Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | January 19, 2012

Two Cents’ Worth

Before we had kids, Thom and I explored Ireland by train, by bus, and—please don’t tell my children—by thumb.  We were hitchhiking from Dingle to Tralee when a rusty green service van pulled over.  The woman offered a ride, so we tossed our packs in the back and climbed in.  It smelled a little fishy, but that’s probably because our driver was a fisherman’s wife.  We sat among coils of rope and scattered tools with a big black dog and two little blond boys, perhaps five and seven years old.  It was the little one who did the talking.

“My da’s bigger’n your da,” he said, in a proper brogue, like a feisty toy Irishman.

His mother explained, “Liam’s missing his da, who’s out on the water.”

We introduced ourselves, and Liam asked,  “D’ya have stars in America?”

“Like movie stars?” I asked.

“No, up in the sky.”  He pointed upward, just to be sure I understood.

“Liam just discovered the stars,” said his mother.  “It’s all he can talk about.”

“We have stars in America too,” I told him.  “They shine and twinkle, just like yours.  In fact, I think we see the same stars in America that you see in Ireland.”

“I have a cousin in America.  Her’s called Mary.  D’ya know her?”

“Where in America does she live?”

“Arizona,” said Liam’s mother, from the front seat.

“America is really big,” I told him.  “We live in Seattle, more than a thousand miles from Arizona.”

“Is that far?”

“Really far.”

“Well, if y’see Mary, ask if they have stars in Arizona.”

The boys were curious about America.  “Here’s a souvenir,” I said, and I gave each boy a shiny new penny.  “The man on this penny is Abraham Lincoln.  He died a long time ago, but he was our greatest president—sort of like a king.  He led America through our Civil War, and freed the slaves.”

It was twenty-five miles to Tralee, lots of time to share fun facts and answer Liam’s questions.  I felt like a proper ambassador, conveying not only goodwill, but an  insider’s view of America.

The next day I met Liam’s mother in the line for the ladies’ room at the Rose of Tralee Festival.  She said, “Liam loves his penny.  He shows it to everyone he meets, and says, ‘This here is the king of America.  He’s dead, and his daddy’s dead, too!’”

So much for the history lesson!  But it was also a lesson to me as a writer and a storyteller.  We each live in our own little world.  Before sending your story out into the big wide world, you might check to see if  you and your readers are on the same page.  Ask friends to read it and give  you feedback.  Set it aside for a little while and come back to it with fresh eyes.  Join a critique group or enter it in a literary contest; an honest evaluation is worth the entry fee.

Whatever  you choose to invest your two cents into, consider the exchange rate, and what might be lost in translation on the trip from one mind to another.  But with a little luck and a lot of practice, you and your readers will be looking at the same stars.

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Responses

  1. Nice story and great advice. I won’t tell your kids that you were hitchhiking. 😉

    • Thanks, Pete. I have a friend who shall not be named who, upon giving birth to her first son, removed every photo of herself on her motorcycle wearing her leather jacket. Actually, my daughter is a writer who reads my blog. This morning she said, “Mom…you and Dad went HITCHHIKING?” So I’m already busted. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  2. Love this story, Naomi.

    • Thanks, Nancy. I appreciate your visit. I hope your art and writing and life in general are going well.

  3. I liked your input. Could you suggest for me a critique class for story writing please? I like to join one. Thanks

    • Dear Afifi, there used to be some great opportunities in the Seattle area for storytelling and critique. I will talk to Norm and see what’s cooking these days, and e-mail you. Thanks so much for checking out the blog.

  4. What a great anecdote and final metaphor, Naomi! A couple years ago I was doing
    A program of NW folklore for a group of visiting German elementary-school teachers. The finale was “Acres of clams” – I’d given them the words and they sang along with great gusto. Only after they’d graciously applauded did a woman raise her hand and (clearly speaking for the group) say, “Please, what is this ‘clam’?” Sigh.

    Yes it is worth taking the trouble to make sure our audience can see the same stars – or crustaceans! that we do. Thanks for another great post.

    • Dear Anne, that is a great story! Thanks so much for checking out the blog.

  5. Your readers don’t need to keep from telling me…you just did!

    We had a language unit in ToK that conveyed, essentially, this message, but in a much less charming way. It reminds me of learning a foreign language. Once in a Spanish debate, a classmate was talking about the influence of the media. It was only after he’d said his piece that Senora Cook reminded him that “la media” means “the stocking.”

    • Hey, Bea, as regular visitor to my blog, I guess I knew you would eventually find out about my wild youth, but don’t tell Eli! I like your Senora Cook story! Thanks for stopping by.

      • I think I could be persuaded not to…depending on how much chocolate you’ve got on your hands…

      • Beatrice, you are your mother’s daughter! In what form would you like your payment delivered?

  6. Love this charming story, as always Naomi! The funny thing about being on the same page is that sometime it is just not possible. Everybody learns to read at different speeds. It might be years before that kid gets it but that’s OK too. His journey will allow him to get the message(s) at the right time for him, and I’m sure it will be a fabulous moment whenever it happens 🙂 (And, yes, I do realize that this story happened many moons ago).

    • Hi Sue, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that sometimes it is enough to connect in spirit alone. On our overseas travels we have had so many lovely interactions with people who didn’t speak English, and whose language we did not speak. We found other ways to communicate our goodwill, and those exchanges have become, as with Liam and his family, sweet memories. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  7. You have such a clear writing voice, Naomi. Seeing the title, I had no idea what it might be about … and was amazed at how well you wove the metaphor thru the piece.

    • Dear Meg, thank you for your kind words. Coming from such a fine storyteller and writer, that is high praise. You have been in my thoughts. Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by.

  8. Communication is a tricky business, whether we do it vocally or with the written word. I always know what I mean, but it takes the eyes of another to test the material to see if I’ve made assumptions in delivering the message. And I try to remember that the hearer or reader is filtering the information through their own understanding and life experiences. Great post, Naomi.

    • Hi Marion, that is one of the most important truths about writing and storytelling! Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments, and thanks for stopping by.

  9. Naomi, so glad I saw your “like” on one of my posts just now. I lost your URL when I went to google reader a couple of weeks ago. Your in it now.

    This is such a great story and so true about communicating our stories for understanding. I love how you pulled it together. It may never be perfect, but it can always be a better message to our audience. Good to have you back in my queue.

  10. Hi mj, so nice to hear from you. I enjoyed catching up with your blog. Hey, my sister Constance in Alaska said she had a pleasant communication with a blogger, and it sounded like it could have been you. Best wishes for the New Year. I’ll be looking forward your next post.


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