What a delight it is to welcome Helen Brower to the blog today. I met this sweet friend about six months ago, and I remember we bonded there in my little kitchen with our homemade sweet-potatoe quiche, sipping cooling coffee, and sharing shared experiences. We are both Americans in Dundee. Not only that, but we were both aspiring writers who embodied this Americanism by embracing our experience of living in Scotland.
A week or so ago, I found five short stories in my inbox; each one so original, so engaging that I read through them in a matter minutes only to find myself rereading them again and again. How she could create these worlds so vibrant, so real, so unimagined within a single sentence is truly captivating.
My friend, thank you for sharing a bit of your walk with us today.
Be Inspired by Each Day, Embrace Every Moment, and Never Apologize:
I can comfortably recite eight types of cow breeds and the names of ten dairy farms off the top of my head. I drove a Ford Excursion that weighed 7150 pounds and stretched 19 feet long to a high school that sat at a 5/10 mark for national high schools. I went three days barefoot during the summer. My nearest neighbour was a mile away. I could sit in my backyard and see the Sierra Nevada's peeking out from dust and tractor fumes 30 miles away.
Yet I decided to be a writer.
I lived a crammed life with nine siblings, living a fifteen-minute drive from the nearest town on a dairy farm. I wrote like a maniac in high school. Filled notebooks and loose pieces of paper with character backstories and descriptions. I argued with my brother on who was to blame when a Saturday Night Live skit fell flat. And I hummed lyrics into a voice recorder. All of this without thought.
“A cigarette twisted in my teeth. I knew it wasn’t real. They knew it wasn’t real. Tobacco hadn’t been produced in 75 years. It still didn’t mar the fact that their eyes leapt when I let the lighter flame lick the end of it.” - untitled.
Mainly fiction. Most of my writing from younger years was chock full of fantastical stories and exotic new worlds. I've spent the majority of my life hemming them in to be presentable. And as each day continues, I realize that my best fiction hasn't been because I draw just from creativity, but from things that are true. From moments and feelings that influence and shape pure imagination into something tangible.
The banana spider was named Bob. It lived in the coconut tree next to my house. If you sat in the red hammock that hung between the porch bannisters you could see him perfectly. - from 'Under Baobab Trees.'
I spent two months in Mozambique, doing the exact thing this character speaks of every evening. This memory rings true but the story it lives in is fiction. This may sound silly, but this was ground breaking for me. I had tried to squish this part of me down. The part that loved driving big trucks and blaring country music on occasion. The part that misses glossy cow eyes with eyelashes prettier than my own. I assumed that if I was to be a fiction writer, I needed to make it totally fiction. While in some areas this can be true, a story needs a character that feels as authentic as the author. You need to tap into what motivates you each day. And there are only two things that motivate me each day, my family and God.
My family, as I’ve said is complex enough on its own. As much as I dream to be a fiction writer, at the moment 70% of my work is nonfiction because of the endless amount of stories from my family’s daily life. I won my first award in writing at 16 with a story dedicated to our family table:
Imagine, you’re sitting between an older brother with longer arms and bulkier feet, and the youngest in the family, your little brother. You’re having mashed potatoes, green beans, and chicken. You don’t like chicken; it’s not your favorite. You reach out to grab the mashed potatoes, and it’s whisked away by your older brother. So, in a frustrated mood with your stomach grumbling an anthem, you pile your plate with green beans. As the mashed potatoes get nearer, you reach out for the bowl, only to have it snagged by your Mom who starts adding fluffy goodness to your baby brother’s plate. Out of options you dump more green beans on your plate. - found in 'Tables.'
But the first time I wrote for God was my testimony. It was for an application to get to a Bible school in Mozambique. This is a small excerpt I stumbled on when looking for material to write on:
All of my walls of insecurity about what others thought was gone, because of God’s presence that awakened me back to what I knew in my heart as a child, that there’s always more of God to find, and I need to nurture this growth and re-understanding of God to experience him deeper.
This is something I still struggle with; to get back to that moment of childlike innocence. To be back in God’s presence, to feel it as tangibly as I did in Mozambique. And with that, I motivate myself to continue to learn and grow in the gifts God has given me. To embrace my upbringing and let each simple experience influence my writing, whether realistic or fantastical: my Dad in Costco, the sci-fi mafia, recovering alcoholic aunt, or even, a smoking robot. But I think Jesus has called me to not box my creativity in, because someone may get offended. I’d rather make millions of mistakes on my journey in life with Jesus, than never step outside in case someone doesn’t approve. If I decided to quit writing, and go full time into ministry instead of part time, I would be disobeying God. Yes, I love working with my youth group kids and helping at church, but God has not called me to ministry. He’s called me to writing. So, I will write with my two biggest motivators in mind and continue on my journey with Jesus one beautiful mistake at a time to get where He is calling me.
Helen I. Brower;
Homegrown in California and flourishing in Scotland presently.
Lady Liberty Didn't Hold My Attention
Your freckles on a face wiped clean of makeup,
As you declared your own ugliness on this sacred isle.
My arm coiled around your shoulder, our chatter of one mind.
Lady Green stood in the background.
Your crinkled eyes and lips pinned up,
As we botched up our pristine smiles, the snapshot held.
The throngs of people as we tried to stand still.
The pier echoed the slosh of the polluted bay;
The thick iron held the beams above,
to block the glare through permanently stained sheets of metal.
The humidity hung thick, like a weight on the tourist’s tongues,
But only your voice laughed in the breeze.