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Sticks & Stones

 

I stepped out of the room trying to catch my breath, while simultaneously holding my tongue. If that wasn't a feat in and of itself, I also began to frantically pull the dagger from my heart before walking back into the other room. As cruel as the unexpected outburst towards me felt, I knew I had to calmly walk back into the other room to face the feeble elderly man sitting in my living room. Tiptoeing lightly, I peered around the corner from the hallway. Sitting in the recliner where the weathered old man, filled with heated criticism, had been sitting only minutes before, was a gentle white-haired man nodding off for an afternoon nap. Hot tears had melted into my cheeks and my chest felt as if I had been run over by a truck. While his hurtful words were playing repeatedly in my head, he was no longer speaking at all. He was snoring! My daddy, my hero, who could melt my heart one moment and rip it apart with his unbridled candor the next, was peacefully sleeping like an innocent child.


I still remember the words he spoke to me that day. Although I knew they were coming from a place of hurt within himself, rather than directed at me, my own bruised heart still aches when it is bumped against by bullies, buoys, or battering rams. The truth is, he was not the one who had left the scars on my heart. Daddy had been my provider, my protector - and the one who had picked up the pieces more times than he ever thought would be needed by a certain point. It was his sense of helplessness in not fully being able to shield me from hurt, pain, and grief that caused his frustrating barrage that day. But they were just words, right?  Every little boy and girl knows that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  I would love to meet the genius who came up with that beacon of wisdom. 


Words... they have always been my forte'. I learned to speak in full sentences before I was able to walk. I suppose I always had an insatiable need to be heard and to be understood. An early lesson for a writer "wannabe", was learning just how powerful words are despite what Mr. "Sticks & Stones" had to say about it. One of the "wisest men" who ever lived had this to say about the power of words:  


"What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words."  ~King Solomon from Proverbs 


The old English translation in sacred Biblical writings states it this way: "Death and life are in the power of the tongue..."  What a sobering thought as a writer. With power comes responsibility. What we say matters, what we put on a page matters. What we bring to life on the big screen from a script matters. What we post on the internet matters. What we say to our child, our spouse, our friend, our co-worker, or the checkout clerk at the grocery store matters. "Sticks & stones", "death and life" - our words matter!


Those who follow me on social media know that until a few years ago, I rarely gave commentary concerning the writings of others, concerning entertainment or media productions. Staying in my lane was easier and much safer! Just because I am opinionated (okay outspoken and stubborn like Daddy) doesn't mean I thrive on controversy. My life is a testament to the fact that I go above and beyond to keep the peace even to my detriment. Some of that changed when I stepped into the world of writing for public view and not just my enjoyment and therapy. During the years that I began to write and publish my first book, I came across a program on the Hallmark Channel. Hallmark had become my "go-to" as an escape from life's difficulties and heavy responsibilities. Who can stay in a funk watching a Rom-com or Christmas movie filled with corny plots, twinkling lights, quaint shops, and happily ever afters? 


It was by happenstance that I heard about the Hallmark "Faith and Family" drama series "When Calls The Heart". I binge-watched the first few years on streaming and began watching live in Season 5 - yes THE most devastating season of all (until now, but I digress). While words have always come easy for me, I still can't find the exact words to express just what the character of Elizabeth's journey through grief to love (and because of love) meant to me. I won't rehash nine years of stellar storytelling, but suffice it to say there is a reason it became Hallmark's flagship "Faith and Family" series. It culminated in a beautiful journey through grief that led to an open heart to love again due to the unconditional love of a patient, selfless man. It was I Corinthians 13 playing out on screen with an epic love story of healing and hope. Every word written through this story and the many other sub-stories touched countless lives. 


Perhaps I am taking a long way "home" to get to my point about "words". Watching this drama series and reading comments from the fans about how it affected their lives was a testimony to what I've always known as a writer. Rather than go on about how the words of this simple show affected me, let me tell you about some of the fandom. Two widows recently spoke of their struggles with sadness and grief and how this "little show that could" was the one safe spot for them to retreat to. A fan dealing with the sickness of family members - even her husband, found joy in this lovely series. Several fans dealing with chronic illness, some serving as caregivers to elderly parents, disabled spouses, or children found their "safe place" in this show's little town, aptly called "Hope Valley". I will tell you of a few more of those fans but first, I have to speak about why sharing these stories now matters so much.


Last season someone - perhaps the network, show-runner, producers, writers, or perhaps, as one interviewee stated, the "hive mind" collaboration of all, decided to do a "reset". A story that developed and flowed for nine years was flipped on its head. Everything was dismantled, the couple who triumphed through grief and found love, was broken apart 3 weeks before their wedding. Characters were changed, and backstories were created to rewrite both the history and the personas of characters who were positive role models. Every lovely memory was tainted with eerily similar scenes rewritten with negative connotations. Even the heroine of the story changed into someone unrecognizable. As writers, it is their prerogative to write a story in any way they choose. A writer can dismantle every stick and stone on set and burn the very essence of the show to the ground. I suppose my question is why? Why would a writer want to destroy what is good and lovely only to produce angst, anxiety, and hurt? Sure some wanted the new storyline because they didn't like the old one. But at what cost is a "reset" (retcon) worth it? Why would a writer or producer want to divide the fan base in a rivalry to such a degree that they verbally abuse one another on social media with some issuing death threats to the actors and their families? Why would the creator of the series gaslight hurting fans by telling them they didn't see what they know they saw, that he would "give them what they need rather than what they wanted" and that they were "dribs and drabs"  for even discussing the changes? 


My answer as a writer once again, is that with power comes responsibility. The integrity of content matters, consistency matters, and respect for the very ones that give us a reason to be writers matters. Last night, I read a comment from a nurse. She was on duty at her hospital when "When Calls The Heart" aired. As she visited with her patients, she spoke to two sets of family members in rooms with their loved ones. In each room, the patients were watching the show. The family members had to turn off their televisions as their loved ones began to cry and become upset and anxious because the character who has already been stripped of everything about his story and life on the show, was being portrayed as a liar and a possible criminal. Yes, the "I Corinthians 13 Man", the one who had shown unconditional love to the heroine and a selfless giving spirit to the whole town, was experiencing character assassination. If a writer has to tear one character down to build another up or flip a script to satisfy extremely verbal fans at the cost of not maintaining the integrity of the story and destroying the legacy and very essence of the show, then perhaps it is time for that writer to step back. 


Not every story is about morals, values, or anything near that. Some are for pure entertainment and others even shock value drama for ratings. Write on if that is your genre. Even then, remember it is the reader, the viewer, the fan that gives you a reason to write. Never disrespect them. Never lie to them or lose their trust. In the case of this story, however, it was created as an uplifting "Faith and Family" drama - even touted as a safe place away from all the negativity and harshness of the real world. In the words of Forrest Gump "I may not be a smart (wo)man, but I know what love is."  Leaving sick hospital patients in tears is not love. Stirring up controversy that keeps fans at each others' throats is not love. Ripping apart 4 years of work that a team developed in crafting an epic story of unconditional love and triumph through grief is not love. Calling hurting fans terrible names and blocking them on social media is not love. 


Should my words make it back to the network, the creators, producers, writers et al. I hope you hear what is being said in a spirit of love - for this show, for the amazing fans who have gained so much in their lives through your words, but mostly in a spirit of love for this creative calling that we as writers are honored to live out. May we not cheapen what we do for clicks, views, ratings, followers, or even revenue. There is no price worth turning our words into sticks & stones that cause more harm than we can imagine!


I will leave you with a statement I made years ago to a fellow writer...


“…if my words fall on one ear that is ready and in need of what I have to say, or on a thousand ears, I have given birth to a thought that is meant for someone, somewhere, or maybe even just meant for me to realize from the deepest part of me.” 


WORDS MATTER!


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