Thursday, August 4, 2022

BAD CHOICES MAKE GOOD STORIES, Summer 2022 Edition

Life is about making choices. Sometimes we make good choices, and sometimes we make bad choices. They, especially bad choices, are part of the learning process. For example, if someone tells you you’ll burn yourself if you touch the hot stove and yet you make the bad choice to touch it anyway, you learn for yourself that it is indeed hot and you won’t touch it again (shoutout to my li'l sis!) Or if you love wearing white pants while drinking red wine, knowing that one splish or splash will ruin them, yet you make the bad choice to wear them anyway. (That would be me…a lesson I’m still stubbornly refusing to learn.) (Actually, I think that’s the definition of insanity…doing the same thing but expecting a different outcome. But I digress.)  

Bad choices seem to have an affinity for summertime activities.  Skipping sunscreen while reading/snoozing on the beach? Bad choice. Or consider the ever-popular Slip-n-Slide. Rarely does one look back and consider that a good choice. Or inviting a dog/cat/child to join you for a summertime siesta in the hammock. Not a good choice—unless you like ending up face down in dog—ah—waste. Trying the gold-medal-winning Triple Gainer you saw in the Olympics? Usually a bad, bad choice. But learning experiences, all.

Choices provide teachable moments.

But bad choices go one step further and become fodder for great stories. That’s especially important to writers. We’re always looking for great stories, hence are in constant search for bad choices. Here are some examples from my personal bad-choice archives.

One afternoon my eight-year-old self decided to skateboard down the steepest driveway I could find. We lived in a valley surrounded by steep hills—so when I say steep, I'm not talking gently rolling inclines. This was in the lazy, hazy, crazy, don’t-come-home-until-lightening-bugs-come-out days of summer. The good old days. Way before the advent of safety equipment. So that crazy day I jumped on my skateboard and barreled down the hill. Yes, I made it to the bottom, but not exactly safely. One bump mid hill and I went flying. Momentum had me tumbling ass-over-teakettle until I came to rest on the grassy berm. Suffice it to say, there was blood. A lot of blood. A lot of MY blood. And a missing tooth. Through the prism of a half-century of time I can now see the humor in this. I must have been a rolling, screaming, out-of-control Tasmanian-devil mess. Had there been American Funniest Videos, I’d have been a lock for the $10,000. I recently wove my crazy antics into a flashback scene in the novel I’m working on. While not even in the most remote sense is the story autobiographical, I did draw on this bad choice to flesh out the scene, making the fictional crash a little less painful and a wee bit bloodier. (Hey...blood sells!)  

Then there’s the time we made the bad decision to water ski in a local waterway…during jellyfish season. Well, not me, 'cuz I had more sense than the two knuckleheads in the boat with me. I served as spotter. My job was to watch the guy in the water get his skis positioned tips up and give the “go” signal for the boat to surge ahead. Only the signal never came. Instead, my son wriggled and thrashed in the water then screamed for us to come pick him up. You know where this is going, right? Yup. Jellyfish caught in the swim trunks. Poor kid. But yeah, funny as all get out. It’s part of a short story that hasn’t found a home yet. It may be a become its own blogpost, a cautionary tale for anyone who is even remotely considering jumping into the water teaming with jellyfish. My advice...don't even THINK about doing it.

Trust me when I say you can learn as much from witnessing a bad choice as experiencing one personally. I'm recalling one that has to do with that seasonal favorite, beach volleyball, a popular activity when sailors hang out at the oceanfront and drink a lot of beer. One summer afternoon a net stood lonely along the shore. It didn't take long before the gauntlet was thrown down, which led to shirts being tugged off, thus exposing an impressive display of muscles, tattoos, and nipple rings. Yes, it caught my attention. The game got heated. A sailor jumped up for a block, falling against the net, and on the way back down the nipple ring got caught…well, you get the picture. (And yes, there was lots of blood, and lots of words not fit for this G-rated blog.) New lesson there? No half-nekkid volleyball for me! (I'd already made the good choice to never get a nipple ring!) Where did this sailor's bad choice end up in my writing? It made for a visceral blog post today, didn’t it? (Gotta admit you shared that guy's pain!) 

Bottom line, the older we get the more apt we are to make good choices based on years of experience making bad choices. But it’s not a guarantee. Especially if wine is involved. We’ll save Bad Choices When Drinking Wine for another day.

Would love to hear some of your bad summer activity choices, no matter your age. Please leave them in the comments. Who knows, it just might make it into one of my stories!

Happy Summer everyone!

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