Sentry Cows, Lit Majors, Lost Boys

3 June 2001

Warning: I am tired for no apparent reason this morning. My journal is likely to reflect that.

We were driving along through Crow Canyon this morning when we saw a cow standing on the top of the hill, gazing down at the road. It's a very tall hill. Tall enough that the valley in the middle can properly be called a canyon. Yet there was the cow, on top of the hill.

Folks, let me be the first, as a Nebraska girl, to tell you: cows don't belong on hills. They don't belong on the side of hills, with their heads facing down. They especially don't belong on the tops of hills, standing like sentries in the sunlight. Cows. Hills. No. Do you know how easy it is to tip a cow over? Well, I don't, either, I always had better things to do with my weekends during high school. But many of my classmates could vouch for this for you: cows will tip over quite easily. This is why they should not be put on hills like that. It upsets the moral fiber of this country. It's just not right. The prejudices with which I was raised are the ultimate standard for American life, and the prejudices with which I was raised put cows on the prairie. Rolling hills at best. None of this steep-hill cow stuff.

You may not know what this will lead to, but when they start posting cow sentries, you should have a pretty good idea.

I've decided to make life easier for all of those who come after me: specifically, for anyone who wants to do a thesis on my writing once I'm famous. If they can do theses on Anne McCaffrey, I am totally fair game. So. Just for you, here is what all my books and stories are about. Every last one of them. You don't have to bother figuring out a theme, because here it is, every single time:

Once upon a time there lived a girl and a boy, and they were great friends. (No, this is not Bridge to Terebithia. Different story. That one's important, though. If you haven't read it, what are you doing reading some woman's web journal? Put your life on hold. Go read Bridge to Terebithia.) Anyway. Boy. Girl. Right. So, they were great friends, and they talked and laughed and cried and grew together. And all was well.

Then one day the girl went away on a journey. It was a great and important journey, and it was good for her. The boy stayed home. He didn't do much, with the girl away. He got used to not doing much, with the girl away. He didn't go much of anywhere, either. But not doing anything and not going anywhere got to be a little boring, so he had to come up with some substitutes for the adventures he had with the girl. He tried not to let the girl find out about the substitutes, but he got less subtle about them.

Finally, the girl came home. She told the boy all about her journey, and he listened. He asked questions in the appropriate spots. He told her it sounded like a wonderful quest. She asked what he'd been doing, and he said nothing. She could tell he was lying. He got upset because she knew he was lying, and so did he. They both wondered if they could be friends any more. It didn't look like it.

The ending is different in different stories. But it's there. Every story. Every book. If you've read a story of mine and can't make it fit into this mold, squeeze harder. You are obviously not cut out to do lit crit if you can't do this part.

Seriously, I've discovered what I'm calling The Lost Boy running through my work -- and through my life. It's pretty scary. This started clear back in kindergarten. I made my best friend there, and he was a bright little boy, a sweetheart, a wonderful kid. And we were best friends for years. Then the story diverges. If you asked him what happened, he'd probably tell you he found out he wasn't as smart as me, couldn't keep up. And that may be true. It may be part of the story. But if I asked him what happened, he'd admit that he couldn't stand being The Smart Kid any more. He couldn't stand what They did to him, or what he did to himself over it. And he started drinking pretty seriously. I think he was barely twelve.

My folks and I had moved away for that year, so instead of watching him train-wreck himself on the scene, I got to watch it in short bursts, as if through a strobe light. That did not make it easier. And I was twelve and confused and didn't know how to help. When we moved back, he talked to me a couple of times and then started ignoring me. He had been the only person my own age I could rely upon.

He's got himself cleaned up and his life is pretty well back together now, but he still plays dumb. Nobody who meets him now would choose "smart" as one of their first words to describe him -- and yet he's still "on" in there, and he knows I know it. He's built his life so that he doesn't have to be smart, but he still is. And every time I talk to him, there's a little part of my brain that has not yet given up hope that he's going to start letting people see what he really is. Or what he really was, I don't know. Somebody besides me should be allowed to know this guy, and it hurts to know that he's not letting very many people do so, if any at all.

So did I leave it there? Heck no! Not me! I went around finding many other such friends, most of whom had had their train-wreck times before I got there. And then I proceed to break my heart over what they are and what they could be. Some of them still make me cry. Does this stop me? Hasn't yet. Evidently I'm drawn to Lost Boys (some of whom are girls), and evidently I need to write stories for them, about them, at them. I'm not sure this is a good thing, but it's what is.

I think it's unfair of me to do this, but I haven't been able to help it.

Lately, my new friends have been (!!!) actual grown-ups. Which does not mean that they're always happy with themselves or their lives. But it does mean that I can accept them for what they are and deal with what they are and not rail at what they are not but could have been. That's the theory, anyway. But I'm not stuck on the idea of making friends older than myself forever. I think it'll probably happen again. And again.

Ah well. At least the stories feel different while I'm writing them. And nobody has complained about their similarities yet.

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