Writers Write: Pap Versus Reality

There are many scenes that fall into the cliché, or what I call, the Readers Digest category because writers like to pretend they are evolved people who can rise above it all and see the profound meaning of life. I’d like to give an example of one of these and then the more realistic view. I invite you to post a pair of your own.

Readers Digest Scene
~My husband squeezed my hand to encourage me in that last half hour of that glorious first childbirth. He looked like an angel in his blue gown, gazing at me with pure love in his brimming eyes. I rallied and pushed with all my might, just like the doctor told me to. It hurt, oh yes, it hurt, but they were pains of joy since I knew what came at the end. “I can do this,” I told my husband. “Just hold my hand.”

What Really Happened
~I yanked my hand away from my husband’s grasp. “You’re hurting my hand!” I screamed at him. “Why don’t you climb up here and try to squeeze this boulder through your tenderest place?!”

He licked his lips, mouth opening and closing, but no words came out. He looked like a demented guppie, and WHAT USE WAS THAT AT A TIME LIKE THIS!

“On the next contraction, I want you to push as hard as you can,” the doctor said. This was the guy who had a statue on his desk of a gowned physician holding a newborn upside down by the feet. Sadist. No wonder he had his face covered. He was probably smiling behind that mask or checking his cell phone beneath the sheet covering my knees.

Shit. Here come the torture bands of pressure on my poor sore gut again.

“AAAAAaaaaaaUUUUUuuuuuGGGGGhhhhhh!” I pushed with all my might.

“And again.”

“AAAAAaaaaaaUUUUUuuuuuGGGGGhhhhhh OW!” Okay, I’m done here. I’ve had it. Nope, I cannot do this. I’m outta here.

“I see the baby’s head.”

A baby’s head? Oh. Oh! Okay. I agree to stay for one more round. Well, maybe two. But that’s it.

20 responses to “Writers Write: Pap Versus Reality

  1. Excellent example for this challenge. I will attempt to post something within the parameters. You remain one of my favorite writers. There seems to be no end to your creativity.

  2. Ok. I have to plead ignorance…I had no idea what the word “Pap” meant. So, I looked it up on the BBIS (Bit Bucket in the Sky) and found the meaning. “Lacking substance or real value.”
    That makes much more sense now. At first I wondered, “Why would Ann mix lady parts, reality and Reader’s Digest?” I mean, uh, yeah.
    Reader’s Digest Pap:
    It was a dark and stormy night…

    The starter in my old Ford pickup made a grinding noise when I turned the key. Undeterred, I tried again – with the same result. I watched the taillights of the last car in the parking lot shrink as it pulled out onto the highway. Alone in the parking lot I grabbed my coat from the bench seat beside me.
    I slammed the driver’s door and started walking to the highway. “Maybe, I can flag somebody down and get a ride,” I told myself.
    As I walked along the embankment of the highway, pecan-sized raindrops started falling from the sky.

  3. Good one, Walterburgle! These are the kinds of specific details I’m trying to show my students how to write. Sounds! Lights! Getting whacked by pecan-sized raindrops!

    • I recently read a blog post by another writer, describing how he found editing for a friend educational. The protagonist in her story is blind. She had to “show” without using those visual cues we so often lean upon. She had to rely on sounds, touch and other people’s dialog. I think it is funny that we, the writers, could be so dependent on visual indicators, neglecting the other senses with abandon. Something that I am working on improving. 🙂

  4. I think we all know the Readers Digest version, but this is the TRUE story of….

    The First Thanksgiving

    Chief Run-Like-a-Deere sat in his lodge and observed the freezing rain fall upon the barren land.

    “We must help the White Man!” he declared as he took another hit on his peyote pipe. “They have no food and are likely starving behind the walls of their wooden fort with the twelve cannon.”

    “Agreed.” said Yellow Truck, the most accomplished warrior of the mighty Tonka tribe. “We must gather our best food and take it to the White Man as a token of our good will. We should also give them a $50 chip, and a coupon for a free drink at our casino.”

    With that, the entire Tonka nation, carrying the makings of the very first Thanksgiving dinner, made their way to the White Man’s encampment. Fortunately, only a dozen or so were shot approaching the fort. The remaining Tonkas were driven into the woods, leaving the food behind. The starving colonists, who were low on ammunition, gave thanks and declared a truce while they ate the food left for them.

    From that day forward, the fourth Thursday of November, except during the Roosevelt administration, would be known as “Thanksgiving.”

    The starving colonists would eventually flourish, naming their settlement after a Chrysler product. With their new found prosperity, they built a bigger fort and brought twelve more cannon from England.

    Over the years, the Tonkas were invited to move west, multiple times, ultimately settling in a remote corner of the Arizona desert. In 1976, President Jimmy Carter declared that, in recognition of their contribution to the establishment of Thanksgiving, the Tonkas would receive government blankets in perpetuity.

  5. So good.
    I once taught a daylong writing workshop to members of the Oneida Nation here in Wisconsin. I ate lunch with three of the women participants who all worked at the casino. It was fascinating to learn that with the casinos, the Oneida Nation which had once been poverty stricken, is now thriving. They are slowly buying back all the reservation land and leasing it out so they can buy even more land. Without any hint that they were being ironic, they told me that the casino profits are called, “fundraising.”

  6. The Reader’s Digest version:
    While I was finishing up addressing my Christmas cards on December 1st, my husband walked into the living room, arms loaded down with three large boxes.

    “Hey honey, how about I take advantage of the kids being at your Mom’s and put together that doll house we bought Sara for Christmas?”

    “What a great idea, hon.”

    I watched lovingly as my handyman read the directions from the box and then carefully laid out the pieces on the floor ready for assembly.

    “That looks like a lot of pieces. Do you think it will take very long?”

    “Let’s see now. Looks fairly straightforward. While holding side A of house front 90 degrees to side A of house side 1 slide down three 10 inch corner piece catching the edge of both pieces to attach leaving ½ inch between each corner piece for floor. Repeat, attaching side B of house back to side B of house side 1. No problem. The pieces are sliding together perfectly. Should be done in about 20 minutes or so.”

    “Sounds great! I’ll go make us some eggnog.”

    What really happens:
    On December 24th I walked into the living room, arms loaded down with three large boxes.

    “Honey, it’s midnight. You need to put together the doll house we bought for Sara before we go to bed.”

    I watched with trepidation as my not-so-handyman opened the boxes and dumped the pieces onto the floor.

    “That looks like a lot of pieces. Do you think it will take very long?”

    “It should only take me about 20 minutes or so. How difficult can a doll house be? Let’s see…this looks like the front. Here’s a side. There must be a corner type piece to join them…. these things don’t fit together very well.”

    “Ah, it doesn’t quite look like the picture on the box.”

    “The picture is never the same. What the heck would this thing be for?”

    “Why don’t you read the directions?”

    “How is the floor piece supposed to fit into THERE?”

    “How about reading the directions?”

    “Maybe I should read the directions. Hmmm… While holding side A of house front 90 degrees to side A of house side 1 slide down three 10 inch corner piece catching the edge of both pieces to attach leaving ½ inch between each corner piece for floor. Repeat, attaching side B of house back to side B of house side 1. What the heck is that supposed to mean?”

    “I think I’ll make us a stiff eggnog.”

    • We have family pictures taken on Christmas morning that would suggest your real story is more common than you might think. I don’t think dad looked like he did because we got him up early. He looked that way because he went to bed late. Very late. Substitute a Manhattan for the eggnog.

  7. This is totally middle class life! I bet nine out of ten parents have gone through this. Perfect example of the “party line” and the reality.

    • You forgot to mention that you need a ballpeen hammer, flat and phillips head screwdriver, pocket knife with at least a three inch blade, and bolt cutters. That’s just to get the crap out of the packaging.

  8. Some early 1970’s Pap:
    All the young people joined hands around the campfire, swaying back and forth and singing, Kumbaya. Eyes glowed with youth and anticipation of what life had in store. So many adventures ahead: traveling to exotic places, learning the great truths, finding love.

    The Reality:
    Dannie slipped his hand loose of Beatrice’s and fished a big fat joint out of his shirt pocket. She scowled at him and acted like he gave off a bad smell. Dannie leaned into Jeremy, showed him the joint, and wiggled his eyebrows. They scooted out from the circle, crept into the woods, and lit up. Pretty soon, Barb snuck over and asked for a hit. Melanie showed up, then Ben and Sarah. They passed the joint around this new little circle while Dannie started trying to sing Kumbaya while holding his breath to keep in the smoke. Soon they were choking on stifled laughter and their own buzz. Kumbaya quickly morphed into a breath-held Pass that weed, my friend, pass that weed. They grabbed hands and tried to sway back and forth for a couple of seconds as they sang, and then dissolved in laughter. Their eyes were red now, and they were hungry. Travel to exotic places? Oh, isn’t this one? It’s definitely far out. The great truths? Yes! Hunger requires food! is definitely a truism. Finding love? Six blitzed guys and girls definitely means love may be closer than they know.

  9. I know I said that I would attempt to stay within the parameters of this prompting….but I kind of lied. This is half of the requirement…just toe pap, but it is true pap, so does that qualify for Reality? In any case, I post it as a tribute to Thanksgiving. I need each of you to know how privileged I am to be able to play around with such talented writers. And Lady Linquist…you are top drawer !

    Cherish the Minutia
    November 26, 2013, Becca Briscoe, 1 Comment
    “What ya doing?” my older brother, J.J., asked as he stood in the door of my bedroom.

    “Nothing,” I said.

    “Well, you look stupid.”

    “Well, you look stupider,” I sassed as he spun around to leave, nearly knocking over my 6-year-old sister, Chibby.

    Then Chib took her turn in my doorway. “What ya doing?” Her ability for original thought had not fully developed.

    “Nothing, I’m doing NOTHING….OK?”

    Then I heard my mother’s voice:“What’s going on in there? I told you no fighting today. I mean it…No Fighting. Supper is almost ready, get washed up.”

    Basket of Fruit and Pumpkin PieI clearly recall this scene. I had turned 8 years old a week before. My birthday gifts were a red and white blouse, a real baseball glove, a checkered bedspread and a feather duster. The feather duster was my mother’s subtle reminder to keep my room clean.

    I was sitting on the floor leaning against the side of my bed with my legs straight in front of me. Reggie, our collie, was stretched out the full length of my right leg with his chin resting on the feather duster. He thought that was the best toy ever, his own bird on a stick. It was the day after Thanksgiving and the aroma of turkey still lingered in the air. Snow was beginning to fall and a Johnny Mathis record played on the stereo in the living room.

    I remember thinking, as I sat there looking out my window, This is the best day of my life; everyone is home; I have a new blue and green bedspread and a better baseball glove than my brother. Reggie is warm, and we are going to have leftover turkey sandwiches for dinner.

    Even 53 years later, I still believe it was a best day. Sometimes God’s richest blessings are revealed in the minutia of life.

    Happy Thanksgiving and may you find joy in spending time with your family and friends

  10. Peanut,
    That was great. It takes a rare kid to realize at that young age how good life is at that one single moment.

    It also begs the pairing of the lovely Reader’s Digest Thanksgiving with the one we often get with the usual gathering of uncomfortable relatives of wildly varying ages. Not to mention the underdone (or overcooked) turkey.

  11. The Nelson family, the entire family along with in-laws and out-laws, gathered around Grandmother’s table, the one with two leaves added that could seat sixteen comfortably, even leaving room for the left-handed ones. A 22 pound beautifully roasted turkey was on an antique platter in the center of the table.

    They held hands and said grace, giving thanks for what they had, that all the family was there, and asked for blessings upon them all.

    Grandmother Ann served herself some mashed potatoes and then held the bowl while Amy put some on her own plate. Arnie passed the sweet potatoes to his left after serving himself, and in that way, everyone had the opportunity to have a serving of each dish. Several of the adults made plates for the eight children at the two card tables in the next room. Each child in turn thanked the adult for his dinner plate, and all their best table manners were on display.

    Later on, after the pumpkin and mince pies were gone, the whipped cream beaters and bowl shared among the children, everyone pronounced this Thanksgiving the best they could remember.

    Yeah. As if.

    The extended Nelson family gathered at Grandmother’s house because none of them wanted a particular relative in their home, especially Uncle Joe, who smoked and didn’t give a damn who cared. “Gramma smokes. Why can’t I?” he said as he lit another. “Too damn cold to go outside.”

    Agnes was well on her way to oblivion with her fourth bourbon and Coke. Uncle Patrick was on his cell phone. From the surreptitious glances at his wife Mary, the conversation must have been something he didn’t want her to overhear. “Work,” he said when she raised an eyebrow.

    All eight of the kids were running through the house screaming at the top of their lungs, causing spinster Aunt Elsa to declare she was getting a migraine and then retire to the guest bedroom with a bottle of Bailey’s, leaving none for the after-dinner coffee, which was what Bea intended it for when she brought it.

    A slightly squashed 22 pound turkey lay on a plastic serving tray in the center of the table, but the potatoes weren’t quite done yet, so the turkey was quite shriveled by the time the adults sat down at the table and the kids were threatened to sit OR ELSE. “Sorry about your antique platter, Gramma,” said Uncle Joe. “Didn’t see that damn dog when I was carrying it to the table.”

    Grandmother sniffed. “Well, it’s still edible, thank God.” Mona brought the mashed potatoes from the kitchen and set them on the table without a word. The men and some of the women began serving themselves before Grandmother said, “Shouldn’t we say grace first?”

    “Oh, yeah,” said Joe. “I’ll do it. Good food, good meat, Good God, let’s eat.” Grandmother scowled first at Uncle Joe and then at the laughing children somewhat seated at the card tables in the den. “Pass the green bean casserole,” said Uncle Joe.

    Diane, now 16 and annoyed at having to sit at the children’s table STILL, spent the entire time texting her boy friend and refusing all food. “I’m too fat.”

    “MOM!” shrieked Joanie, rattling the already rattled nerves of every adult. “Bobby splashed gravy on my new dress.” And then she burst into tears.

    “Did not! Somebody else did it. But Joey spit peas at me,” he continued, before using his spoon to catapult a large glob of potatoes in said Joey’s direction.

    “I not wike turkey,” said three year old Will. “I wike ham.”

    “We don’t have ham,” said Allie in a sing-song voice that made Will break out in sobs. “I wannn haaaammmm.”

    “Shut up!” yelled Uncle Joe, “Or I’ll spank every one of you.”

    “No way you’re going to hit my kid,” said Uncle Patrick, interrupting his marathon phone call long enough to threaten Uncle Joe.

    “Oh, yeah?”


    “Please stop it, all of you,” said Grandmother. “Can’t we just have a peaceful Thanksgiving dinner for once, and remember what this day is all about?” Silently she vowed to herself to never again host a holiday dinner, but she did that every holiday.

    “Shurrr,” said Agnes, raising her sixth bourbon and water skyward, slopping some on Aunt Elsa, who had staggered in from the guest room.
    “Let’s jusss talk nice,” she added before swearing at Bea’s left-handed husband Ed who had jabbed her in the ribs AGAIN.

    “Sounds like a plan to me,” said Uncle Joe, stubbing out his cigarette in his Waldorf salad. “Anyone wanna talk about Obamacare?”

    After the cops left, the remaining adults sat in the living room with coffee sans Baileys. Uncle Joe’s eye was swelled up like a tennis ball, Uncle Patrick still hadn’t ended his phone call but was holding it his other hand—the one without the ice pack on it–and Agnes was hogging the entire couch because no one could wake her. Else was in a similar condition in the downstairs bathroom. Grandmother had “that look.”

    “Oh, hell,” said Bea. “The cranberry sauce is still in the fridge.”

  12. Perfect. I bet that was easy to write since most of us have had bits and pieces of that scene in our own lives. I loved the way the Obamacare discussion led to fisticuffs. I once overhead a man in a restaurant teaching his three-year-old to say, “Obama is the devil.” Life is very weird.

    • I was speechless when I saw the government ads suggesting folks talk about Obamacare at Thanksgiving dinner. What a perfect way to start an argument–politics.

      I had a lovely dinner with two dear friends. The food was fabulous, the ambiance perfect. Then they told me the husband had Alzheimer’s Disease. Crap.

  13. Reader’s Digest:

    I woke up before my alarm went off at 5:30am on Christmas morning. While most of the community was still asleep in their beds dreaming of their technological upgrades and a ham dinner, I was tying my hair in a ponytail and packing my apron in to-go bag. First Methodist Church soup kitchen, here I come!

    Upon arrival to the church, I was immediately put to work on food prep. I rubbed elbows with the other volunteers and sang Christmas carols as we prepared vats of scrambled eggs and stacked toast on trays.

    At 8:00am on the dot, the church doors opened, and a wintry breeze cut through the humid room as hungry patrons filed in. As they lined up for their breakfast, I gave each of them a smile and wished them a happy holiday. Though most had sullied clothing and dirty faces, I could tell they were in good spirits this morning.

    The smiles I received from the hungry folks, combined with the comradery I felt with my fellow workers, made this Christmas much more meaningful than any other Christmas!


    I poked one eye open as my berserk alarm clock screamed that it was 5:30am. I sighed and batted at the clock, trying to find the correct button, until it just fell off the bed stand and crashed to the floor. Oh well, it turned off anyway. I sighed again and with genuine effort, hoisted myself out of bed and made my way to the bathroom.

    As I emptied my bladder, my mind wandered. Why, exactly had I agreed to volunteer at a soup kitchen on Christmas morning? Oh, that’s right, my need to feel better about myself. Help out my fellow man and all that jazz.

    To make it to the church soup kitchen by six, I needed to get myself together and get out the door. I bypassed the makeup, tied my hair in a loose ponytail, gargled some mouthwash, and ran out the door. I ran out so fast in fact, that I slipped on some black ice and fell hard on my thigh. I cursed under my breath as I picked myself up and heaved myself into my car.

    After the initial meet-and-greet with the other volunteers (some of them looking as haggard as I did), we got to work making large quantities of scrambled eggs and toast. Before I knew it, the church doors flew open and a slew of people flooded in. I chastised myself for having the thought that they looked like a mob of zombies, hungry for flesh.

    I took a deep breath and plastered a smile on my face in an effort to mask the discomfort I was feeling internally. As service began, my discomfort started to fade as I fell into a rhythm. Soon, my fake smile turned into a genuine one as I chatted briefly with the patrons. One woman introduced her children to me and I watched as they played with their misfit toys. The boy had a small wooden car that was missing a wheel, while his sister had a doll with crayon markings all over its face. But it didn’t appear to matter to them. I grinned as I watched them each get engrossed into their respective imaginary worlds. At that moment, I felt a fuzzy feeling wash over me, and I was glad I made the choice to volunteer.

    And then a man dressed in a trench coat with holes looked me up and down and said “you could probably get a man if you cleaned yourself up a bit.”

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