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?”)
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
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.