“and how would you expect, that I could be fine.”
All is Well - Mississippi Jake
In second grade, I won a Young Authors award. It was about the tooth fairy and it got very dark, very quick. The tooth fairy was also a murderer. Anyhow, I won the award because of how vividly I had described the setting. Certainly not because of the story line. That moment engrained itself in my head. If an author, songwriter, poet, whatever medium, can transport me to a different place, I’m hooked. I often think of people in their settings, and of the influence of my settings upon stories.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I grew up in the Ozarks. Seven miles outside a town of 2,500 people. I lived in rural America, but outside of my quiet existence, the world seemed to fall apart. In ‘95 I watched rescue workers in Oklahoma City search for survivors after Timothy McVeigh exploded a truck in front of a Federal Building. Broadcast of the 96’ Summer Olympics in Atlanta spoke more about pipe bombs than gold medals. Only a few hours away from my home, in 1998, an eleven and thirteen year old boy pulled the fire alarms at their school. They waited with weapons outside their Arkansas school, while their classmates evacuated the building. Mostly, I will always remember hearing about a shooting in a place called Littleton.
I can vividly see the ditches out the truck window. I passed them every day of my life, but I remember what they looked like that day. The voices on the radio were still trying to make sense of the shooting at Columbine High School while spring flowers flew past my view. Young rabbits ran near the creek in Barry County while young people in Colorado ran toward lines of SWAT.
Denver was a place far far away from me. The kind of places that only really exist when you’re out on vacation. Typically, my adolescent brain would have filed the story under “Not Applicable” because of the geographic distance. This time was different. I was approaching high school the next year. It seemed daunting all of a sudden and a little suburb near Denver didn’t seem that far away.
On a recent trip west I passed Columbine High. It was strange seeing the physical building in person instead of through a CNN camera lens. Each generation has experienced their earth shaking events. Grandma had once told me her emotions as the radio squawked details of Pearl Harbor in ‘41. Most of us alive in the United States have a vivid recollection of 9/11. These events are our setting just as much as the streets we drive each day.
The setting of a story is important. How we deal with the setting is even more important. Sometimes there is turmoil, and sometimes sheer beauty. It’s always shifting. There’s plenty of pain that’s going to happen in the world, that’s just part of it. All we can do is take real good care of the folks around us.
- Jake Bradley Turner