Thursday, May 09, 2019

Gullibility and Skepticism; Fiction and Non

Americans think it's good to be skeptical. It shows insight, sophistication, wisdom, and superiority.

It's definitely not good or cool to be gullible.

This works out just fine when you get a phone call saying your car's warranty is about to expire, or your bank account needs to be reset.

In other venues, it gets weird. Post a photo or video online of a chipmunk peeking into a security camera and a host of commenters pipe up with skeptical snorts of "Photoshop!" and "obviously fake!" We assume they want to show how astute and discerning they are, but we note that they have time to watch and comment, which tells us a lot about them and a possible lack of sophistication in their lives.

I think: this is not a scam to get your passwords. Just enjoy the video.

It also gets weird when you're writing fiction. You would think that if you're writing non-fiction, then of course you have to stick with the facts. But if you're making up a story you can include whatever you want.

This might work with fantasy, but I'm starting to think that most fiction is more restrictive than non-fiction, not less.

Today we had our bi-weekly fiction group meeting. One contribution included a long-ago character who was given a bizarre treatment for a tropical disease. I won't say more than that because you need to buy the book when it comes out.

The rest of us were quite skeptical of this part of the story. Really?? we said. What about this complication, that result, and this detail over here? 

It turned out that the writer has actual historical documents verifying this event.

Oooo-kaaay, we said. Well then.

Real life provides plenty of stories that are hard to believe but verifiably true. But you couldn't get by with putting them in a work of fiction, I don't think. Such as my friend Donna's unusual handicap:

For my whole life I've had trouble recognizing people, especially people I don't see every week. Watching movies I've never seen before is incredibly frustrating because all the actors look alike. I have never been able to recognize people at graduation -- all those hats, or swimming. A couple years ago I took an online test and discovered I have a condition commonly called "face blindness" where I don't recognize faces -- I compensate by recognizing people by a million other characteristics including hair, voice, etc. Sometimes I resort to recognizing people by what type of shoes they wear (really!). When someone changes my cue (gets a haircut, or whatever) then I'm sunk until someone tells me who the person is. Knowing it's an actual thing doesn't make it easier than it was, but at least now I know what's going on and I can laugh at some of the things that have happened to me, like the time in grad school that I was getting to know two cute guys (one at school, one at church) only to discover, after maybe 6 weeks, that they were the same person! One day the guy from church showed up at school and as we were walking and talking he casually opened the guy from school's locker! That's when I figured it out.

Wouldn't it be fun to put that in a novel? But all those astute readers would say pffft, too implausible!

Last year I flew to Minnesota and took a shuttle to St. Cloud. The driver was a great storyteller and kept us entertained with local lore. I posted one of his stories on Facebook:

"So I got this friend Mike who’s a big blond Norwegian. He was in the military and learned to do welding on these nuclear submarines, and he’s kept up his credentials, so he works for the electric company nine months out of the year and takes three months off so he doesn’t go up to the next tax bracket. That’s when he goes hunting. He’s a big quiet guy, you can’t get six words out of him if you try. 
‘Hey Mike! How you doin?’
[Slow low voice] ‘Fine.’
While he was in the military he married this Korean woman named Chuni, and Chuni’s maybe 5-4 and 120 pounds soaking wet, with rocks in her pockets. And she’s a talker, and she loves to play bingo. She just loves her bingo.
So one time Mike was off hunting for five days and while he was gone Chuni went to St. Cloud and played bingo. She was coming home at maybe 11:00 at night and all of a sudden she hits a deer—an 18-point buck. It was huge. The biggest deer you ever saw. 
She didn’t hit it broadside or it would’ve killed her. The front right of the car hit the neck and broke it. She could still drive the car.
Well Chuni knew Mike carried rope in the trunk so she looked and sure enough, there was 100 feet of rope. So she tied up the deer’s feet and ran the rope up over the car and back under and tied it to a fencepost. Then she pulled forward slow and hauled the deer to the luggage rack. Tied it down and went home.
When she got home she knew a deer needs to be hung up so she strung the rope over the basketball hoop on the garage and tied up the deer under the antlers and backed up until it was hanging there.
[The driver explained it better but I don’t remember just how she did this.]
Then she dragged the picnic table over and laid out all the knives. By this time it was 3 in the morning, so she went to bed.
At 6 in the morning Mike comes home. He’s been out for five days hunting, didn’t get a thing. He pulls in and there’s this enormous deer hanging on the garage.
So Mike told me, 'You know, da h**k with dese expensive huntin’ trips. From now on I’m just sendin’ Chuni to Bingo.'
. . .
The head was too messed up to stuff, but they were able to mount the skull with that big 18-point rack. It’s hanging on their living room wall, and Mike put a plaque underneath that says, 'CHUNI’S DEER.'"

Predictably, two commenters out of fourteen said something like, "This is a made-up story, right?"

My question is: does it matter? And if so, why? I had my own reasons for assuming it was at least mostly true: first, the utter plausibility of the slow-talking Norwegian Minnesotan, and then the Korean wife, which you don't find in a normal Minnesota story. That combination rang true for me, but it was a good story and that's what mattered most.

That's how I want people to react when I tell or write a story.

It's different when it's my brother Fred. When he tells one of his yarns, I listen with sharp skepticism from the first word on, because I got so sick and tired of being all awed and taken in by his amazing stories and then chagrined and humiliated at the punch line, when it was finally obvious that he was working me like a fish on the line the whole time.

The shuttle driver told another story that was just as interesting but actually verifiable online:

"Do you see that sign for Flying Cloud Drive? Do you know what that's named after?
Ok, so the main Twin Cities airport used to be out at Shakopee, and it was called Flying Cloud Airport.
Where the main airport is today was all part of Fort Snelling. In 1946 they kept the cemetery part of Fort Snelling and sold the rest to two guys who wanted to build a racetrack. So they built a replica of the Indy 500--the 2 1/2 mile track, the bleachers, everything. 
Well by about 1956 they had gone bankrupt and the racetrack just sat there.
Now we get snow and ice around here sometimes as you may know, and one time in 1956 there were two commercial airliners coming in to Flying Cloud and it happened to be all socked in with snow. These guys radioed each other and said What do we do? because they were running low on fuel.
One of them said, "I think I saw a long straight stretch on that racetrack."
So they both landed on those long straightaways on that racetrack.
So then someone in the city got the idea to turn that area into the Twin Cities airport. Today we have four runways. Two of them are the remnants of the two long sides of that racetrack.
The first time I told that story, I had a passenger who used to be a stewardess for Northwest Airlines and she said, 'Yep, that's true. I remember when it happened.'"

That would also make for an interesting plot device in a novel, and it would seem totally made-up until you went to Wikipedia and looked it up.

My conclusions: we all pride ourselves on our finely-tuned skepticism, but we probably come to the wrong conclusions quite often about what is true and possible, and what is not.
Also: writing fiction requires an annoying amount of sticking to what the average person considers possible and believable.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Sunday Evening Popcorn

Paul and I are married to each other.

We both have laptops.

We both scroll through Facebook and news sites.

Thus far, it seems we are similar.

Once in a while, such as when we're on a plane, I sit beside him when he's online, and I watch what he clicks on and reads. That's when I realize how completely different we are.

Looking over on his screen, I'll see a catchy headline: "Missing Iowa Child Found In Cornfield After 28 Hours."


He doesn't.


I think: clickbait and silly. He opens it, passes the quiz, and is pleased.

Next there's something super-interesting like Nova Scotia Grandma Discovers Ancient Pirate Treasure While Digging Potatoes in Garden.

Oh my stars. We must read this, I think.

He scrolls by and clicks on something inane involving Mueller testifying, the Blazers winning, the football draft picks, or Trump tweeting something.

I read about the British royals. Oooooh, pictures of Prince Louis!

He certainly does not.

However, I'm happy to say that I've found a few ways we are similar. We both click and read things involving plane crashes, big snakes in the Everglades, college costs, and the Amish.

And we both don't read about entertainment celebrities and music and movies.

The experts say that yes, opposites attract, but they also have to work a lot harder at making the marriage work. We are opposite in many ways and marriage has required a lot of hard work, but at least we can always talk about the latest article we both read about plane crashes, pythons, student debt, or the growing Amish population.


Ben and Amy sang in the Riverside Community Choir, which presented its final program for the season this evening.

"Somebody should do a livestream," I said.

Well. You know how it goes when you say out loud that "someone" should do something?

Yes, that is exactly what happened.

Jenny and I got to church at 5:39, and already the parking lot was full and people were parking on the grass. We rushed to the balcony to set up. I couldn't connect to wifi because the information was on the router, locked in the office, and Paul wasn't there yet with the key.

So I did the best I could with what I had as the church filled, the foyer filled, and the balcony filled. Partway through the evening, my battery was dying. I'd forgotten to plug in the phone. So we handed a long cord back and around, and a nice person plugged it in over by the Sunday school supplies.

"I am too old for this," I told Hope Krabill afterwards. She is my age. "No!" she said. "Don't say that! We can still learn to do things!"

"Yes. Growth mindset." I said, and added, "Please tell me I'm allowed to make mistakes."

She emphatically said I was. The video is imperfect but it will be viewable by David the soloist's parents in Grenada, and that sort of thing is why I made the attempt.

I think it was last year when I wrote for Daughters of Promise about change and identity. With each new phase, we think, "Who am I now?"

If you even try to be a writer, please know that you will be tested and tried in every area you write about, especially if you sound like you have it figured out.

Somehow I got to discussing the change/identity subject with a woman who came to the concert this evening. The changes in her life involved marriage, moving, and a baby, all about 15 years later than her peers experienced these transitions. Mine, recently, involve no longer writing for the newspaper and, as a result, not getting as many speaking invitations, which has left me feeling strangely at loose ends.

"We know our identity is in Christ," she said. "But still..."

I agreed.

Christian women tend to overdo the identity topic, I think, but maybe it's because we are so defined by what we take care of , which keeps changing, so we're forever trying to adapt to a new phase of life and trying to figure out who we are now.

My friend Judy and I got married the same summer and lived in the same town for the next two years. We endured morning sickness at the same time and had our baby boys three weeks apart.

Then our paths parted. But whenever I see her, we eliminate the conversational fluff and go right to the heart.  One time she happened to be at church and we talked briefly and intensely afterward. Her daughter walked up to us. "Really, Mom? Five minutes with Dorcas and already you're crying?"

Well, yes.

Today we met again because a young man who is a nephew of both her husband and mine was baptized. She had great and immediate clarity about what I should do about my biggest life issues, and I had great and immediate clarity with hers.

When you sit together in a car during a church service and eat crackers so you don't throw up, you form this sort of bond.

You should try it.

Have a wonderful week.