With Apologies to Men Without Pants

“He dropped his pants,” I said. A few days before I had been walking home from school. Some kids had slashed my bike tires, snapped the bike flag, and cracked the mirror on the handle bars. This guy, alone in a yellow VW Beetle, honked. When I looked, he did his best to expose himself–while driving. The car weaved and he sat down and continued on his way.

mom's poem
mom's poem

I was in the 8th grade, and using the best of adolescent logic, I decided that if I didn’t tell my mom what happened, I would get into trouble. I also thought that if I told my mom what happened, I would get into trouble. My mom and I were sitting on my bed and I said I had to talk to her about something. She looked at me seriously and prepared herself to hear whatever she thought a 13 might have to confess.

With much blushing I told her about the man in the VW Beetle. There was a beat of silence. And then my mom laughed. She tossed her head back and laughed. She clutched her side and laughed. She struggled to keep from falling off the bed.

I sat there startled. Then confused. Then relieved. I couldn’t laugh, but suddenly that man seemed so ridiculous that I wondered why I hadn’t told her sooner. Yet I had no clue as to why she was laughing.

She wiped a tear away. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t’ve laughed. It’s not funny. Really.” She choked a bit. “It’s just that…” She glanced away. “Men just look so silly without their pants on.” She laughed again. “Sorry. I know it’s not funny. Thanks for telling me about it. I really should take this seriously.”

I wrote this story about my mom and posted her poem here because she passed away 19 years ago today.

In fiction, you ought to surprise yourself. Whatever it is you start, feel free to go where you didn’t plan. This is what I love about National Novel Writing Month–I write without time to think. The first night has this idea and by the 15th night I’m in a new place that I couldn’t have gotten to if I’d taken time to read the signs. Yes, the writing is a mess, but the journey is fun no matter what dark alley the characters take me down.

How well-planned are your writing journeys? Have you ever set out without a map? Which way works best for you?

8 thoughts on “With Apologies to Men Without Pants

  1. There are those who pack well for such journeys, their plots and backstories and subplots neatly arrayed to minimize wrinkles, the characters all informed of their job descriptions. I am not one of them. My own preparations are three by five index cards with puzzling notes, some quickly abandoned attempts at opening lines, a quotation I have filched from some favored source. They all come to naught once I set forth. Nor am I likely to stop and ask for directions when lost, as though my characters could be trusted to give directions, as though I’d follow them.

  2. I don’t know that I’ve written enough to know which works best for me. I’ve done both, and they’ve both been helpful at different times. When I had a map, it helped me keep writing when I got stuck. Right now, I have no road map, but the way is clearer than any map I could have ever drawn. I think it’s luck, and I think NaNoWriMo has really pumped up my creative muscle. So I’m glad I’m doing it even though I can’t wait until it’s over.

  3. Blessings on your mom- laughing was such a great reaction! I’ve had guys “drop their pants” on my twice- once in college in a wooded area and once when I had my two young children with me in a funky part of the city. Both times I just hurried away and felt threatened. But driving down the street in a Beetle? Ok, maybe not so funny if I were in the eighth grade but if it happened to me now? Hilarious!

    I write with only a sense of some urgent emotion or insight or human condition I want to convey as my compass. The map gets overlaid later, but somehow it all works to get me to the right place. Wen I first started out I tried the Snowflake Method, Dramatica Pro, etc. which all promise a map to the promised land, but since when has my life or my writing ever been like a map? More like a reading of signs and ultimately, a leap of faith.

  4. What a funny story and nice way to remember your Mom on this day….once again the two words that come to mind are disturbing and hilarious. I can’t believe he was driving! I had a guy do it on a train; he was revolting but your Mom was right. When I think about it now he looked so ridiculous and wrong without his pants….I could say that it was because he was on a train and we expect people to have pants on then but it was so much more than that….

    It has taken me a long time to let go when writing….I’d always fight for control, I wanted to tell the characters where they were going and now I LOVE that I’m taken on a ride…it’s freeing…it’s like being on vacation and having a guide.

  5. So sorry I missed stopping by here yesterday. (Feel free to insert a dash between “sorry” and “I.”)

    I do love this story, as others said. So many times I remember having to fight laughter when a niece or nephew was all solemn about something adults would find hilarious. (And of course, as soon as the confessional one was offstage, I ran to the nearest adult so we could laugh together about it.) Kids can just be so damned cute, and when they’re dead serious they can be at their cutest.

    Planning: I don’t do a lot of that in advance. (Which is probably obvious in my work.) Sometimes I get to a certain point in the writing when I have to commit certain elements of “what’s coming” to paper, because I’m afraid I’ll forget them. Also, if a setting is complicated I’ll draw a map or floor plan — lest my winging-it leads me into contradictions.

  6. You mother was funny and delightfully weird.

    I like the weirdness. Good thing, since I can’t help my own.

    I adore when my characters surprise me and take over my story. That’s what makes the hardwork of writing a novel worth it, in my mind. I have an outline, but I always find places where the story needs more or less or something new. Lately, I have an outline, but don’t look at it and just let the story develop. And I have reams of notes, and don’t look at those either. The only ones I pay attention to are the character names, because I can’t remember things like that.

    Just having fun is good… and then when the impact happens, it’s such a surprise and so natural.

  7. I think I would have adored your mom. I hear her laughter as loud and tinkling – musical in a guffawing sort of way. I didn’t read this on the day to remember the anniversary of her passing, but i will hold one smile in my heart for her today and one for the amazing daughter she left for us to befriend & enjoy.

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