Where and when events are sometimes so major they transfix time. For the rest of our lives we recall where and when we were, which street we crossed, what recipe bubbled on the stove, which room we folded laundry in. When news came President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, I had just moved to Toronto as a young American university student. Many Canadians shared anti-American sentiment, what they called “Little Brother Syndrome” at being overshadowed by their Big Brother to the south. But that day classmates I barely knew, who’d heard I was a Yank or caught my accent, gave sympathy and comfort. Many Canadian homes displayed American flags in windows or flew them out front, though I don’t know where they got them on short notice. So many kindnesses spoke a message. “We’re in this together. We’re family. We’ll get through this.” I made lifelong friends.
Who doesn’t know where they were and what they were doing when 9/11 happened? One of 5500 employees in a Minneapolis hospital, I’d entered the staff elevator to hear others say an airplane had struck a New York Trade Center tower in a terrible accident. Back on the 4th floor, I told my news-savvy Christian boss who fixed sad wise eyes on me and said, “Two planes intentionally struck two towers. We’re under attack.” Numb, we migrated to a crowded staff room where T.V. blared the full story. Prayers were said. Churches filled. Our nation moved closer in unity. We’ll never forget, even if intensity wanes.
Next time I need a major event in a novel, I’ll remember real-life dates and draw from them for descriptions, sounds, gut reactions. I’ll apply them to my story while letting characters act and react to create solutions, taking missteps in the process, while generating strong emotions. That’s probably what Reba meant by journaling emotions.
Songs marry major events to become national favorites. George M. Cohan’s Over There for World War I, or Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition for World War II. Penned in 1984, Proud to be an American gained support during the Gulf War, but became our post 9/11 theme song. More songs need to be written.
Acts of kindness, snatches of conversations or poignant songs make handsome frames to highlight memorable portraits.
Do you have strong associations to a major event? How do you utilize them in writing? I finally get it, and can’t wait to do a better job myself.