(What do I use the other 1% of the time, the sharp-eyed and inquisitive ask? Why, pen and paper, of course, because there are times I don’t have access to my trusty Dell Inspiron 15 --- or according to She Who Must Be Obeyed, it’s politically incorrect to haul it out and use it. And while I’m old enough to remember writing university papers on my mother’s old manual typewriter --- which all these years later remains squirreled away down in the basement storage room [the typewriter, that is, not my mother] --- contrary to my students’ fevered images, I’m not ancient enough to have ever used a quill pen. In fact, the only writer I’ve ever heard of who actually did was Lord Dunsany, the 19th century fantasy author.)
Writing prose that is vivid without being overwrought is an increasingly necessary skill these days, I find, especially as an educator. We --- or rather, some nebulous they, because I’m sure as hell not taking any responsibility for this fiasco, having done my level best as both career teacher and parent over more than three decades to swim against that particular current --- have created a generation of children who are largely so used to having the mediums of television and film and gaming consoles and computers provide Compleat Visual Tapestries That Requireth No Imagination Whatsoever to the extent that, put words on a page before them --- even on a tablet, come to that --- most have absolutely no inclination to devour, or even nibble, this literary wordfeast. They just want to watch. They want it all done for them.
(Not all of them, as we swiftly move to placate the more erudite of my students, already beginning to wind up their cherubic voices in a wailing chorus of complaint, bless their black little hearts. Never say never, as the pundits tell us.)
So let me show you what it’s like to paint a picture with words from an image that really struck me. It’s from an Xbox title: Life is Strange: Before the Storm, a game I actually talked about in my last post. (I don’t often use the same source material in consecutive posts, but hey, any given day, you take whatever bone the Muse tosses at you. With gratitude. And you certainly don’t complain to her... ‘cause she’s apt to be a wee bit fickle that way, you know. Don’t tell her I said that. Please.)
The image that made such an impression on me is one, I think, Those Of Us Of A Certain Age can recall very well. (I don’t know about today’s kids. Are they outside? In the gloaming? Playing? Or at least making wondrous and enduring memories? The reader must decide.) Anyway, it certainly took me instantly back fifty years or so (yikes!) Here it is:
The small coastal community of Arcadia Bay, Oregon on a warm, humid, cloudless summer evening. A special time of day --- August, most likely, for it is that singular time of year when, even after the sun, a great, flaming molten ball, has disappeared against the western horizon, the soft twilight of the gloaming seems to linger for hours. As the light slowly fades at last and the sky turns azure, the old liquid sodium streetlights flicker on, creating pools of slowly strengthening, stark, brilliant white light along the quiet residential street. The moths caught in this strange, artificially unnatural light drift in lazy, confused circles beneath the lamps, fearing it even as they seem to dread to leave its embrace.
There is a calmness not found in a busy city. Very little traffic, and the noise of what there is, muted by distance into a somnolent buzz. Rather, it is the sound of crickets that pervades the night air. Houses sit placidly like silent sentinels, warm light glowing from windows whose curtains have not yet been shut against the oncoming of night.
A child’s bike and a soccer ball lie astride the sidewalk, abruptly abandoned by their owners, perhaps when the siren call of dinner came… or later, when the more demanding summons from a mother gathering her chicks back into the nest sounded up and down the street. Now the toys wait mutely for the morrow, when they will be picked up again and play resumed as though no interval of time had passed.
Long, pale shadows lengthen, then shorten as two teenage girls move from island to island of light. They are talking and laughing softly as they recount the evening’s earlier adventures: they have just performed in an outdoor play --- a summer production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest --- and it has been a glorious success. All the more so for one, who was a reluctant last-minute emergency replacement for a cast member unable to arrive by curtain time… but the impromptu stage debut went remarkably well, and the combined sense of blazing triumph, tempered by enormous relief, makes both girls a little giddy. One skips in circles, on and off the curb, then turns to the other, holding out her hands. The other accepts them, clasping tight, and they twirl in a dizzy circle together, laughing with the sheer joy of being alive.
Can you see it in your mind’s eye? I sure hope so. I’ve tried to faithfully recount a timeless moment combined from both a modern game and my own rose-coloured memories.
Ah, the power of words.