Saturday, February 12, 2011

Staring Into the Face of Possibility

When will that other shoe drop? Will it be today, tomorrow, or next week?
Have you ever wondered when that death knell was put on the cosmic time chart?
What about that axe? When will it fall?
So many sayings, so many questions. Why do we use them? We all know what they mean, don’t we?
The writer in me got to thinking today about these adages and others like them. I asked myself these same questions and a few more. At the end, I asked one other major question—a question directed solely at the writer in me.
Before I get to that I’d like to ask a few more leading questions. They’re pertinent, I promise. How old are these sayings, and why do we keep using them?
Everyone I’ve ever known who were older than me used these lines. Kids today learn their meanings early in life, too. Such sayings seem to have been around for as long as man in one form or another.
The reason? Paranoia exists for a reason, too, you know. These sayings appear to fit that mold quite well. I mean look at that one line; when will the axe fall?
I’d think that comes from the time of beheadings for political purposes. That reasoning makes the line centuries, if not thousands of years, old. Ask any turkey if there’s a reason to be paranoid about axes.
The shoe dropping? That might be a bit more difficult. How about this purely personal definition—listening for the other shoe to drop tells the kids shivering with fright in their beds exactly when their brute of a parent will be by to pound on them again? Too dramatic? Maybe, but it fits the feel of the saying, don’t you think?
The death knell is something else again. I asked that question from a purely spiritual education perspective. It’s still a good question.
The writer in me asked the questions for a specific purpose. Any of these old adages can be taken apart, redirected, reasoned, and used as the nugget of a plot for stories, whether for children or adults. My last and most important question concerned how I could use these kinds of adages to build stories. I’ll show you what I mean.
1.    If we begin with the premise that the death knell saying is based in a Fate-driven cosmos, the possibilities become endless. If that’s the case then my very first question has an infinite number of answers. The reason is that I like to think of that infinitely large time chart hanging out there somewhere with an appointment for said pealing to begin.
2.    I can take the stand that my character’s name was written in stardust somewhere in the Orion constellation around the time of its formation. At its creation another tiny notation was made close to earth that at a certain instant in the future a small impact would happen on the Moon, which would set it to ringing. As soon as that ringing began the character’s heart would explode in his chest.
Now that’s drama! Okay, it’s a bit over the top but dramatic nonetheless.
What about that shoe?
1.    What if a boy waits each night to hear that shoe drop to the floor after his mother gets home from a second-shift job? He knows she’s tired and probably hungry after so long on her feet. To help her he’s left a plate for her in the refrigerator that she can put in the microwave. At least she can have a hot meal before relaxing with the late news.
2.    And what if that boy placed a hand-made Valentine’s card in the refrigerator beside the plate so that his mother will know just how much he loves her? He’s waited for a couple of hours to know that she’s safely home, getting the meal he left her and the card that he made after school. He can go to sleep now knowing that she’s aware of his feelings and his caring.
That scenario puts a different spin on the saying, removes any paranoia, and releases some warm fuzzies into the reader’s moment at the end. Not bad for a quick try-out for a story, don’t you think?
We have hundreds of such adages at our command every day that we can use and reuse, according to the spin we put on them. No writer has to go without a plot. They stare us in the face like so many worrisome little nuisances with nowhere to go.
Why not make them work for us for a change. If we can’t use them for the clich├ęs they are, let’s at least use them for building something unexpected for the reader to ponder.
Lots of writers have done the same thing over the years. Agatha Christie is a prime example. Think about “Ten Little Indians” and see if you don’t come to the same conclusion.
In the meantime, take care, all, and enjoy your time on this fascinating place we call Earth. Read Hemingway and find out why. His titles alone should shout his reasoning process.
Until later, have a great weekend.


  1. My mama told me the shoe dropping had to do with someone upstairs getting ready for bed. You hear one shoe drop to the floor after it's taken off, and you expect to hear the other shoe, too. But you don't, so you're all distracted and antsy, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    I expect she might have made that up so I'd quit bugging her about what it meant, however.

  2. OOh, this was a luverly post, Claudsy.

    Funny, I just got a bee in my bonnet (snicker) about the shoe dropping. This is my take on it:

    There's an old Icon painting of Our Lady holding her little Jesus. It's the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In her arms, Jesus is clutching her hands, and looking over his shoulder at the Archangel Gabriel, who is holding a three-bar cross and nails. On the left of the painting, holding a lance and a sponge, is the Archangel Michael. The Archangels are proffering Jesus the instruments of His passion: in His fear, He clutches at His mother's hands. However, from His right foot, His sandal dangles. This dangling sandal signifies his resignation to the will of His Father, that He will allow Himself to be crucified for our sins.

    Interesting, hey?

  3. With folklore the way it is and each region having its own interpretation of an adage, it's hard telling where a saying originated.

    I find it interesting that such objects as religious paintings can fall inro the realm of using such an adage, Cat. Nevertheless, who am I to dispute it. People thought about things differently so many centuries ago that anything is possible, I suppose. I would lead to quite a bit of discussion, though, wouldn't it. Good thinking there, Cat.