Saturday, February 26, 2011

How Bad Childhood Memories Creep into Your Fiction

I'm working on a scene for my w.i.p. where my main character has to dance on stage. It doesn't go well for her. And the scene didn't go well for me either. While I was writing, I kept getting interrupted by my own stage traumas. It made me go straight to the photo albums.
The picture above was taken before my very first dance recital. Even at age 5, I knew I could never pull off that flashy one shoulder look, but there's more about that dress that you need to know. It's not actually a dress. It's shorts with a skirt over it.
My dance group consisted of me and two other 5-year-old girls. We were called the "Blue Eye Shadows". At the end of our dance, we were supposed to lift up our skirts to reveal a giant eye on the other side of the costume.
Dance lessons were okay. Dance recitals were another story. I was and still am an introvert, but I've always been a tall introvert, which means that when it comes to being on stage, guess who they put in the middle. 
We were half way through our big dance number when it happened. Instead of step step shuffle turn, I stepped turned shuffled stepped. The two other Blue Eye Shadows followed my lead. We lost the beat. All three of us went in different directions. One turned. The other hopped. I shuffled.
A voice boomed over the music.  It barked out orders. "Step! Hop! Step!" Our teacher Miss Corrine, the one who came up with the make up themed dance recital, had grabbed a microphone. Even though she was behind the curtain, we could see her standing in the corner of the stage. She was not amused.  We ended our dance and forgot to lift up our skirts to show the big blue-eye-shadowed eyes.
At the end of the night, we all had to go back on stage and sit there while Miss Corrine addressed the audience. Again, the Blue Eye Shadows were in the ones in the middle. After she was done with her little speech, Miss Corrine called the names of each dance group one by one and gave them presents. The boxes were beautifully wrapped. They were all different shapes and sizes. Ronnie, the Dancing  Eye Pencil who took private lessons and tapped around the stage with great pizazz, got the biggest gift.  I wish I could remember the names of the other dancing groups of cosmetics that Miss Corrine called up to the stage that night. The Lip Sticks? The Powder Puffs? The Cuticle Removers? 
She never called our name. The recital ended and the Blue Eye Shadows were the only ones who didn't get  presents. 
Our group broke up after that. We went our separate ways.The next year, I had a new dance school and a new teacher. But that blue-eye-shadowed memory stayed with me. I never got over my fear of dance recitals.
And now I'm writing a scene and putting my main character through a very similar experience.  Somehow no matter what the story is about, I always manage to slip in my own memories. I wonder if other writers do this too. 

By the way, the little boy in the picture is my brother, Robert. He always hated wearing that red suit. But that is his story to tell.