont tell' approach to creating compelling characters!

J.C. Martin said...

Definitely evokes sympathy for Sarah, The fact she used to be a doctor makes her all the more compelling--she wasn't always this way; what made her change? I do find Sarah compelling, and this would make a great character sheet blurb. As part of a story, perhaps parts of the back story seems a b it more 'tell' than 'show' but you should have no worries: I DO want to know what happens to Sarah, so you have succeeded in making her compelling! :)

Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

L. Diane, thank you so much.

Misha, aww, thank you for coming back. Yes, you may see more of Sarah's life.

Botanist, you have a good point. I was napping earlier and some revisions leaped to mind. :)


Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré said...

Gargi, thank you!

J.C., thanks for stopping by and commenting.


Walter Knight said...

Depression is a great topic to write about because it cannot be rationalized. You cannot just blame depression on weakness.

There is no good reason to cut on yourself, but it happens anyway. Writing to provide a window to depression and its affect on loved ones can create excellent compelling characters.

Ever ask someone why they cut themself. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," is the best answered I ever got.

Your compelling character is good, but being a medical person, I was surprised your character did not attempt self medicating. Alcohal use also tips the precarious balance for many, but that is a whole set of problems in and of itself.

I try to write on the light side. Ever see a self medicating depressed alien? It can get ugly.


Elizabeth Mueller said...

Oh, poor Sarah. It makes me wish I could reach out and help her. I know how she feels. My sister is having a hard time surfacing from her depression at all and she suffered from it even before her husband died almost five years ago.

Thanks for sharing your compelling story and character. :)

Come and visit me!

Margo Berendsen said...

Heart breaking and very definitely compelling! I want to know what happens to Sarah!

angelarene said...

Powerful post Olivia!! I'm so rooting for Sarah! Love the phrase inches & miles. Nice work...
Hey! Did you get my email awhile back about the scrolling award thingie me bob?

Cinette said...

awesome post! That was definately compelling!

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