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What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Cause and Effect, Redux

Or: The Story of How I Acquired a Most Cramazing Hat

This past weekend, the husband and I went on a float trip with friends. Our destination was the Illinois River near Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Ed had Friday off, and he drove over to Tahlequah Thursday evening, so as to finalize some paperwork for our purchase of a new-to-us vehicle. I had a doctor’s appointment early Friday morning, so the plan was for me to hitch a ride with fellow floaters Friday evening.

I hope you’re with me so far, because it’s about to get complicated.

Part of the plan was for my parents to feed our cat while we were gone. Since my mom was going to be in the vicinity of my doctor’s office Friday morning, we agreed to meet up after my appointment, so I could give her Ed’s house key. I would need my own key later on whilst going in and out of the apartment during my get-ready-for-floating preparations.

This, of course, necessitated my relieving Ed of his key before he left on Thursday.

Which, of course, I neglected to do.

So. It’s Friday morning, Ed’s in Tahlequah, I have one house key to my name, and I need it later, so I cannot give it to my mother. What’s a girl to do?

A girl tells her mother that she will tape the house key to the underside of the blue bicycle on the porch, that’s what a girl does. Go-Go-Gadget Plan B!

Five-thirty on Friday afternoon saw me putting the finishing touches on my getting-readiness, when my friend Celia arrived to pick me up. One of the last things I thought of before I started collecting my various bags and bundles was, “Don’t forget your hat.” Then, in the shuffle of juggling bags and taping the key to the underside of the dusty, not-wanting-to-be-adhered-to bike seat, I forgot my hat.

Fast forward to Saturday morning in Tahlequah. The whole group is ready to go. We’re bedecked in swimsuits, tank tops, and shorts; we’re besunscreened in SPFs out the wazoo. There’s good-natured jostling and last-minute chatter concerning who’s taking a canoe and who’s taking a raft. And I am bemoaning my frustration at having let the key-taping business make me forget my hat–without which my cracker-white scalp is going to end up a not-so-nice shade of crimson.

That’s when I spy the assortment of protective cranial equipment in the window of the resort store. Dragging the husband after me, I haul rear into said store and start ogling. I don’t have much time, because at any moment, our group might be called to climb aboard the bus that will take us to our cast-off point. And there are a lot of different hats on these shelves. If you know anything at all about me, dear inklings, you already know that I wear a lot of hats, both literally and figuratively. As I stand there, staring at the wealth of noggin covers before me, I know I don’t have the luxury of being as picky as I usually am.

There! Way up on the top shelf, I see them. I reach up, pluck the frontmost from its perch, and clutch it excitedly to my bosom. (Okay, not really. I didn’t clutch; I just wanted to say bosom.) Anyway, I turn the hat over in my hands, examining. It’s straw, it’s got wire in the brim, it’s got a band with beads on it, it’s completely hokey, and it’s different from any hat I’ve ever owned. It’s perfect. I’m in love with it even before I plop it onto my head and squint at my barely-there reflection in the window of the ice machine.

Of course, I bought it. The hat, not the ice machine. In front of me in line was a woman with four kids, all of whom wanted popsiclecandykeychainringpop, and I thought that if our group got the bus call before I paid for this hat, I might just commit my first ever act of shoplifting. Okay, not really. But I did feel a gut-tightening sense of doom as I watched the gaggle of (absolutely adorable) kids clamoring for their gimmes–a seemingly insurmountable obstacle between me and true ownership of my precious (hat).

This story has a happy ending. I got my hat, and I didn’t even have to submerge my gangrel body in a superheated pool of lava to do it. I boarded the bus with my friends, and we launched our various craft onto the river with much joyous hullabaloo. My new hat protected my head smashingly, and it even survived my falling overboard once and the canoe’s capsizing once. I came away with some lovely purple bruises, but my new hat retained its perfect splendor.

I am so glad I forgot to get the key from Ed.

Play With Reality

You see? Aha! Now we come to the whole point of this story. I wasn’t trying to wow you with my memoir writing skills. I wasn’t just trying to regale you with a witty anecdote about Courtney’s Swiss Cheese Brain Adventures. This whole sordid story illustrates a point: I wouldn’t have gotten my cramazing new hat (effect) if I hadn’t forgotten to ask Ed for his key (cause). For had I gotten Ed’s key, I wouldn’t have been stressed about taping mine to the bike, and I would have remembered to take my green ballcap, which isn’t nearly as much fun as my beaded, wire-brimmed, hokey new straw hat, which makes me smile every time I look at it.

Cause and effect, my dears. Look for it in your own lives. Of course, there are deeper implications in the concept, but for our purposes here, I’m keeping it simple. What are some effects in your life, good and bad? What are their causes? Where does frustration turn into serendipity? You can use these moments and these event sequences in your writing.

Sometimes, your real life experiences will make the story. Sometimes, you can take the real end of your personal story and fabricate a wild tale leading up to it. (Maybe I bought the hat because I was on the lam from the law and needed a quick disguise. Maybe I slipped in with that group of twenty-somethings, so as to use them and their good nature as the perfect cover…) Sometimes, you can take the real catalyst and change the effects. (Maybe a strange, ethereal child found my key before my mother did. Maybe when my mother arrived, she found the apartment door unlocked, and when she went in, the child was in there, and it was glowing….)

Once again, I’m encouraging you to play. Forget what really happened; change cause and effect to suit yourself, to suit your story, to suit your characters. For the love of gobstoppers, have fun! And don’t forget your hat!

And that’s WILAWriTWe.

Photo credit Ed Cantrell.

6 Responses to “What I Learned about Writing this Week…from Cause and Effect, Redux”

  1. Hey, I’ve never been over to this blog before; it’s a lot of fun!! And I love the new hat.

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      Hey Bri! Lovely to see you here! Lots of fun shenanigans go on around this place — I highly recommend regular visits. ;o)

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      Oh, and thanks for the hat compliment! ;oD

  2. Very nice story Courtney. and what a great way to look at a story. You really can do all sorts of detailed things with the hat that has nothing to do with forgetting the key. very though provoking.
    The new hat looks great!

    • Courtney Cantrell says:

      Thank you, Justin — for the hat comment as well as for letting me know that I’m provoking thought. *That* is always a good thing! :oD

  3. that is THOUGHT provoking….it is too late…