Smashing Clichés

Movies featuring things blowing up are popular. People like to watch demolitions, from buildings to demolition derbies. And then there is art-to-be burned, such as Burning Man and Zozobra. When I lived in Virginia, I used to clean the park where I ran and sometimes enlisted the help of several boys who played there. One day, they found a large toy firetruck in the stream and pulled it out—and proceeded to smash it to pieces with rocks. This was obviously more fun than playing with it.

Someone has been making faces on the trail where I run in the desert. Not walking along being silly, but arranging pebbles in smiley-faces on top of the rocks that mark the edge of the trail. The first one didn’t annoy me, but then they multiplied. I don’t mind intriguing, meaningful art made among the desert rocks. A labyrinth. A miniature Stonehenge-like creation. A rounded lava rock that looks like a fertility goddess surrounded by a little maze and an altar. A small rock nestled in a hollow in a large rock just because it fits so perfectly. Such arrangements fall over gradually or get covered with sand, and nature looks natural again. Someone left a small painted rock near the trail, red white and blue with the Texas flag’s star, the name of a soldier who died in combat, and few words of love and honor. It means something. No one moves it. Perhaps he used to love this trail and used to hike it with the person who left the rock. But smiley-faces? Twenty or more of them? That’s nineteen clichés too many.

On a lovely, sunny, seventy-degree winter day, I got tired of them and gave a swipe at one as I passed. No effect. The pebbles had been glued to the trail-marker rock. What the heck? Did the face-maker think this stuff should be permanent? I soon found that a quick kick could dislodge most features of the glued-on smiley-faces, and it felt good. Can I justify it? Maybe not, but to me, gluing all those faces along the trail was arrogant. If they’d been arranged lightly, without attachment, I might have knocked one aside and been content, had my fun like the boys smashing the toy firetruck, and forgotten about it. Nature would have blown them away eventually.

Writers are regularly advised to “kill your darlings,” those scenes we love that weigh down the pace, or those wonderful (to us) witty lines that don’t serve the story. We have to weed out clichés and our favorite over-used words. They can have an effect on readers like seeing twenty-plus smiley faces, an intrusion on the flow of enjoyment. Today I noticed that someone else had destroyed smiley-faces. There were face-pattern glue marks on some rocks with branches laid over them, as if my fellow self-appointed curator of trail art was saying, “Don’t even think about putting that back.”

Sometimes I store my cut scenes and lines for a while, in case I want to put them back, but ninety-percent of those darlings never return. Nothing in the first draft is glued in place. I have to destroy in order to create. Fortunately, I enjoy revision. It’s a lesson in non-attachment, and almost as much fun as smashing a smiley.

Messages in Bottles—With or Without Bottles

I have a slightly foggy memory from my childhood of standing on a beach in Maine with my father, setting afloat a message in a bottle. We had no expectation of knowing if anyone read it. The open-ended feeling of the outreach was part of the wonder of doing it. I could imagine the bottle landing in Ireland, where my father’s ancestors came from, though it may have ended up in Portugal, or Newfoundland, or the bottom of the ocean.

Lately, I’ve been finding the landlocked version of these cast-adrift messages, most of them with an expectation of being tracked. I’ve gotten several “where’s George” stamped dollar bills with the motto “Hot Springs, Cool Town,” originating in Truth or Consequences. The person who stamps the bill is curious to know of its travels, and probably hopes it will circulate all over the country eventually. Also, I’ve found a number of painted rocks with messages on them, something I never saw before moving to T or C. Some of the rocks have web addresses to visit. I found a beautiful one painted gold with a yellow, liquid-looking sun in the center, and a Facebook address that had something to do with a place in Arizona. Rather than go online, I relocated it to one of the fountain-bubbling rocks in Healing Waters Plaza and the next time I passed through, it was gone. Perhaps the Arizona rock-painter heard from that finder.

The two most recent rocks I found were lovely, one painted white with a purple butterfly and the other red and yellow with the Zia sun symbol seen on the New Mexico state flag. On the back, they said “T or C rocks. Keep me or re-hide me.”

I loved that. There was no expectation of feedback. These little works of art were gifts left on the wall bordering the parking lot of the Charles Motel and Spa, near its fruit-heavy pomegranate bush. I carried them on my walk, happier than when I’d found rocks that asked me go online and log the find. I was inclined to keep them to add to the rock garden in front of my apartment, but then I saw some green succulents with red and yellow flowers growing around a bench in front of the old post office on Main Street, and there was a dent in the foliage, a nest exactly the right size for Zia rock. I placed it there. Public art. Across the street, the elaborate multi-colored ceramic sculpture next to the Geronimo Springs Museum has some deep purple areas in its walls. I found a spot for the butterfly rock and walked home lighter.

Out-of-nowhere random gifts provide as much joy for the giver as the receiver. I know a man who loves to bake, and at any public event, he shows up with bags of fresh, home-made cookies to give away. Back when a local coffee shop had a give-and-take bookshelf, I used to slip signed copies of my new releases onto the shelf. I liked the mystery of not knowing who took them home and read them.

In a way, writing a blog is a message in a bottle or a painted rock left in a plaza. There’s no obligation for the reader to respond. However, if any of you have stories about random gifts or messages in bottles, I’d love to hear them.


 BARKING SANDS, Hawaii (Sept. 15, 2011) Electrician’s Mate 2nd Class Jon Moore removes a message from a bottle sent from Kagoshima, Japan more than five years ago. More than 40 Sailors and volunteers teamed up with 16 students and faculty of Ke Kula Ni`ihau O Kekaha School to collect trash along the shore at the Pacific Missile Range Facility. The beach cleanup effort was in observance of International Coastal Cleanup Day sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jay C. Pugh/Released) This Image was released by the United States Navy with the ID 110915-N-YU572-080  (Wikimedia Commons)