Characters: Organic and Planned.

My efforts at novel writing during the recent NaNoWriMo contest this past November has provided the ground work or perhaps better stated, the initial soil, for a novel that has completely captured my senses. This jump start has provided a tremendous launch into a project that feels in some ways to be the project of my life. It is the corner on the street that, once I turned, I was brought face to face with a breakthrough in my life’s purpose. Strongly stated I know. Perhaps a bit dramatic. But it’s true. I absolutely love writing this novel, each day, in every way- love love love it!

I have stopped writing plot and have backed away from the 53,000 words I had accomplished during the contest. It is time to pause and to learn how to organize, structure, outline and develop the characters, plot, theme and purpose of this novel. I take a step back to ask vital questions and make sure I am on track. It seems a little out of sequence, but this time, because of how those 53,000 words poured out of me during those thirty days of writing, I find it important to step back and look at it with different eyes. It’s the only way. Next time, meaning with my next novel (crazy how I am even consider that prospect),  I will likely outline first. But to be honest, I didn’t even know what outlining was before I started this past NaNoWriMo contest. As such, I proceeded based on what flowed best from me at the time.

So, I am now starting with what are called: Character Sheets. These reside in my fairly newly purchased Scrivener program. Several authors have given me some tips with their own books on: how to write a novel. Before me, I have these 46 character questions that I am meant to answer for every character in my novel. For each and every character, I am called upon to answer specific questions. It starts with the basics: name, age, height, eye color, physical description. Then, there are some deeper questions that will help shape the character: favorite clothing, defining gestures, fondest memory, special skills, religion, favorite food, physical health, any phobias. There are questions relating to the character’s role in the novel, his or her purpose and goals. The list goes on: 46 questions.

 

I am amazed that this is a strategy employed by so many writers. I understand the benefit of this step. So far with my novel, my character introductions and developments have been an organic process. The characters have shown up on the page when they were needed. And now, I can see going back and filling in the gaps in terms of their individual backgrounds. But I am not sure how I would have known at the very beginning, before my novel was to the point where it is now, who these people would have been. I understand the concept of creating the main character first, and perhaps his or her major supporting role players. But there are many background characters that I simply would not have known about until the main character had encountered them.
For instance, in one scene, the main character in my novel has just moved to Oslo, Norway from her farm village situated south of the city. One night, after a full day of work at a family run bakery & grocery market, she stops in at the butcher shop on her way home. I wouldn’t have known about the young boy behind the counter that is helping an elderly lady and how he then turns to help Nina with her own order of pork and beef ground mixture planned for a meatball dinner that night. I would not have known about this little sprout until she opened the door to the butcher shop and walked in and found this adorable young boy working behind the counter. His stature is so slight that he can barely reach from behind the counter to provide the customers with their order. His thin wheat colored hair sticks straight up at the back of his head, perhaps from the dryness of the air and the electrical charges he is capturing in the room. He swims in his apron. His thin arms work hard as he digs into the meat mixture for Nina, using a very heavy metal scoop. Nina watches him work hard behind the glass case. He has wonderful manners and Nina wonders if he is the son or grandson of the butcher shop owner. All of this unfolds before my eyes as I brought Nina into the butcher shop. How would I have known about him before starting my story? And in my view, he is not a minor character, not really. Because I have this feeling in my gut that he and his family will play an instrumental part in a subplot surrounding the occupation of Norway and the ensuing underground movement. But even that is forming in my mind as I type this paragraph.

 

My way of writing forms as I go. I am on the adventure myself. The scenery changes as I pass through the scene with my characters, I layer in past impressions of places I have seen in these locals, images of people I have encountered, and actual moments I have experienced. Then, my imagination mixes it all together, and I create the tableau. It’s mesmerizing. Great fun. And I can only hope that one day, someone else will enjoy reading the adventure as much as I had enjoyment in writing it.

 

So the instructions I have to write out for the Character Questionnaire Sheets for every character in my book, before writing the novel itself, feels challenging to me. But, perhaps, I could complete this exercise for the major characters and since I have those 53000 words of the novel to work from, I have what I would consider to be some basic ingredients with which to craft the novel and it is exciting. All the while, I read anything I can get my hands on from as many expert writers as I can, to learn strategies on how to write a novel well.

 

In particular, I like ideas presented by Elizabeth George as well as K.M Weiland- and there are many others. It feels as if I have signed up for a Master Course on novel writing which I am taking on my own, without paying tuition, just diving into books written by great writers and applying principles to my daily efforts. It’s so much fun! While frustrating for moments, in the end I press on and progress happens.

 
One character question that launched me into a marvelous exploration yesterday, was the idea of favorite music. Suddenly, Nina is lying on her bed with the door open so she can hear her younger brother Gunnar practicing the piano downstairs. The music flows to the upper levels of the house. Nina loves to spend time listening to Gunnar because although he often practices scales, he also delves into the Romantic Era pieces which are Nina’s favorites. She relaxes completely on hearing Debussy’s: Girl With The Flaxen Hair. Sergei Rachmaninoff’s: Elegie in E flat minor, Op 23, No 1 – helps her to consider sadness mixed with moments of joy. There is despair in that piece as well as hope. When listening to music, Nina finds herself experiencing a movie in her mind. She imagines herself running free or riding Lilly, her fjord horse, along the fjord’s coastline. Schubert’s Trio No 2 in E Flat brings images of a horse show, with several horses in the ring – dancing in cadence with one another. With some pieces, she can actually feel the wind on her face and watch and listen to the birds soaring overhead. Music provides the backdrop for her day dreams.

 

And as I considered all this yesterday, it occurred to me that Gunnar, her little brother, has an amazing gift. He is not just talented but intimate and passionate about his music. He is gifted and a natural. He likes composing his own pieces and can spend hours playing. The rest of the family thoroughly enjoys his practice sessions and they look forward to them each day. And here, as I type, I suddenly sense that later in the book, after the war is over: is Gunnar still alive? Perhaps not- and does the silence from his absence and lack of playing become unbearable for his mother Mona.

 
These moments of character development are moments that simply happen. But, this moment happened by answering questions #29: Favorite bands, songs or type of music. I like these questions.

 
And it occurs to me that this cast of characters, this geographic area, the time period, the historic events, the nuances of plot and the main theme of war and romance and purpose, all of these things will likely bring me several years of writing pleasure. I hope that in the end, this novel will capture the hearts of others. But my goal is more natural than that- my goal is to get to know these people, the historic events of the Nazi occupation of Norway, and how these ordinary people get caught up in an extraordinary life.

On bullies

Characters we love to hate. Or is it characters we hate that we are asked to love?

I am a big fan of Downton Abbey. For these past six years, Mom and I have watched Sunday night seasonal episodes between January and generally February or early March. This past Sunday, as Lady Mary essentially ruined Lady Edith’s future with her venomous reveal to Bertie, the idea of her own happy ending framing the episode made me mad. Yet, we watch her in second wedding bridal regalia with her dapper groom and there is this pleasure in seeing things go well for her.

 
Tom’s reaction and comment to her about how she ruins everything around her because of her own unhappiness, that she was a bully and just like all bullies it is her own insecurity that results in her lashing out with evil.

 

On the Masterpiece Studio episode that covers round table discussions on the previous night’s episode, I hear sympathy in a way- that Lady Mary is only mean when Lady Mary is unhappy. She lashes out at Edith when her own world is sad. How pathetic and I won’t even deign to call it childish, because I don’t want to lump every child into that negative behavior.

 

 

It occurs to me that in the bully, are we asked to feel sympathy? That the bully is a bully because of his or her own weakness, sadness and unhappiness?

 
Lady Mary & Thomas the under butler, are both mean. They are mean when they are sad. They lash out at others when their world is unsettled or when they feel inferior. Are we meant to come up beside them and offer encouragement, sympathy and compassion?

 

I think back to junior high school. The year was 1979, and I was a victim of bullying from multiple sources. I was afraid to go to math class, because there, I would find Norman. He would make fun of me as I enterred the class room, he would tease me and even push me slightly in the hopes that I would drop my books or papers. If he encountered me in the hallways, no matter where on campus, he would side bump me hard into the lockers to throw me off balance, again in the hopes that I would lose the pile of notebooks and papers that I held tightly in my arms. Bully Norman.

 

What was Norman’s story? Was he bullied at home- by a parent, a sibling? Did he feel irrelevant at home and therefore needed to act out at school? Did he lose something or someone that made life unbearable and the only way he could see his way through it was to smack me up against a locker near my Home Economics Class?

 
There are co-workers that I can think of over the years who have steam rolled, ridiculed, criticized and made life unpleasant for others.  People who make life hell at work, who create a sense of dread at the very thought of entering work’s doors. Were they just wounded souls themselves that need a ‘pass’ and a dose of mercy? Really? I am meant to support them and give them a permission slip of forgiveness for their ugliness?

 
Am I meant to be the bigger person?

Waiting on My Time.

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-above painting by Lars Lerin

 

Cliffs. Crashing Waves. Dog. Cottage. Tea. Book. A bird flies over head. Cloud. Rocks. Wild grasses. A very gentle wind that let’s me know the planning is breathing.

These are just a few images that come to mind when asked by a client: “where to next?”
Those images are kept quiet in my brain while my mouth uttered: “Iceland, or maybe Greenland, or perhaps the Faroe Islands”.
The man looks at me confused: “Really?” He asks. “Why? What would you do once you got there?” he seems genuinely perplexed. For most travelers that are clients, it is about what I call merit badge travel. People want to collect a necklace of adventures that they can string together and bring out and show people. Look where I have been! At cocktail parties, perhaps they compare- who has been to the most exotic place?   Whose top of list trumps the others? And in all fairness, I have been to so many places- Europe to Asia to the Arctic.

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It is no longer about which additional I can add to my list.
I look at the man.  I smile and say: “Mostly, I love nature and wide open spaces.  Once I am there, I would sit and enjoy the vistas. I would hike and breath in the fresh air. I would explore charming small villages… meet the locals…”.  He interrupts “I hear the people are nice”.

Yes, they are nice. And those I have met are a lot of fun, casual and relaxed.  They tend to enjoy lively music.   Reykjavik is known for a wild party life that goes into all hours of the night; some hotels have double panned Windows- it’s  important to know which ones.  But I am basing those views on encounters I have had with the West Nordic People when in years past, at the Vestnorden Travel Trade Show, a bunch of Faroese people might perhaps have had one too many glasses of wine or even Akvavit.. and could break out in loud national songs or even popular pop culture tunes…Yellow Submarine comes to mind.
My response to this man who stopped by for some spring break options but really wanted to talk about that trip to China he wants to take this year, is that- yes, the people are very nice. But in my mind I am thinking this place I want to go to, it’s not my next trip. It would maybe be a permanent and final move. Not just another trip. The quest to find home is important to me.
One might wonder: are you not already home?

No. Not really.

I have never really been home.

I have been visiting for long stretches of time.

I have borrowed a geographical location, but I plan to give it back sometime. After I have waited. When the time is right for “my time”.

Why do I say this?

I did not grow up here in the Twin Cities. I came here as an adult after college, my first adult job brought me here. And while I was wildly excited about the quaintness and historic charm of the capital city when I first arrived, I found fairly soon that the locals who have lived here their whole lives already have their intimate group of friends. I am mostly a work friend. I have one or two friends outside of work and I see them maybe once or twice a month (if I am lucky). But they are kind of set as well, they have lived here their whole lives and  have their circle of family and friends. The truth is, I do not have one person in my life that lives nearby, that is a close intimate person who I feel comfortable calling any time, day or night. You know, that kind of friend.

 
I have very close acquaintances for whom I have a deep fondness and feel close. I look forward to these people checking into my life and I into theirs. We have lunch or after work dinner. But we don’t meet during the weekends. And perhaps, if I moved, I would be missed. But something tells me that it would be a fleeting emotion of missing me, and that this feeling would quickly dissolve.. within a fairly short time.
So this image response of the perfect physical location where I could find my bliss, I keep this quiet mostly. Because in my life, when I have entrusted my heart to another soul and have felt a sweet kinship with someone that fueled me each day and week with weekend outings, I find that the person checks out or declares a wish to leave my geographic area. One such friend for whom I have one of the strongest affections for, one day said to me: “I will move home because there is nothing for me here.”. She was referring of course to the fact that her family was home, and home was about 5000 miles from here. I understand this. Intellectually. But a little something inside me broke that day. “There is nothing for me here” echoed in my heart and soul for weeks afterwards.

 

It alerted me to an important fact. Right now, I have my parents. They are in their seventies and eighties. One day, they will be no more. When that happens, I will need to evaluate. Is there anything here for me? Anything to keep me here? Anyone to keep me here? If the answer is the same as it would be today, if today I should find myself orphaned, what will I do? Will I stay or will I go?

 

When no one needs me anymore, I will walk to the cliffs, close my eyes, listen to the birds and the waves, I will reach down and caress the silky hair of my sweet and only companion who sits on my lap (likely a papillon). On that hand crafted wooden bench I rest with my sweet companion, situated just outside my cottage front door, and I will gaze those majestic cliffs.   I will drink a cup of tea, and read or write a book (or both).

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These images have been following me around now for years. In some variation, most of my life.

 

And at times, as I drive to work, an occasional piece of the kaleidoscope image comes to the forefront of my mind, and I wonder: why is life about waiting? It feels like that for me. I wait on time to find that space to finally be able to do what drives me most, that one thing that fuels my passion, that one thing that brings me joy. I wait to find a space of peace that is perfect for me to sit, contemplate, breathe. For some reason, I must wait. I just hope that in my waiting, I don’t run out of time.

 

Balancing on the wave of life

I find it marvelous that in the midst of emotional upheaval, difficult remembrances, and darker moments that I find my way back up to the surface and can gasp for that breath of refreshing air. Every day brings a new opportunity to find my way to the wave that will take me back in to shore, the one that I can steady myself upon and from which I can raise my arms high in the air and clap once again with sheer joy at the marvel of it all. It’s all about what one chooses to focus on.

Lately, with jury duty, I was pulled for a while to thoughts of darkness. And, in the midst of that I was dealing with a challenging work season with at times difficult clients. Oh, you may think the customer is always right.  In my world, they simply are not always right. I do my very best to bring clients wonderful vacation dreams come true, but within those exchanges I have to endure certain people whose personalities are very strong, they feel they know it all and are better at arranging travel that I might be.  After all, they don’t know me and they took a twirl or two on-line and found things through web based travel agencies that were tempting. The commercials on TV suggest they can get a better deal with on-line hotel companies. Most of those on-line hotel companies are very restrictive once the reservation is booked and paid in full.  And, once you show up at the hotel, the message is: “you bought it, you must keep it”. If you enter your hotel room and hate it, or it smells, or it is a closet or it looks out at the dumpster in the back alley or, perhaps there is a weird stain on your sheets: tough. Sure, you can and should go to the front desk to inquire about a solution, but don’t be surprised if your efforts are for not. And, if you call the customer service line at the on-line booking host, don’t be surprised if you get a round robin repeated response that you had to cancel your booking at least 48 hours prior to arrival per the terms of your particular booking in order to have any refund compensation. “But” you say, “I didn’t know 48 hours prior to arrival that the room would be 100% unacceptable”.   Silence. “I am sorry, Ma’am.  You needed to cancel the booking 48 hours prior to arrival in order to receive a refund” is the dead pan response.  You give up, it’s useless. I had someone tell me not too long ago, that she had that type of experience with one of the many on-line hotel sites and she will never again book on-line. I smiled a little. She nodded- understanding passed between us. You see, as a travel agent, when we book services, if you have a problem with anything you booked through us, there is a customer service desk.  But in our case, 99% of the time, this desk will bend over backwards to make it right. So, you don’t have to sleep in that icky room that you nabbed for 75% less than what you thought you had to pay.

Recently, I had a client book a river cruise in Europe.  This is a lovely Christmas Market River Cruise that starts with a pre-cruise city stay in Prague and ends in Budapest and she and three girl friends in two balcony cabins will enjoy the Danube and the beautiful Christmas Markets. Throughout the booking process, the lead client was routinely rude, yelling and even cursing.   The slightest thing would set her off and it was always a shock to me at the sensitivity she was exhibiting.   The underlying mistrust was palpable.  At one point, when the booking was on hold, she called frantic with loud words coming through the ear piece because the booking for one cabin was more expensive than the other cabin and she was furious about the lack of clarity. Never mind that I had written every detail out explaining the differences and provided the client copy of the cruise lines’ invoice. When she would allow me a word in edgewise, I was able to explain that the insurance for the two ladies in the one cabin was higher because they booked a higher category of cabin. When the trip cost increases, the insurance premium increases. This was detailed in the previous email. Almost grudgingly she acquiesced and they booked. And I knew that with her emotional roller coaster approach to every detail of the booking process, that 2016 was going to be a long year. And indeed, yesterday that thought was affirmed. I received the email that they were ready to book their air. Their cruise includes a promotional free air offer in standard economy class. When one books air as part of a cruise, and in particular free air, it is generally the case that one receives the air schedule from the cruise line closer to departure date; sometimes 30-60 days prior to departure date. As this cruise is a holiday cruise, it is prudent to add something to the booking called AIR Plus, which allows the selection of the schedule and airline right away. The customer has the choice of their preferred schedule and airline for the most part. I say that because the category the cruise line is using is a particular category, and that category must be available for the air to be free. If it is not available, then it may be necessary to pay a little bit of a difference in price between free and the next category. This privilege of selecting an itinerary in February for a cruise taking place late November/early December is $50 per person. Not a bad deal and then these ladies don’t have to worry about what airline, whether there will be many flights, and many connecting cities. They have a say in their air schedule. So, I get to work. And, I present a wonderful schedule that has only one stop between their home city and Prague with a good amount of connect time so that these senior ladies are not too rushed getting from one airplane to the other. I send the schedules and details. And, inevitably, I get a response filled with capital letters (shouting at me) that she has to have the bigger economy class seats because she has a rod in her leg. Because she paid for AIR Plus she believes she is entitled to the upgraded economy class.   No.    That is not what AIR Plus is- it is the ability to select your Standard Economy flight schedule now rather than in September.    So I call the cruise line air department before responding to the client, what are our options?  I need to have all my ducks in a row, anticipate an answer to every possible follow up question before she even knows she has that question.  And I learn that once the air in economy class is ticketed by the cruise air department, we can go to the airline website and pay the upgraded cost from Standard Economy to Delta Comfort (Delta Comfort is an enhanced economy which means a bit more legroom and some other amenities included). The cost per direction for the over the water flight is around $149-$189 per person per direction and subject to availability once the ticket is issued. I send off the details and I brace myself.  She won’t be happy. She will blame me for using the word AIR Plus but not telling her it did not give her access to enhanced economy. Never mind that all along I had only referred to her air tickets as being in Standard Economy. I understand that tourism lingo is hard to keep up with. And, I am always more than glad to explain and provide answers. What I don’t enjoy are people calling me with accusational tones and yelling at me (whether vocally or written yelling). Be nice.

My father used to be like that a while back. I would happen upon him in the kitchen on the phone, yelling at some service provider. Arguing a point that, as I listened, I realized that he may very well be wrong in his presumptions.  Older people at times begin to wear a sweater of cynicism and distrust for people in general.  Some older people.  This distrust is fed by regular interactions with people that could be tainted with disrespect or even, disdain.   Or, perhaps a tone that left them feeling irrelevant.  Dad had this tone for a long while; but this was more prevalent before he had his shunt put in which helps drain the excess fluid from his brain, which has netted a calmer guy.    In general, Dad is less volatile, less reactionary now that he was diagnosed and treated by a caring medical team.

My client has stage 4 cancer. She is under a lot of stress. Her life is out of control and her mortality is before her. This trip is vital to her, and she wants to have control over every detail and she wants her wishes to be granted regardless of how unreasonable or uninformed they are. So, I try to listen. I try not to interrupt with my own bag of truths. And, I try not to take it personally.

So, I started with marvelous joy at the beginning of this entry and I shared the frenetic days I have had lately in my job. And that is OK. I sit here in a coffee shop with ear buds in…. typing on my wireless keyboard with iPad tucked into the holder and I listen to the waves and sounds made in music by the wonderful Sigur Ros from Iceland. Ethereal music that glides along and helps me calm down and rejoice at the things in my life that help me re-balance and move forward and for the most part enjoy the travel agent gig. Most of my clients.. 99% even, are lovely. Perspective my dear. Perspective.

Jury Duty: Part II

The morning continues with more questions first from the judge. Randomly, she selects various prospective jurors to answer questions about themselves. What do they do for a living? Where do they live? Do they reside with any other adults in the household? What are their hobbies? Were they born and raised in the Twin Cities? As the judge hears their responses, she is prompted to ask more questions based on what they had shared. This goes on for 19 prospective jurors.  
After a brief break, we return to the courtroom and the defense attorney begins with his questions first. He probes further on certain responses the judge had received earlier. He is zooming in to make sure that the prospective juror can be fair, unbiased and will be impartial to both the defense and the prosecution. “Some of you had raised your hands earlier to indicate that you had an initial reaction to the reading of the charges” he states. “I will ask some further questions for clarification”. He calls upon one woman who looks to be in her mid twenties. He asks her to elaborate on her initial reaction to the complaint filed. “I just felt off balance” she says. “I am a woman after all, and this type of crime is one that one hears too often” she adds. The defense attorney presses her “do you believe that based on your feelings you can still evaluate the evidence before you” she begins nodding as he continues his question “regardless of your feelings, that you can deliver an unbiased verdict based merely on the facts presented?” She finished her up and down quick nodding with her affirmative statement “Yes, definitely yes.”.  
The defense attorney addresses the judge, indicating that he is finished with his questions. The judge then motions to the prosecutorial attorney to begin her list of questions. What stood out for me with her questions was her focus on the prospective jurors potential reaction to witnessing a crime “have any of you personally witnessed a crime and called 911?” she asks. Many hands are raised and stay raised as she writes down their names. She starts with the one furthest to her right and addresses him by name. “What crime did you witness?”. The prospective juror answers “I saw a man attacking another man outside my house and I called 911.” She continues probing “Did you wait for the response team to arrive, and did you make a statement?” “Yes, I did” he answers. “Did the call result in a trial and were you called as a witness?” “No, there was not a trial that I know of” he answers. She moves on to the next one with similar questions. None of them had needed to appear. For all of them, she also asked “did you expect a response team to arrive when you called 911?” All of them had answered that question in the affirmative. And I thought, of course, wouldn’t that have been a reasonable expectations?
After all questioning was completed, there was a quiet time that lasted about fifteen minutes during which time the attorneys were completing a sheet of paper. I assumed that they were making selections and crossing out others. The attorneys would take turn with this sheet of paper, making their notes, crossing things out and then would turn the page face down on the table and slide it to the other attorney. This process went on for what seemed like forever. With one last push of the paper, one attorney nodded to the other who nodded in return. They wer ready.   
The defense attorney addressed the judge who had been waiting on the bench sipping her tea and blowing her nose. She had a bit of a cold starting, it seemed. The judge summoned the attorneys to her bench. They spoke in hushed whispers while the judge held the paper up to shield her face from the jury box. Discussion went on like this for about two to three minutes. Then, when they were satisfied with their discussion, the judge nodded to the attorneys and they both returned to the table and took their seats.  
The judge instructed all present that she was about to read the names of those that were excused from the jury box and advised all of us to wait until all names were read. When she was finished with the list of names, we were to all file out of the courtroom and we were excused from this trial. We were to report back to the jury room on the lower level for further instructions.
As she read the names, I recognized only one. The woman who had been molested at age 13. I was relieved for her that she would be spared. Then, six more names were read and we all rose and filed out. We were done. And I wondered about the defendant. And, I wondered about the young girl of 13. I knew that in my gut, that although the critical premise of innocence until proven guilty is a vital part of our judicial system. That it offers fairness, impartiality, and an assurance to some degree that people are not prosecuted and convicted for crimes they did not commit. That even though I know all that to be true and right, that there is this part of me that knows also that there are hundreds if not thousands of victims who never report. That there are factors that hold them back from reporting, like shame, guilt for potentially having been responsible for the crime having been inflicted in the first place, doubt, embarrassment and the most important one of all: sheer exhaustion in the emotionally delicate state that makes any kind of thinking and action almost impossible to bear. The physical punishment already inflicted has broken the spirit and makes it difficult to form words let alone be brave enough to say something to someone who might do something about it. So this 13 year old who has caused this older man who looks to be in his late 50s, to be seated at the defense table in the first place- what is her story? Who did she tell? How long did it go on before she spoke out and asked for help? Or, did someone witness it? Did another family member come forward? Is he family? Her uncle, her father, her neighbor, a friend of her parents? Who is he to her? And all these questions come from a deep part of my soul as I reach for that 13 year old stranger and believe that in some ways, her and I share something private and now public.  
Or, did she make it up? I find that hard to believe but it’s possible. My interior mechanism suggests that the likelihood of her innocence lost through abuse is a stronger possibility than her creating all this fuss out of a lie.    
So glad I did not end up on that jury.
  

 

Jury Duty: Part I

It arrived in my mailbox around six weeks ago. A jury summons for my county. The summons instructed me that the jury duty service would last at minimum one week, but could be longer depending on the trial for which I would be selected (if selected). Well, not in those words, but that was the long and short of it. My service was to begin on February 8th at 8:30am and I was to report to a specific room inside the County Courthouse, at that time.  
On Monday, February 8th, I left my home an hour and a half earlier than my required summons suggested, to ensure I would find parking, find the room and be on time. Never mind that the courthouse was only a fifteen minute drive from my home. My concern was mainly where to park, and how far would that be from the courthouse and then once inside the courthouse- where is that room? Of course I got there in record time and found the Victory Ramp easily and my space on the third floor of the ramp with no problem. The Victory Ramp is kitty corner from the court house, so an easy walk across two streets and short distance to the front door. On entry, I find the typical security screening station where one would have to disrobe of outer vestments and any heavy shiny objects that could set off alarm bells. There is no one there except the security guard at this early hour, and I ask him: “Is there any coffee to be found beyond security?” He shakes his head, only the vending machines. “Is there a coffee shop nearby – I am over an hour early”. “Sure, just head back down the sidewalk to the right and cross the street and follow Wabasha one block to 5th Street; there is a Dunn Brother’s on the corner of Wabasha and 5th. It will only take you about five minutes to get there”. He smiles. “Thanks- appreciate it”. I head back through the heavy brass and wood revolving door of the historic courthouse building and follow the guard’s instructions.   
The coffee shop was a welcome haven for about forty five minutes as I unwind a bit from my too early commute and stress of anticipating the severity and importance of Jury Duty. I tend to lean in the direction of crime and courtroom dramas, so I have a head full of fictitious renditions of what might happen over the course of the next few days. And, I am fairly certain most of my impressions of what lies ahead are false. It will likely be drier, less jazzy, less sparkly and less exciting. Still, I am a little excited. This is my first rodeo in the judicial system, and I am, yes, a little excited.
With about twenty five minutes left before I must report, I head out of the coffee house back to the courthouse. When I arrive, there are only a couple of people ahead of me in the security check point line. Each one of us sets off the alarm and in my case, the guard only asks me to show the top of my socks. Looking for a hidden gun or other weapon? After clearing security, I head through the initial hallway and notice that all rooms are in the 100 series. My room number is in the two digits, so without asking, I assume my room is likely on the level one floor down. I head down the marble staircase into the lower level and immediately on arrival at that level I see my room number at the bottom of the staircase. I enter and find a large room filled with cushy leather chairs, a few tables for those while waiting that might want to write or engage in other activities that might require a hard surface. Only a few people are present. I take a seat. Within fifteen minutes, the room is just about completely full and at a glance I guess there are just over a hundred of us gathered. The next hour is a series of instructions from our Jury Room Clerk. All of use must form a line to have our summons bar code scanned, which will check-us in. We are instructed that we are required to show up when summoned, that if we do not show up on one of the day’s summoned, a deputy will appear at our homes, and there will be another court case on the docket, and it will be ours because failure to appear is a crime. We watch an instruction video on the six big screens that are suspended from walls throughout the room, offering a good view from just about any seat. After the video and more instructions, we wait for the first group of prospective jurors to be called. We have been advised that there are quite a few cases to be tried on the docket, so if not called today, we may be called on a different day. The waiting process, we are told, is not a waste of time, as it is this process that is vital in the justice system. In some cases, while jurors wait, trials are resolved. After about another thirty minutes, our Jury Room Clerk comes back to the microphone to announce they have a selection of potential jurists to call. He announces: “Please respond loudly with the word: “Here”, when your name is called, and gather your things and come over here to follow the courtroom clerk up the the courtroom assigned for this trial”. Jury Room Clerk points to an area by the door to the room where the courtroom clerk is waiting with his clip board. Quite a few names are called- it seems over 30. Not my name this time. “The rest of you, you will wait here until we have another prospective jury list for another trial.” He mentions all the lovely amenities in the room for our comfort, we are allowed to use our cell phones, tablets and computers. For those that did not bring a computer, there are two in that back room- he provides instructions for use. He offers the coat room, cubbies, mentions where the toilets are, ATM machine, vending machines and cafeteria. He emphasizes that we must try to be in the room at all times so if leaving, to return as quickly as possible so as not to delay any procedings. About an hour lapses as many read, type and listen to smart phones and MP3 players. The Jury Room Clerk once again appears at the microphone to announce that those of us remaining have been excused for the balance of the day but that we are now on call for the rest of the week. He instructs us to call a specific phone number each day after 5pm but before 7am the next morning, to learn whether our individual “group numbers” have been summoned for the next day and the time we should appear. Each of us has an assigned group number, and if that number is mentioned on that outgoing message we are to appear the next day at the appointed time on the message. So, we all gather our things, and I head into work. It’s still before noon, and I am glad I will have time today to work. It’s our busiest season and missing work is challenging.
Later that day, after 5pm, I call the number, and my group number is not called. I have Tuesday off of jury duty- I get to come in to work. I repeat this the following evening to learn about Wednesday- and I am called. I must report at 9am Wednesday, February 10.   
On Wednesday morning I repeat my Monday morning but this time, I go straight to Dunn Brothers after parking the car in the Victory Ramp. I spend about an hour there and then head over to the courthouse. Going through security, once again, I set off the security alarm and show my ankles to the guard. Once all of us are gathered in the jury room, we have the prospective juror all and this time, I am on the list. We gather our things and join the jury room clerk and head up to the 14th floor. As we enter, our group of 34 fills up the gallery seats as instructed. We all rise when the judge enters. The first step is for the jury room clerk to swear us all in- we are to rise, raise our right hands and respond to the swearing in wording. We all say “I Do”. We are then to be seated.  
After some initial instructions from the judge, she informs us that a random selection of us in the gallery will now be called to move over to the jury panel. There are twelve high backed red fabric cushy seats in the jury box and another seven harder wooden chairs lined up in front of the jury box. The judge gives us a little history about the random selection from the prospective jurors in the gallery: “back in the day, the selection was made by placing names in that box and with a hand crank we would churn the names and pick names by hand from the box. It’s not as exciting these days as the names are randomly generated by computer. Still, we like to keep the old antique items from historic court days in the courtrooms for interest”. They randomly call nineteen people from the gallery. I am not one of them. These 19 are to move from the gallery to the jury box in the order called, starting with seating in the back row of the jury box, further left back seat and to seat themselves in order left to right back row, then left to right middle row, and then finally left to right front row. The names have been drawn in a specific order and the judge and lawyers want these named individuals in specific seats.

At the center table, there is a man of Hmong heritage seated next to a man- likely his attorney. On the side of the table, a woman with black hair is hunched over her own paperwork, perhaps the prosecuting attorney. In the front row of the gallery, there is a young man- maybe in his late teens or early twenties, with a thick head of straight black hair standing on end, hunched a bit and looking straight ahead. Perhaps related to the defendant.   
The judge now goes through the process of instructing us on our duties as jurors, whether in the jury box or in the gallery. She walks through the few pages of instructions – talks about the privilege we all have to serve, that it is our duty to serve, that our founding fathers made a careful and concerted effort to ensure due process and fairness to the defendant in any case by being judged by a group of his peers. Then, the reading of the crime. It is a sex crime against a thirteen year old girl by a male individual more than 120 months her senior which occurred on a given day September 2015. On hearing the complaint, my throat goes dry. My chest feels heavy. I look at the man at the table, his back is to me. I am immediately grateful that I am not in the jury box.

The judge moves on to questions for each juror. For each question, the jurors are to raise their hands and keep them raised, if their answer to the question is yes. Then, after a few moments allowing judge and attorneys time to write down the names of those jurors whose hands are risen, the judge will question each person whose hand was raised. So, first question: do they know the defendant or have knowledge of the case before them. No one raises their hand. Next, a list of witness names- do you know any of these names? She goes through the list one by one to wait to see if any hands are raised. None. Next question: areas of the crime- anyone familiar with the street name? A few. “It’s where I grew up”, “My schools is a few blocks from there”. “I service that area with my job”. Then come the difficult questions: “Have any of you been a victim of a crime?”. At least ten hands go up. The judge starts with the woman in the middle row against the far left wall. “What was the crime for which you were a victim?” The woman hesitates just slightly “I was molested when I was thirteen years old by a relative.” The judge looks at the woman and carefully composes her next sentence with compassion and concern “is it fair to say that we all come to these procedings with our own backgrounds, that we have our experiences and some of them painful. But that even in light of these experiences, it is our duty to offer the defense and prosecution with an unbiased weighing of the evidence presented?” “Yes” she answers meekly. “Do you believe you can follow my instructions and obey the law in light of your experience?” The woman hesitates again “I know by my intellect that I must put aside my memories, but I don’t know that my heart can do the same thing. I can not provide a 100% assurance that my experience will not impact my process of evaluation of the facts”. She was honest. And sitting there, I continued to be grateful that I was not occupying that jury box. And, I silently prayed I would continue to be spared.

Chaucer and Chaos

All good things must come to an end. Says who and why? Well evidently it was Chaucer back in 1374. The why part requires more research.  
I was thinking about chaos the other day. There are certain people of whom it is said that chaos follows them around. Or, they thrive in chaos. That if things are going along too smoothly, they must throw a wrench into it in order to create a little chaos. They are more comfortable in a state of chaos.  
So this led me to wonder about chaos. In my past I have heard words Chaos Theory, but never delved into it. So I take to the information super highway and find some interesting ideas. One website that I find is fractalfoundation.org and the authors of this site suggest that chaos is the idea that one should expect the unexpected. Chaos is about surprises. Yet, one of their leading principles of the Chaos Theory is what is called: The Butterfly Effect. This principle explains the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in a certain specific way at one precise moment and time in one geographic location (let’s say California) could result over time in a hurricane event off the coast of Singapore. One tiny event impacting in a much greater way down the timeline in another place. But what does that have to do with chaos? In my view, this unexpected hurricane is not unexpected at all, it is the result of an action somewhere else that is simply unknown but has a definite impact on the world somewhere else. It is a continuum of action and reaction.  
I wonder what might have happened in my life if I had been exposed to science at an earlier age by a mentor or teacher that had passion and an interest that was contagious. If rather than noticing my voice in music class, if a cool teacher that is cool because he or she is dialed into each student and paying attention to their skills and talents – would have called it out to me. Said something like: “this is really amazing, you could go far with this skill.”. Would I have become excited about that skill and particular discipline to the point of pursuing it further .. into science, or math or other fields of intrigue that might have set me on a completely different course? What might have happened if I had felt noticed in school? If I had experienced a parent that took interest in my daily school work? I don’t recall ever having my parents ask me about any school work, ever. It was my job to be the student, do my homework, get good grades but I never had anyone say to me: what are you working on there? And, it never occurred to me that someone would be interested.  
Today, I hear about parents sitting at kitchen tables with their kids, doing homeworK. Parents involved in many aspects of the schooling process. Looking back, I don’t think I was alone in my school experience- perhaps it is a generational thing. In the last 10-20 years, life is just different than it was back in the 60s and 70s. Families are different. Some would say in a bad way, but that’s not my view. While we may believe that technology has distanced kids with their gadgets, I still believe from my vantage point, that in some ways things seem to be better.  
If a parent or teacher or leader or mentor- pays attention to a child, encourages, notices and hails the child’s efforts- will that child be impacted in a positive way? The answer is of course: yes. The impact of a small action from one person, or many small actions from a few- will make a difference on a much larger scale down the road – out on the horizon- in the distance of time. Children being seen and heard by adults or individuals in a power position, encouraging that child, noticing that child when he or she does something remarkable or maybe even – not so remarkable. That is the miracle of this theory. That is the charge. Helping souls move forward on a course of positive impact who can later pass along that positive impact with yet another soul.   
So that expression earlier about a person who thrives in chaos, was that even an accurate assessment? Or, is this about a person who just thrives on drama? Or maybe it is someone who thrives in or on chaos after all; someone who is used to having their world turned upside down by upset, drama, pain, and disappointment. If life seems to even then one must create a situation that will bring some electricity into the circumstances. Break up the tension.    
Does this tie with Chaos Theory, Butterflies and Fractals? I am not sure, but I am excited about the small thought that I had about chaos, and how itmoved me down a road for some reason to think about chaos and then from there drew me into a quest to know more about it and its principles. A whole new subject matter has opened up for me and I have to thank Chaucer for it. Maybe. All good things may come to an end, but perhaps good things end so that new chapters of other good things can begin. It’s not dismal, it’s not final. It’s a hope for a different set of moments, a new perspective, a new challenge. A new journey. Here’s to chaos!