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Past or Present Tense

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  #1  
Old 10-04-2006, 09:01 AM
sgagos (Offline)
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Default Past or Present Tense


I'm trying to decide whether to write these vignettes in past tense or present tense:

Past Tense
Even on the brightest of days, my mother would pull down the shades keeping the sunlight out and others from looking in. When my mother wasnít home Iíd pull them up and watch the family across the way. An older couple lived there, frequently visited by their older children and grandchildren. They laughed and talked and ate together. I examined them as if they were some other species. I tried to imagine what they were talking about, what made them laugh so. They were like a Norman Rockwell painting, alive and joyful, yet so unreal.
Their lives seemed so massively different from mine. I wanted to be a fly on the wall and listen to their secrets. I made up what they were saying as if to play along with them on their journey and escape mine. I enjoyed watching them year after year, holidays and birthdays, days and nights. I often wondered what it would be like to be there, to be a part of their family. By the time I was twelve I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. My desperation grew and soon after I would run away for the first time. When I came back they were gone.

As a small child I remember vaguely a time when we there was a working phone in our home. I remember my mother receiving a call early one morning, that Jimmy Carter won the presidency. I remember sneaking a call to a friend once but mostly I remember the silence when Iíd pick up the phone hoping to hear a dial tone. I periodically picked it up just to check if by some miracle it would work. I was so lonely. I prayed for it to work unaware of the whole concept behind paying for it or not paying for it and how that affected whether your phone worked or not. At the time it wasnít a matter of money but rather another way of isolating us from the world. The more my motherís depression spiraled the further reclusive we became.
From about the age of seven we didnít have many visitors and the few that attempted to visit us were met by silence. Even when the occasional congregant came to visit, she wouldnít answer the intercom and for about fifteen or twenty minutes I was forced away from the windows into an awkward silence and invisibility. In fact the only visitors she did allow in were the men she dated. Even they only came by once or twice and then they were gone.


Present tense
Even on the brightest of days, my mother pulls down the shades keeping the sunlight out and others from looking in. When my mother isnít home I pull them up and watch the family across the way. An older couple lives there, frequently visited by their older children and grandchildren. They laugh and talk and eat together. I examine them as if they are some other species. I try to imagine what they are talking about, what makes them laugh so. They are like a Norman Rockwell painting, alive and joyful- yet unreal.
Their lives seem so massively different from mine. I long to be a fly on the wall and listen to their secrets. Sometimes I make up what they are saying as if to play along with them on their journey and escape mine. I enjoy watching them year after year, holidays and birthdays, days and nights. I get lost in them. I often wonder what it would be like to be there, to be a part of their family. By the time I am twelve I want to be anywhere but where I am. My desperation grows and in time I will run away. When I come back, they will be gone.

We have a beige phone on the wall in the kitchen. It never rings and there is silence on the other end when I pick it up. One day a long time ago, it rang and my mother seemed happy; something about Jimmy Carter winning the presidency. I still hope to hear a dial tone and every once in a while I pick it up just to check if by some miracle it will work. I am lonely and disconnected from the world outside. Sometimes I pray for it to work, I dream of it ringing. I do not understand that you have to pay for it and how that affects whether your phone works or not. I just want to call someone, I just want someone to call me. I want to hear my best friendís voice. I just want to hear someone elseís voice other than my motherís or my own. These voices are shrill and screaming and anguished most of the time. I want to be like the people on T.V who have conversations and talk as if all is well. That would be good.

The birthdays of the early years are over now. I am older and we rarely have visitors. The few that attempt to visit us are met by silence. If the intercom rings, she quickly shushes me and begins to stage our absence. For about fifteen or twenty minutes I am forced to stay still in an awkward silence and invisibility until they go away. They are mostly people from church; she doesnít want them to see how we live, she doesnít want them knowing our business. The only ones who are allowed to enter are the men she dates and even they only come by once or twice and then they are gone.
Outside of school, they are my only companions.
The more my motherís depression spirals the further reclusive we become.

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  #2  
Old 10-05-2006, 10:44 AM
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I'd say definitely past tense. You're reflecting on things that were, commenting on your lack of knowledge at the time with your current voice. It sounds wrong to speak as a child yet tell of things you'll learn later.

If you want to use the present tense, write from the oldest age described here and talk about the past few years. Things like

By the time I am twelve
mix two tenses and don't work grammatically. If you don't break up the separate voices of different ages in the second one it doesn't really make sense. I wouldn't do it here because it will destroy the good narrative you've got going.

There were a couple of things I'll comment on; in the first paragraph you repeat 'mother' in consecutive sentences, which is unneccessary and when you speak of the older couple you don't need to specify that their children are older too because the existence of grandchildren does it for you.

I'd like to see where these are headed
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Old 10-05-2006, 11:08 AM
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Thanks. I fresh pair of eyes does wonders. Sometimes I am so close I can't even see the minor mistakes, let alone the bigger ones.
Stephanie
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Old 10-05-2006, 11:20 AM
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Hehe, we all do Sometimes its eeasier to put things away for a few weeks or even months and come back to it with a clear fresh mind.

Don't foget to spread the love and critique or comment on other people's works

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  #5  
Old 10-05-2006, 04:14 PM
gary_wagner
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Ooh, ooh, me, me! Past tense. Definitely past tense. Always past tense. In case you didn't notice, I really don't like present tense except in poems and not always then.
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