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I Had to Leave America to Write, part 2

This entry is part of 3 in the series I Had to Leave America to Write

So where we left off in Part One, I was 1) struggling with whether to make the characters in my screenplay more sympathetic, and 2) in Maine.

After a day in lobsterland, we packed up and continued on into Nova Scotia. In case you were wondering whether they have a different set of values up in the Northeast with regard to their natural environment, the following two pictures are from a highway rest stop along the way:

Rest Stop RiverMainefly

Every writer needs something different to write their best. I need trees, water, and wildlife. (And the occasional shoulder rub doesn’t hurt.)

This was my first view of the Nova Scotia coast:


Nova Scotia coast and flowers

Together with Fancy Pants, her cheerful sister, and her oddly endearing mom, we walked about and enjoyed sharp cliffs cutting into the grey Atlantic, like petrified bones of the glaciers that carved them.


Actively Eroding Cliff

Later we drove to this remarkable stretch of coast, a beach of white rocks ground smooth, some nearly spherical, with a perfectly clear freshwater estuary running along the left side—only forty feet of round rubble separating it from the massive, cold, salty Atlantic.


Nova Scotia Strip of Coast

We hiked every day, and I would read in the car and sometimes on the trails, and write at night and do my little Rosetta Stone CD-ROM course to try to learn Chinese. There was no running water in our house. When it got dark, the sky was deep, with the Milky Way splattered all over it. We’d sit in the house and talk—well, mostly the girls would talk; I found them extremely entertaining, but didn’t want to ruin their mother-daughter-sister bonding time by opening my fat mouth—a decision I’d pay for later.

Nova Scotia NookHow to Read Mark TwainUnderdogForest FallUisge Ban Falls Vertical Panorama

A few days later, while we were packing up to return to Maine, Fancy Pants’ mom blew up at me.

“Don’t bother trying to be nice”

You know what’s been happening to me a lot lately? Crap.

A few months ago a dear friend of mine since high school blew up at me because he thought I was overcharging him and taking too long to deliver on a $2400 book cover design I did for him for $200, for which I had his explicit permission to deliver two weeks later than originally planned. Last year my closest pal for the last five years, who considered me his very best friend, blew up at me because I made a joke (apparently at exactly the wrong time) about his new condo into which we’d just installed new flooring. Then one of the actors in the Shakespeare festival I was producing blew up at me after I played a mischievous practical joke on her—a combination of geek humor and guy humor—that I was totally sure she’d get a kick out of since she was kind of a geek like me and always acted like one of the guys.

None of those people are my friends anymore (though the third never really was, I just kind of treated her like one because I thought she was cool). It’s baffling. Some of my fellow human beings can be so fucking unforgiving—not even trying to understand what happened or why; just getting upset and having that upset become all the fact they need; become the whole truth and extent of their world as far as it concerns you. Even my blood brother, Fantasy Scribbler, blew up at me a couple weeks ago! I’m a tough sumbitch, but I was downright distraught over that piece of camel straw. Thank Science he called me later and sincerely apologized, so that incident, fortunately, is done and done. (The rest of this entry does not apply to him; the loyal friend that he is, he immediately repaired the misunderstanding.)

So I’ve been getting a lot of this lately, and it was really shitty having it happen again on my vacation, with someone who didn’t even know me but apparently had me all figured out. Fancy Pants’ mom had been treating me oddly for the last couple of days, smiling vaguely while giving me a cold shoulder, resulting in my staying farther from her and keeping my mouth shut to avoid invading whatever private space she seemed to be in. Then the night before we left, when I was asking what I could do to help lift and pack some of her heavy stuff, she lit into me.

“It’s too late.” she declared firmly, as if this were supposed to affect me in some way—in what way, I did not know. Was I supposed to be working for her approval for some reason, then disappointed I had fallen short of it? If so, I found it confusing because I didn’t care about either. Besides—too late for what?

“Don’t bother trying to be nice. Ever since Saturday, you lost me. You have been like a blank…” and at this point she waved her hand over her face in a kind of “wall” pantomime and scratched for the right word: “…nobody.”

I must have missed a memo.

Traveling Matt’s
Backpack Almanac:
Tip #1
When someone expects you to feel guilty for something you do not know you did, you may be getting targeted by an emotional vampire.

I had no idea what she meant, why she was frustrated, or (for a few minutes) whether she was even talking to me. Anyway, I found out from talking to Fancy Pants the next day that her mum was pissed that I wasn’t participating enough and talkative enough, and—instead of inviting me to participate or talking to me—had kept it to herself until it had become unbearable and popped. Weirdest thing to happen to me all month. What an odd thing to do.

How to blow up:

  1. Pick something to get upset over. It should be something that, upon reflection, doesn’t make any sense. Example: get mad at being served food you’re allergic to, without having told anyone you’re allergic to it.
  2. Assign malicious intent to those who committed the act. Important: do not seek to discover whether they had any.
  3. Do not speak to the “offenders” about your displeasure, or attempt to remedy the situation.
  4. Communicate your displeasure in unhelpful, unspoken, and/or destructive ways. Example: pour coffee at the table for everyone but the “offender.”
  5. When these generous attempts to communicate are ignored, take it as further evidence of malice.
  6. Think about it a lot. Let it ruin your day. Optional: complain to those not involved and unable to assist.
  7. Wait for the “offender” to do or say something. Anything. If they do not, provoke them. Helpful hint: It doesn’t matter what they do or say.
  8. Explode in outrage.
  9. Bonus: for additional points, struggle to keep cool and collected while exploding; whether or not you succeed in this hero’s effort, you will feel even more right later because of how calmly and reasonably you bore the situation.

In real life, people aren’t all that sympathetic, see? One of the biggest mistakes writers make is trying to get the audience to like their characters, when it is often their flaws which generate sympathy. Take a healthy puppy and a sick puppy. To which does your heart go out?

Jesus, this is a long post

Okay, I’m going to make this a three-parter. The last part will be short.

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