Youth Group Picnic: A Tale of Two Genres

My dad is the fellow in the middle. According to his Aunt Louise, the crew cut he is sporting made him look “defective.”

Genre Revisited

I have always been fascinated by one of the most basic aspects of the writing process: deciding which genre will best align with the experience I feel inspired to write about. Am I trying to convey a particular emotion? Am I trying to work out the mystery of why people behave the way they do? Am I trying to impose some order on a series of seemingly random events? Do I just want to have some fun and play?

I wouldn’t go as far as Marshall McCluhan and say the medium is the message, but genre does in large part determine the reading experience and the meaning the reader takes from it. A poem won’t have the same effect as a short story, which won’t have the same effect as a novel, which won’t have the same effect as an essay–even when they are all based on the same experience.

Over the course of my writing career, I’ve found myself writing about the same experiences in different genres. The following two examples are a case in point. The tanka is from my upcoming poetry collection, Grief Songs: Poems of Love & Remembrance. The creative nonfiction piece is from the family history blog I had a few years ago. (You can find some additional thoughts about genre in the following post: “What’s in a Genre?”)

Tanka

Youth Group Picnic

I still remember
George and I out of the frame
waiting for Daddy
honk, giggle, honk, giggle, honk
dead battery, pop the clutch

Creative Nonfiction

Sibling Saturday–We Killed the Battery, George!

These photographs show a youth group outing my father led when he was curate at All Saint’s Episcopal Church in Attleboro, Massachusetts from 1959-1961. However, the story is what you don’t see in the photographs: my brother George and me waiting in the car.

Daddy had brought us along for the picnic, and when it came time to pack up the picnic gear and distribute the youth group kids among the various vehicles, he walked us to the parking lot to wait for him in the car (presumably so we wouldn’t be in the way).

Being moderately obedient children, we didn’t object and waited patiently in the car–for all of about three minutes–until boredom set in. When was Daddy coming? Why didn’t he come? What could be taking him so long?

I don’t remember which one of us dared the other to honk the horn. I won’t blame this one on George; it was probably me. Honking the horn was something that WAS NOT DONE in our family. Why? Because like everything else in the adult world, THE HORN IS NOT A TOY. I think the Boy Who Cried Wolf was brought into these discussions as well.

Of course Daddy came back to the car to tell us to stop or we’d wear down the battery. So we stopped–until we started again.

When it came time to leave–yes, you guessed it–we’d killed the battery, and the car wouldn’t start. After discussion among the male members of the group, it was decided to try and jump start it. (Luckily, the parking lot was at the top of a hill.)

Daddy put the car in neutral, the boys pushed the car to get it moving, and off we rolled down the hill. Daddy popped the clutch, the engine caught, and George and I shrieked with delight at this exciting new way of starting the family car–and why didn’t Daddy start it that way all the time? It’s a testament to the kind of father he was when he pointed out quite logically that the car would not always be parked on a hill with a group of boys at the ready to push it.

140 thoughts on “Youth Group Picnic: A Tale of Two Genres

  1. I love reading about your family through each and every media you chose. Just so you know, when I read the poem, it was understood completely. Of course you honked the battery dead. And by the way, your new collection was beautiful, devastating and oh so poignant. What really struck me most was that it brought back an old assumption of mine, that ministers and their families are somehow immune from the suffering they comfort others over. Thank you for sharing and enlightening me yet once again. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you so much, Mary Jo. Your comments mean the world to me. I know it’s a risk putting out something so personal.

      I remember a conversation my dad had with me when I was a teen about how much he admired my mother for withstanding the stress of being a minister’s wife and carrying out the role with such grace. I was surprised when he told me that ministers had a higher divorce rate than that of the general population (at that time).

      Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Joy. Food for thought, eh? One of the best teaching experiences I ever had was mentoring an independent study for a creative writing student for her final course in the degree. I had her write about the same experience as a poem, then as a short story, then as a screenplay–and write a metanarrative about the writing of each one. It was such fun!!

      Liked by 4 people

      1. So glad you had your student do that!!!! I encountered this notion from a teacher too and to this very day I absolutely love exploring an idea multiple ways: a sketch in my sketchbook, a painting, a greeting card design, a childrens book, a poem, a short prose quote… I often play a game with myself where I try to see how many ways I can explore a thought. The prize is when I make myself laugh. 🤣

        Liked by 2 people

              1. ❤❤❤ Thanks! If I remember correctly Maya Angelou said something like “the more creativity you use the more you have”…🤔 need to google to verify that…even if the quote is all wrong that’s been my experience of creativity – ideas tend to lead to more ideas.

                Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh this story made me smile. Only a sister would use the term “defective”, lol. I can just feel the impatience of waiting for the parents to get going. Love your father’s common sense response.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. You’re welcome, Liz! I can’t think of a poem that was also a story, or vice versa. I guess some authors turned their novels into plays (as did Alexandre Dumas with “The Count of Monte Cristo”), but that might be sort of a different thing.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I think maybe because I didn’t know you could drain a battery by honking the horn, the tanka didn’t entirely make sense to me. I love the short story, though! I remember having to start one of my cars that way a number of times. It had some kind of electrical short and if I didn’t remember to disconnect the battery cable when I parked, dead it would be.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. A story can be told in so many ways, can’t it Liz? And from so many different perspectives. What I most appreciated about both forms was that it was told from a child’s point of view, where the sound of pure laughter and joy came through the words when you and your brother experienced something for the first time. I imagined you in the car as it rolled down the hill and felt a warm that came through at the thought of your father reminding you that there a hill may not be there the next time he started the car. Your photos are treasures!!

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Interesting topic, Liz. I admire those who can write in different genres so easily. Poetry has never been my calling, and yet I can appreciate it in others. I have the same feeling about painting.

    Your short story brought back memories of one of my goofball friends in high school who would reach over at random times and honk the horn while I was driving. He usually picked the most awkward times to create a little embarrassment for me as someone would give me the staredown afterward. I wonder if he ever grew up.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Pete. I’ve always wanted to do painting (as creative expression, not home improvement–I’ve done plenty of the latter!).

      I had my share of goofball classmates in high school. Your anecdote reminds me of a band trip on which a particular kid was acting up. Our band teacher got completely exasperated and reprimanded him by saying, “You’re such an—adolescent!” The name stuck. This kid was known as Adolescent _________ for the remainder of his time at Enosburg Falls High School. I wonder if HE ever grew up! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I also was referring to creative painting. I used to paint houses in the summer when I wasn’t teaching. Not much creativity in that.

        Wouldn’t it be funny if those types of guys grew up and became the next Dan Akroyd or Adam Sandler? You’re such an adolescent—haha, I’m going to have to remember that one.

        Liked by 1 person

          1. If you do want to do some creative painting a wonderfully gentle way to dip a toe into these waters are the videos Sketching Skool by Danny Gregory. Or one of Danny Gregory’s books “Art before breakfast”. That book is one of my favorite recommendations to new drawing or painting students.
            p.s. Liz, you’re brave enough. You can do poetry. There’s no one more brave than a poet!

            Liked by 2 people

  6. This is an interesting and entertaining post, Liz. I enjoyed your thoughts about genre. I must admit I’ve never even thought about it, my stories always fall directly into some or other genre. I loved your story about your family and the car.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Here’s one you might appreciate from the same time period of the car horn episode. My dad arrived home with one day with toys for my brother and me. He told us they were from the Easter Bunny. I piped up and asked, “Well, how did you get them, then?” The logical answer? The Easter Bunny was hitchhiking on the side of the road, and my dad picked him up and gave him a ride.

      Liked by 3 people

  7. The tanka and the prose piece compliment each other really well, almost like an inverted haibun, and the photos are a fabulous bonus.
    I must confess I’ve never consciously made a decision around selecting a particular genre. I guess that’s symptomatic of my usual undisciplined approach. I’m going away to ponder on that, Liz.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. What a greast story, Liz. I didn’t know honking the horn would wear down the battery. And I’m impressed your dad didn’t get angry, just stayed rational.

    Your discussion of writing and genres is interesting. I see myself as a prehistoric fiction writers–that genre, that’s what I do. I’ve written a few thrillers but they aren’t really me. anymore. It intrigues me that you pick your genre depending upon the story.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Jacqui. That particular vehicle was on its last legs, soon to be replaced with a brand, spanking new Rambler American station wagon.

      I think I’m more conscious about the need to choose the appropriate genre because of the number of times I’ve chosen one that didn’t work to write about a particular experience.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. Liz, a great story and the short non-fiction expands eloquently on the succinct tanka! That horn must have been honked a lot for the battery to go flat but luckily a solution was quickly found! I love the photos, very atmospheric and oh, the cars!

    Liked by 4 people

  10. That is funny, I’m glad you got going. Can older cars still be started that way I wonder. My parents’ first car they called the Jalopy and it had to be cranked up to start – the car was old , not that I’m that old! – the crank had to be inserted in the front of the car where the radiator was.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. You’re so right, Liz: the genre helps create the story. For me, poetic stories always retain a bit of mystery—and narratives suck me in completely. I enjoy the different perspectives of the two stories!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Fascinating, Liz. I liked both the poem and the story, but the poem left much more for interpretation, and it came into it’s fullness after reading the story. It was a little like reading “tanka prose” in reverse.

    Writers have to condense stories down to blurbs, but I’ve also seen writers condense stories down to poems as an exercise in uncovering the core of a piece. Again, fascinating. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Fun tanka and story!! I loved how you paired the concept of genre – i.e. the writing “rules” – with the story of you breaking the rules in the car!! Thank you so much for being brave and sharing a personal story!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Thank you for the very interesting explanation, Liz! There is a big difference between the genres. Since I am an insatiable narrator in German, I of course write several pages about things that could also be told in three lines. Lol I should try the Japanese metric once. ;- )
    Indeed a wonderful story you told. The hair cut of your father is more military like. Have a beautiful weekend! xx Michael

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re most welcome, Michael! I’m glad you found my thoughts on genre interesting. As a fiction writer, I tend toward narrative in poetry, and I found tanka a good way to think about an experience differently to get at its essense. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I hope you have a good weekend as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Your dad was so patient! Wow, I am impressed. I would never have dared do that! We didn’t honk either lol. Did I preorder your book? Are we meant to? I can’t remember!
    About genre. I am a big fan of know genre before I read. So it’s very weird that my memoir is hybrid. But then hybrid feels like a genre to me!

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Yes, I think you’re right about hybrid genres. Interestingly, as I trawl through literary magazine calls for submission, I’m seeing a number of them calling for hybrid, experimental, or work that defies definition. Are you seeing the same?

          Liked by 2 people

  16. I like that idea of different genres used for different purposes. I use poetry for strong emotions, fantasy and horror for fun, and literary novels to say something. Bugger the reader, though, I choose my genres according to my mood, not to please them🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Lovely. Thanks for sharing.
    Now ‘genre’? I’m not sure I care when I write. I actually mix fiction and non-fiction in some cases. Or what what do you call it when you base your fiction on actual events? What do you call a market research presentation, with charts and graphs and tables and comments and recommendations? I call all of them a story. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

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