That Time I Drove the Karma Bus

All fresh­men at my col­lege had to wear bean­ies at the start of school. Besides the obvi­ous fash­ion quandary, the prob­lem was that stu­dents from the town’s rival col­lege glo­ried in steal­ing beanies.

And I knew if any of my upper class­mates caught me sans beanie, they had the pow­er to make me stand on a table in the cafe­te­ria and sing my high school fight song. It was a time of great per­son­al trepidation.

Then one day a nice young man stopped and talked to me on cam­pus. Look at this, I thought to myself. I am in col­lege talk­ing to a nice col­lege boy. Col­lege is great! And then that nice col­lege boy grabbed my beanie and ran. Turns out he was a Mon­tague. I was a Capulet. Our romance was trag­i­cal­ly short-lived, but unlike Juli­et, I some­how survived.

Many years after that, while putting my col­lege edu­ca­tion to good use as a pub­lish­ing employ­ee, I wan­dered down to the company’s sec­ond floor. A guy I didn’t know was vis­it­ing; we made polite intro­duc­tions, he got a fun­ny look on his face when I said my name — and he then con­fessed that he was the beanie-steal­ing Mon­tague (my name was help­ful­ly print­ed on my beanie’s name tag and he’d clear­ly nev­er for­got­ten it). He left, I moved on. The beanie did not haunt me. I nev­er thought about the beanie at all.

But sev­er­al years again after that, once I was pub­lished and had become eas­i­ly “google-able,” I got an email out of the blue. From the Mon­tague. He remind­ed me of our pre­vi­ous encoun­ters and told me he still had the beanie, but would like to send it back to me. And despite my protes­ta­tions that the beanie no longer played any part in my emo­tion­al health, it arrived in my mail­box a few days later.

In a fol­low-up email, the Mon­tague also told me that his old­est daugh­ter was now a fresh­man in col­lege. I made an intu­itive leap: Was his move to make amends par­tial­ly moti­vat­ed by fear that he or his daugh­ter might be run over by the kar­ma bus? My beanie was no more than a bump in the road for me, but I spec­u­lat­ed that return­ing it to me twen­ty-six years lat­er was the out­ward sig­nal of a self-trans­for­ma­tion for the Montague.

The char­ac­ters who move us as read­ers are those who have gone through some kind of relat­able trans­for­ma­tion. Expe­ri­enc­ing that trans­for­ma­tion is the thing that sticks to read­ers like emo­tion­al super­glue; it keeps them mulling over cer­tain sto­ries for weeks. But new writ­ers some­times for­get this crit­i­cal ele­ment. Chal­lenge your writ­ing stu­dents to track exact­ly how their main char­ac­ters have changed from the begin­nings to the end­ings of their sto­ries. If it’s not obvi­ous, they need to spend some time revising.

Get them to focus on their char­ac­ter emo­tion­al arcs and you just might make Shake­spear­es out of them yet!

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David LaRochelle
5 years ago

I loved this sto­ry the first time I heard it and it’s great to hear it again! Wel­come back, Lisa!