May 16, 2016

My Teenage Loves

After the trauma of sharing those two high school stories about religion and death, I avoided reading further in my old notebooks for a while, but now it's time for another entry in my childhood writing series, so I've bravely forged onward.

My earliest steno notebook contains mostly lists and notes, with some writing in the back, including the first draft of the theater scene from last time. The next is almost entirely fiction. I started my personal creative writing kick during the first year of high school but really got enthusiastic about it in the summer that followed. I've read through all of notebook #2, which takes me through the first half of sophomore year.

Since all the entries are dated, I can see that from summer on, I usually wrote at least a few days a month, with periods of regular daily writing mixed with gaps of weeks when I didn't write. I often worked on the same piece for multiple days, not only in close succession, but also sometimes returning months later. The constraints of a bound notebook meant that if I'd written something else in the meantime, I'd have to continue an older story some pages on, and I didn't mark this in any way, so certain sections of the notebook contain interleaved bits of stories diverging wildly in topic or tone.

I edited as I wrote, which is visible in the frequent crossed out words and sentences, plus occasional arrows indicating parts to be reordered. As we saw last time, I later did more serious revision of selected stories on my computer. Almost everything in the notebook is unfinished. Sometimes my interest in an idea fizzled out after a page, sometimes I wrote many pages and even multiple scenes, but very little became a full story. I'm sure I usually started writing with nothing more than a premise or an opening line in mind, and it can be hard to reliably wring a plot out of that. Today I still have just as many ideas that go nowhere, but I no longer take the time to write them down until I've given more consideration to whether they're viable.

The contents of this notebook are overall pretty boring. The stories tend to star teen girls, often attending a private high school similar to mine or saddled with an annoying little brother. In a departure from writing what I knew, more of these characters drink coffee than I would have expected, since I didn't start enjoying coffee myself until my thirties. Often some promising bit of conflict is introduced, as in the story of three friends discussing a generally beloved teacher who one of them dislikes, but the idea is abandoned before we learn the cause of the turmoil. I suspect I frequently wrote myself into a corner and was unable to imagine the dark secret driving whatever came before.

The first draft of the autumn story from last month's post is in here, and to my surprise, there's also a still earlier incarnation of that story. It's much shorter, mainly a riff on the "fall is the season of dying" idea I all but wrote out of the final draft. It features characters I used repeatedly around that time, initially only in stories I told myself inside my head but eventually in some I wrote down. I probably saw some promise in the concept and decided to try it again with characters who didn't bring along all the backstory I'd already developed.

As is the case today, I read a fair amount of science fiction as a teen but didn't write much that wasn't set in the real world. The one piece of science fiction in this notebook is the start of a story set in 2010, 20 years in the future, when the earth is in crisis due to overpopulation and the hole in the ozone layer. It starts strong: "Joanie stared out the window at the gray rain and remembered a time when there was color. From behind her came the sounds of children sleeping fitfully or crying softly." Alas, after a couple of pages explaining how the world went to hell, I stopped writing.

This notebook ends with a lone entry that's pure journal. It comments on what I was up to at that particular moment (watching a Paul Simon concert airing during a public television fund drive) but mostly analyzes my unrequited crush on one of my friends: "Dammit, I love him! Love. Love. That word. Do I love him? Am I 'old enough' to love a man? Oh, sure, why the hell not?" It's full of the turmoil of not-quite-16-year-old emotion, and I'm afraid there's going to be more of that particular agony when I move on to the next notebook.

The story from this book that's most worth sharing is unlike any of the other contents, but it does represent a major aspect of my life at the time. While I angsted over painful unreturned feelings for several friends during high school, my purest love was for the music of The Beatles. It's true that I did sometimes experience so much love for Paul McCartney that I was moved to kiss a photograph of him, but on the whole, The Beatles brought me more joy than anguish. Anyway, here's this thing:

first page of Beatles story, listing all album titles


Sergeant Pepper, of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, was murdered just before 11:00 last night as he returned to his Abbey Road home. Pepper had just returned from the Magical Mystery Tour with the Beatles when he was shot.

The only witness to the crime, Pepper's next-door neighbor Eleanor Rigby, reports that she saw Pepper stop outside his house and look into the shadows. A masked man appeared, and through her open window Rigby heard him ask, "How come you didn't take me on the tour?"

Pepper answered, "Billy, let it be. It's been a hard day's night."

The murderer, believed to be Billy Shears, who appeared on Pepper's last album, then pulled out a revolver. Rigby says she screamed for help, but the criminal, believed to be insane, did not appear to hear her.

He said to Pepper, "You always said I had a rubber soul."

Pepper gasped, "Please... please... me band needs me." The gun went off and he fell to the ground.

Rigby called the police. By the time the police and the paramedics arrived, the murderer had escaped and Pepper was dead.

A funeral will be held tomorrow at 3. Father MacKenzie will perform the service, and Pepper will be buried in his yellow submarine, as requested in his will. Expected to attend the funeral are The Beatles, Rigby, Dr. Robert, Desmond and Molly Jones, Rocky Raccoon, Mr. Mustard, and the Royal Family.

The Beatles are now without a leader. A sign hangs in the window of Abbey Road Studios: "Beatles For Sale".

An extensive search is being made for Billy Shears.

If you want to write a similar such piece, you can consult this helpful list of names from Beatles songs, which it appears I assembled somewhat later:

list of names from Beatles songs

Finally, in case you're disappointed because that Beatles story doesn't delve deeply enough into the darkness of the adolescent psyche, I'll leave you with the entry that immediately follows it, which consists of only a single sentence:

Although it was a rather thin cotton shirt, its enveloping quality gave her the impression that if she were to fall into a lake while wearing it, she would most likely drown.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Elizabeth Poliner explains at Literary Hub how mapping Alice Munro's stories helped her as a writer: "What I discovered as I diagramed the story--breaking it into sections and placing those sections on the page in a way that showed the movement of time--was that no matter where Munro went in time she was always dramatizing--or perhaps a better phrase is digging at--something almost beyond words, those subtle, hidden tensions that make love so hard, as well as the roots of those tensions, in this case a traumatic moment the narrator's mother faced as a child."


Christopher Gronlund said...

As always, some of my favorite stuff online! :)

Henri Picciotto said...

I love the very short story about the cotton shirt!

Lisa Eckstein said...

Thanks! I'm thrilled that these posts are fun for other people, too!

Toni said...

Loved the piece on the Sargent Pepper, shows us how long you have been creative and so clever.

Rich said...

I really want to see a short story collection of what people from Bruce Springsteen songs are doing now in 2016. This reminds me of that.

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