Monday, September 20, 2010

As The World Turned

By C.L. Phillips

We sat in the living room, I at my grandmother's knee.  We each held a mess of green beans plucked straight from the garden.  Grandma said, "Let's clean up these beans while my story's on."

I couldn't have been more than nine years old, but I was an expert at television.  We watched shows, not a story.  The music came on and the twirling globe introduced my grandmother's favorite soap opera.  Have you guessed which one?  Yep, As the World Turns.  She never missed a day.  From six a.m. to six p.m, the only time my Grandmother sat down was during her story.  The story.

Over the course of ten summer visits to Grandma's house, I learned to care deeply about fictional characters.  I shared their hopes, dreams, and despair.  Every day, Grandma and I would do some type of chore that could be completed in front of the television while we peered into a world of rich business people, doctors, lawyers, heroes and villains.  First for thirty minutes, and then later for a full hour, we rooted for our favorites.

Afterward, Grandma would editorialize about the day's show.  "Lisa should know she can't trust that sneaky John Dixon.  When will she learn?"  And then she'd go off on a story from her life, drawing parallels between the real and fictional worlds.  She told me, "Honey, you don't have to make every mistake in the world to learn from it, you just have to watch other people."  Every day, she could take the main conflict and relate it directly to her life.  You see, in our world, there were no rich business people, no lawyers or doctors.  In our world, you didn't get dressed up to dig coal or potash.  But we watched and  I learned.

The first time I had to write a book report in elementary school, I didn't know what to do.  Then I remembered how Grandma could always explain her story.  She'd dig into the conflict immediately.  She could always distill  a show down into one simple sentence.  It always started the same way.  "Honey, the problem is somebody wants something they can't have."  Is life really that simple?  Sure worked for book reports.

One day, I squeezed into the middle seat on a crowded flight from St. Louis to Newark.  The guy seated next to me asked, "What do you do?"  I gave him a polite, yet evasive answer.  "And what do you do?" I asked.  "I'm a writer for a television show."  Now I'm interested.  "Which one?" I asked.  Yep, you guessed it.  As the World Turns.  Can you see the look on the guy's face when he realized I was a certifiable fifteen year fan?  Over the next several hours he shared how the show came together every day, every week, every month, and every season.  Teams of people working together.  A common goal.  Shared accomplishment.  "Boy, you must really love your job".  His eyes traveled to some far away place.  "It pays the bills," he said.

I didn't have the courage to tell him that his writing not only paid the bills, but it changed my world.  Altered my vision of what I could become.  A quiet voice said, "You could write a story.  You could do that too."  It was the first time I thought seriously about becoming a writer.  The seed took hold.

One of the great mysteries of being a writer, an author, is the knowledge you will touch lives you will never know personally.  You will change the way people think, what they imagine, who they become.  May you have the courage to create a world where you start a conversation with the quiet voice inside your reader.

Last December, CBS canceled As the World Turns after fifty four seasons.  The last episode aired September 17th.  My DVR was ready.  I watched the last episode with a mess of green beans that needed cleaning. As I broke off the end, pulled the string along the side of the green bean, and snapped the bean into smaller pieces, I'll was thinking about the hundreds of writers who touched millions of lives over fifty-four years.  And I thanked them for Grandma.
C.L Phillips writes mystery novels while nestled under a hundred-year live oak tree in downtown Austin. Except in August. C.L writes about the the gap between what people want and what they actually do. Broccoli or chocolate chip cookies, anyone? Check out her web site: or find her onTwitter: @clphillips787


Annette said...

C.L., are we related? I could swear you were talking about my grandma, right down to the mess of green beans.

I had lost touch with As the World Turns in recent years, but if felt like hearing a long lost friend had died to learn of its cancellation.

Remember when Lisa ran a book store?

Joyce said...

Lovely post, C.L. My grandma was a Guiding Light fan.

No green beans, though--she had the ironing board set up in front of the TV.

Maureen Mullis said...

When I talked about this subject on facebook I couldn't believe the response. Like yours, so many of us grew up watching ATWT with our grandmothers or our mothers, helping fold laundry, eating PBJs, and getting caught up in the Hughes family and life in Oakdale. It's sad that it had to come to an end.

The Stiletto Gang said...

My grandmother and GRANDFATHER watched As the World Turns. He would come home for dinner (that's what they called the noon meal). My grandfather owned an auto body shop and could set his own hours. My grandmother would time dinner so that they would finish just as "her story" was coming on. Then she would leave the dishes until afterward. My grandfather would take a nap on the sofa while As the World Turns aired. But - I don't think he really napped. He could tell you the plot just as well as my grandmother. We were watching As the World Turns when it was interrupted for the announcment that John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. I was only five then, but I remember it very clearly. I knew it had to be a horrible event since it was interrupting my grandmother's show.

Very sad to see the end of this soap. Another thing from my childhood gone.

aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

Lynda Fitzgerald said...

My inspriation was the movie and TV show M*A*S*H. I watched it every week. I even scheduled my evening college classes around it.

These days, even though it's on sporatically as a rerun, I bought the entire 11 year series on DVD. Now I can watch it when I feel like it. Back then I felt, and still feel, like any writer that could make me laugh and cry within the confines of a program was a success. That's been my guideline in my writing.

JP - The Mistress of Corgi Manor said...

Sisters! So glad to meet women who know my life from 'mess of green beans' to 'ATWT.' I was born and raised in Atlanta, but spent Sundays and part of the summer with my grandmother in my mom's home town of Porterdale, GA. It was a cotton mill town, and my grandmother's house was next door to my great grandmother, whose never-wed son and daughter lived with her. Everyday Mae Mae, Forris, and Robbie came home from the mill for lunch and watched Guiding Light and As The World Turns. I'll always remember my mother talking about Lisa "If i was to see that hussy on the street, I believe I'd just slap her."
Now that's powerful writing.

Pam Ripling said...

It still amazes me how soaps bring folks together. My mom, too, called ATWT one of "her stories". In fact, she named me after a soap character! Hey, remember Meg Ryan as Betsy???

We also watched Guiding Light (hmmm... maybe that's when my love of lighthouses began?) and to some extent, The Young and the Restless.

I mourned when GL left the airwaves. Thanks for the memories!