Eek! Sorry for this week’s post being late. It has been quite the busy week here at Art Thief Headquarters. We have been holding auditions for Homestead Theatre Project’s upcoming production of my show Empty Boxes. And I have been chained to my computer, pounding out the first draft of My Mother’s Daughters; which had its first reading this past Saturday.
On the upside, Empty Boxes has its callbacks confirmed with some wonderful options for each role and My Mother’s Daughters is in the mail for the SummerWorks submissions, so I can focus a little more on this blog.
Now, plunder for this week... well, this has actually been the hardest week for me to come up with something because my thoughts have been so focused elsewhere. In fact, as I sit here, I still have not titled this entry because I haven’t decided what it is about yet. All I know is that by the time Monday rolled around, I was exhausted!
Anyhoo, this might be a short entry, but I think my plunder for this week is something I am stealing from the people who auditioned for us on the weekend. One of the auditionees talked about another audition he did for a collective he was a part of; they were required to bring in an object for their audition and present a story that they created based on that object. His was a mason jar. As soon as he began talking about it, my mind started running overtime with various stories, ideas and things flashing through my head. I loved it.
This is what I’m stealing this week. I think I’m going to start using this idea as a writing exercise to keep those old creative juices flowing. Step One: Pick a random object. Step Two: Write a story about that object. Simple.
The concept is quite interesting to me. While writing My Mother’s Daughters this past week, I came to a number of moments that I had planned out but was not sure how to execute, so I sat back and gave the characters control and let them drive the story forward (often to my surprise), some of the characters took on a life of their own and things did not come out exactly how I had intended but I think they came out better because I let the characters develop into what they would instead of trying to drive them down my path. That’s the thing, if you have done your homework, you need to be able to trust that the characters and story that is now living inside you trying to push out. As a writer, you just need to let it. I feel like this is similar to the object exercise. There is something in you that drew you to that object. You felt the story it possessed, so you need to let the object lead you through the tale.
Let’s try it:
I’m going to steal the mason jar (because this is a plunder after all).
THE MASON JAR
RILEY: This mason jar once held a butterfly. The butterfly was magical. I found it in the field behind my house. I was sitting there one day, reading a book. Mom and Dad had gone away, so Nana was watching me. Nana always makes me do boring things like: knit and sew and cook; so when she is there, I get up really early and sneak out into the field before she wakes. I walk out as far as I can go; as far as I’m allowed. This morning there was a fog that floated above the tall grass and the dew clung to the blades. The cuffs of my trousers were soaked by the time I was halfway across the field. I like mornings like this because the sun dances across the fog turning the field into a misty rainbow of colour.
There is a little creek that runs through the field. I often find a rock to sit on, so I can read and listen to the water babble past me. The idea of a babbling brook has always fascinated me and sometimes I sit and listen to hear what it is saying, but it must be speaking in another language, because all it sounds like is water running past. Sometimes a frog or bird will chime in. Once a toad sat down beside me and croaked. I tried to croak back, but since I don’t speak the language, I must have said something that offended it because it just looked at me and then hopped away.
On this particular morning, I had been sitting by the stream since the sun was barely visible over the horizon and it was now a quarter of the ways up the sky. The fog had almost fully lifted and my trousers were now damp at best. I was about to head back to the house to see if I could scrounge up breakfast without Nana seeing me, when I heard a clinking sound that I had never heard by the creek before. I looked around but couldn’t see anything, but the clinking sound came ringing over the reeds once more. I walked along the shore, but still couldn’t find the cause. Once more, the clinking. I took off my shoes and rolled up my trousers and waded out into the creek. A little ways into the creek, there was a rocky little knoll surrounded by the tall grass. At the edge of this knoll, something was peeking out. It looked like the lid of a mason jar. I bent down to pick it up, but it was stuck. I began clearing out all the mud around it. I discovered that it was still attached to the jar. By the time I had freed the jar, it and myself were covered in mud. I went to the centre of the creek where it was a little deeper and rinsed off the jar. To my surprise, there was a butterfly in the jar. It was the most beautiful butterfly I had ever seen in my entire life. We have a number of butterflies that live in our field, but they are usually orange or black or brown. None like this one. It shone with the brightness of the sun and depending on the way the light caught the wings it went between the sparkling black of a night sky or brightest blue of the sky at midday. The colours rolled over it like waves on the ocean. It was spectacular.
I was so excited to rush back to the house and show Mom and Dad my discovery. I waded quickly back to shore and already had my shoes on when I remembered that Mom and Dad were gone. Nana would never approve of keeping a butterfly in the house. That was when I realized I was covered in mud and soaking up to my waist. I was going to be in big trouble when Nana found me. She despised dirt and did not approve of playing in the creek. In fact, if she had it her way, I wouldn’t be allowed out of the house. She never liked the idea of children running like animals outdoors. Children need to learn discipline and responsibility, she would always say.
I snuck back to the house and was halfway up the staircase to my room before Nana finally caught me. She was livid. She ranted and railed at me. Why was I covered in mud? How many times did she have to tell me not to play in the creek? Why did I insist on making her life so difficult? Why did she ever agree to watch such a wild child? That was when she noticed that I was hiding something behind my back and insisted that I show it to her. I considered bolting and trying to hide the mason jar before she caught me but I knew that would only lead to further scolding. I held out the jar; mostly free of mud and Nana took it from me. My poor butterfly in the hands of that woman. “Well, look at what we have here.” She said. “It’s mine!” I shouted, “You can’t have it!”
“No, she doesn’t belong to anyone. Come outside.”
I followed Nana into the yard. She explained that this was a magic wishing butterfly and should not be kept in a mason jar.
“But I found it. I want to keep it.”
“It does not want to be in that jar anymore than you want to be in this house. You must let it go. But when you catch a magic butterfly and let it go, you get a wish.”
My heart broke a little at that. Could it be that my poor butterfly was sad inside the jar? Did it want to fly back to the field through the tall grasses and rest by the creek and listen to the water babble like I did?
“When I open the jar you must make your wish, but wish wisely. It is not often that you get to wish on a magic butterfly and you have to be sure you want it to come true. A wish like this is a great responsibility.”
She twisted the cap off the jar and the butterfly burst out with two flaps of its wings. I closed my eyes and wished as hard as I could and watched it flutter away. I ran upstairs to my room and didn’t come back down until I heard noise at the front door. Mom and Dad had come home early. The weather had turned and they decided to cut their trip short. Nana left the next morning.
A couple weeks later, we received word that Nana had died peacefully in her sleep. That night I woke up when the moon was making its final descent and saw my butterfly sitting on the window ledge. I crept over to the window, but when I was still a few paces away, the butterfly took flight and danced off into the night; off to make the wishes of other children come true. But Nana was right. Wishing is a great responsibility. Now that she is gone, I have so many more wishes. I wish I had taken the time to ask her more questions. I wish I had let her show me how to sew a button or bake a pie. I wish she was around to tell me where she learedn about magic butterflies and how she knew that their wishes came true. I wish I hadn’t wished my wish.
I wished that Mom and Dad would come back and that I would never have to see Nana again.
Now, I’m grown and old, but I still have that mason jar; the jar that once contained a magic butterfly. I always have it on me; just in case I see another magic butterfly. This time, I know what my wish will be.
So, there you have it. My mason jar story. Again, I didn’t know where it was going until about halfway through, but whenever I was feeling lost, I just remembered the jar and let it lead the way. Try it. It’s actually quite the interesting exercise. Until next week... J