Jubilation

By Tim Wynne-Jones

I have lately fixated on a band out of Austin called Balmorhea. There’s a sweet little video of their song “Jubi” that I found myself watching with a curious mixture of delight and shades of parental concern that surprised me and made me wonder.

A boy sits punching his finger at a tablet, playing some frenetic video game and then, after only a few seconds, his mother takes it away. There’s no fuss; it’s just gone. He turns, looks over the back of the couch and – Voila! – there’s an outside! Which is when the music starts.
Soon he is through the gate and heading into the great Out There, where he startles a deer, watches an eagle soar, stumbles upon a ruin, complete with the jawbone of a cow, an abandoned and desiccated wasp’s nest and a rope to swing on.
He runs with the cattle beasts, then veers off into the wood — deeper, ever deeper, further and further from home. He crosses a chasm on a suspension bridge and eventually finds the ultimate escape: an untethered boat.
He takes off from shore with only a paddle out onto the wide open reaches of a lake or quarry, on and on, to a stream and shallows and finally a sandy spit where Balmorhea are playing the song that has accompanied his adventure.
It’s dusk, now; there’s a fire. The boy skips around the fire — around the band — and then, as night gathers, he makes his way back – his journey speeded up until he is home, at last. He walks in on his family, sitting at the table. Dinner is waiting. One is tempted to add, “And it was still hot.”
It’s a lovely idyll. What you hope for a kid: the realization of all that there is beyond the screen door — what there is beyond those other screens that pervade contemporary life, stealing away the very notion of vistas and mystery and pathways that are not merely the virtual manifestations of optimal, randomized algorithms. A world of piney-tree pathways. The boy goes out into Life, having been expelled (or rescued, depending on how you look at it) from the simulation of life that pervades the halfway world in which we live so much of our day.
The kid in me smiled with glee; the parent in me was immediately on high alert. Where is this going? Will he find his way home? He has no life jacket. He has no cell. Shouldn’t somebody call someone? Are there strangers out there…
You know the routine. Gack!
The song itself is so lovely you cannot really expect that anything bad is going to happen. And I know, from my own free-wheeling childhood, just how resourceful you learn to be when no one is watching out for you, dogging your every footstep. God, how I would have rebelled at play-dates! And yet, society has scared so many of us into this electronic cul de sac, where we load our kids down with the jiggery-pokery of the screen-age. Where do the greater dangers lurk?
The irony of what I’m saying will not be lost on any reader of this blog. I too spend most of my days in the traces of my MacBook, with no kind mother to come and turn it off.
But just now – well, an hour ago – I got on my snowshoes and went out into the woods behind my home and, with some good, healthy trepidation, struck off the beaten trail, out into the bush. Then I worked at finding my way home through land with no paths but those of deer and coyote. The sun, already westering, cast good strong shadows and it wasn’t hard to remember to keep it on my right, knowing that at this time of year and around this time of day, it would set at the end of my road. There was no band to greet me out there – their fingers would have grown numb in the cold. But the memory of Balmorhea’s jaunty tune thrummed in my head. I don’t know where the title comes from. I can only think it must have something to do with jubilation.

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Jubilation

By Tim Wynne-Jones

I have lately fixated on a band out of Austin called Balmorhea. There’s a sweet little video of their song “Jubi” that I found myself watching with a curious mixture of delight and shades of parental concern that surprised me and made me wonder.

A boy sits punching his finger at a tablet, playing some frenetic video game and then, after only a few seconds, his mother takes it away. There’s no fuss; it’s just gone. He turns, looks over the back of the couch and – Voila! – there’s an outside! Which is when the music starts.
Soon he is through the gate and heading into the great Out There, where he startles a deer, watches an eagle soar, stumbles upon a ruin, complete with the jawbone of a cow, an abandoned and desiccated wasp’s nest and a rope to swing on.
He runs with the cattle beasts, then veers off into the wood — deeper, ever deeper, further and further from home. He crosses a chasm on a suspension bridge and eventually finds the ultimate escape: an untethered boat.
He takes off from shore with only a paddle out onto the wide open reaches of a lake or quarry, on and on, to a stream and shallows and finally a sandy spit where Balmorhea are playing the song that has accompanied his adventure.
It’s dusk, now; there’s a fire. The boy skips around the fire — around the band — and then, as night gathers, he makes his way back – his journey speeded up until he is home, at last. He walks in on his family, sitting at the table. Dinner is waiting. One is tempted to add, “And it was still hot.”
It’s a lovely idyll. What you hope for a kid: the realization of all that there is beyond the screen door — what there is beyond those other screens that pervade contemporary life, stealing away the very notion of vistas and mystery and pathways that are not merely the virtual manifestations of optimal, randomized algorithms. A world of piney-tree pathways. The boy goes out into Life, having been expelled (or rescued, depending on how you look at it) from the simulation of life that pervades the halfway world in which we live so much of our day.
The kid in me smiled with glee; the parent in me was immediately on high alert. Where is this going? Will he find his way home? He has no life jacket. He has no cell. Shouldn’t somebody call someone? Are there strangers out there…
You know the routine. Gack!
The song itself is so lovely you cannot really expect that anything bad is going to happen. And I know, from my own free-wheeling childhood, just how resourceful you learn to be when no one is watching out for you, dogging your every footstep. God, how I would have rebelled at play-dates! And yet, society has scared so many of us into this electronic cul de sac, where we load our kids down with the jiggery-pokery of the screen-age. Where do the greater dangers lurk?
The irony of what I’m saying will not be lost on any reader of this blog. I too spend most of my days in the traces of my MacBook, with no kind mother to come and turn it off.
But just now – well, an hour ago – I got on my snowshoes and went out into the woods behind my home and, with some good, healthy trepidation, struck off the beaten trail, out into the bush. Then I worked at finding my way home through land with no paths but those of deer and coyote. The sun, already westering, cast good strong shadows and it wasn’t hard to remember to keep it on my right, knowing that at this time of year and around this time of day, it would set at the end of my road. There was no band to greet me out there – their fingers would have grown numb in the cold. But the memory of Balmorhea’s jaunty tune thrummed in my head. I don’t know where the title comes from. I can only think it must have something to do with jubilation.

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The Overheard Conversation

Writers love to eavesdrop. There’s no better grist for the mill than the conversation of strangers, not intended for your ears. On a craft level, eavesdropping is a wonderful exercise in learning to write authentic dialogue. The overheard do not explain what or whom they are talking about for the benefit of Nosey in the seat behind them, and yet Nosey gets the gist of it along with the frisson of stolen pleasure. That’s what you want from dialogue! The eavesdropper has to try to make sense of what’s being said and in so doing becomes a truly engaged listener. Aren’t those exactly the kind of readers we crave?
Eavesdropping, after all, is what literature is all about. The reader is the proverbial fly on the wall, vicariously delighted or horrified at what is taking place. And so it’s not surprising that the overheard conversation is a mainstay of literature, especially for young readers. How many dastardly plans have been heard through keyholes, in the pages of a book? It’s a popular conceit that can easily backfire and strain the reader’s suspension of critical doubt. There’s the gratuitous just-happened-by nature of it all. Unless of course it’s the coincidence that starts the book. (The only coincidence we can ever really get away with).
The young protagonist who is actively attempting to overhear something he’s not meant to hear is more believable but you have to be careful that what he hears really sounds like conversation and not simply a convenient platter of plot points. The worst example of this is the conversation ostensibly already in progress that still manages, somehow, to provide all the pertinent information the character needed to hear.
When we write from a limited viewpoint, either in first or second person, there is much that must happen off-stage. For that matter, even in a novel of Dickensian omniscience, not every scene that happens can be recorded. That would have to be renamed the excruciatingly boring omniscient point of view.

But here’s something to think about. I’ve just written a scene that will definitely not be in my new middle grade novel. Moth has just confessed something dreadful to his mother in the hope that she will come clean about her own big secret. He goes off to his room, disgruntled, fuming. Which leaves me the author with this: Dad is coming home soon and mom would know that she had to tell him what just transpired and, in so doing, would have to reveal to her husband at least some of the guilty secret she couldn’t bring herself to tell her son. I understood that in reality this scene would have to happen. But even if it occurred to Moth to try to overhear what his parents might need to talk about, there would be no way on earth mom would let that happen.
The thing is, this author had to know what went down between mom and dad; just how much mom would confess; how angry or understanding dad would be; how unsettled they both would be, when next Moth saw them. I gave Dad a beer and, for the fun of it, wrote the scene like dialogue in a play, since it would never appear in print.
Little did I know that in my authorial overhearing of that mom-dad scene the whole story would shift, inescapably, in a way that I had not foreseen. I had no idea what Dad was up to. Neither had mom!

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