How tall are you? Has anyone ever asked you that? How do we really know? I mean – a lot of us had a door frame that our mothers would happily notch up as we grew through our pre-puberty years. But then as we settled into our teenage fugue and the pimples and the funny smell we developed hastened our descent from the pinnacles of pre-teen cuteness lead us to that inevitable point where we began going out of our way to avoid our parents that notching of the door frame ceremony came to an unceremonious halt.
Let me tell you about myself.
Trust me, I am an expert.
When I was nineteen years old I stood six feet tall.
Didn’t we all?
But at that time I had pure and undeniable proof of my altitude.
You see, back then I was young and poor and I badly needed a job.
“Why don’t you join the militia?” my Mom suggested. “You can go once a week and get paid for it and still go to school.”
Which is what I was doing with most of my time. I was going to King’s College University in my first year trying to get a diploma so that I could get myself a big fat job somewhere drawing a big fat pay check for doing something or other. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time. I just had convinced myself – like so many other young freshmen types – that all I had to do was to stick it out for three or four years until they gave me a diploma and then some fellow in a business suit was going to pull up in front of me in his jet black Cadillac and hand me a pay check – say something in the six figures department or so.
Hey – remember – I was nineteen years old.
I was going to university – but that did not mean that I was educated.
So I signed up to join the Princess Louise Fusiliers right here in Halifax.
This is the hat badge that was worn on the beret that I wore when I was in the militia. I never did learn how to wear that beret properly enough to keep the Corporals happy.
I walked in on my first night of service – wearing a street-weathered denim jean jacket and hair down past my shoulders. I figured I looked all right but the guards at the armory doors didn’t want to let me in.
I wondered if I smelled funny.
I finally figured out that I was supposed to have a haircut and a uniform so I asked them how I could do that and they told me how and I went and got my haircut – hey, it would grow back – and I got issued my uniform. I showed up the next night and they took all of my information and they stood me up against a wall and measured me.
“Hey,” the private who was measuring me said. “You are six feet tall.”
Cool, I thought to myself. I am six feet tall.
Well – to make a long story short I lasted about a year in the militia before finally dropping out. I just have never been much of a yes-sir-no-sir kind of a dude. I’m not a rebel – you understand – but I just like to do things my way.
For about twenty years after that I walked around being six feet tall and not knowing the difference.
Then, about twenty three years ago or so I met my wife-to-be Belinda and one of the first things that she asked me was how tall I was.
I said “I’m six feet tall.”
“The hell you are,” she said.
So she stood me up against a wall with a measuring tape and somehow over twenty odd years I had managed to shrink about three whole inches.
I was five foot nine.
It turns out I always had been.
I don’t know if it was the army boots and the two extra pair of grey wooly socks that I was wearing that night at the Militia Armory – or if I had sort of tip-toe-stood when they were measuring me or if there was still a little bit of reach-for-the-sky left in my fresh new haircut or if that wooly-headed private had somehow managed to tuck his measuring tape under my feet while he was measuring me.
Whatever the reason I can truthfully tell you that marrying Belinda took three inches off of my height.
That woman REALLY cut me down to size.
A writer needs to do that to his characters every now and then.
All of our characters are operating under VERY high personal misapprehensions. Each of those characters believes that the sun truly shines out of their assholes and our job as writers is to cut them down to size.
No one wants to read about Polly Pureheart or Dudley Doo-Daw-Day – with his manly snowplow chin and his habit of NEVER making a single mistake. If you want your characters to be human…if you want your characters to stand up from the page and speak the plain pure truth…if you want your READERS to empathize with these characters and to root for them and to mourn their defeat and celebrate their victories – then you need to write a character whose shit does indeed stink with the funk of humanity.
Put aside those preconceptions of grandeur.
Forget about trying to write something NICE.
Write about somebody who sometimes puts on a pair of mismatched socks.
Write about that dude who lost his car keys.
Write about that girl who swore out loud at the Mother Superior.
Write about living human beings. Write about their failings and their personal goof-ups. Write about how they persevere and overcome all of the spitballs and mud pies that fate and life throw at them.
Six feet nothing.
Cut them down to size.
yours in storytelling,
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