Stories are defined by their climactic scenes.

Imagine the foggy airport and Humphrey Bogart telling Ingrid Bergman:

…I’ve got a job to do too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Now, now. Here’s looking at you, kid.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in a romant...

In that scene is the pain of love lost, the joy of sacrifice, the satisfaction of what is fitting — what is right, good, noble and lovely, the immensity of the world and its problems, the delicate and fragile beauty of our hearts and emotions, and the last famous line is said with the innocence of children playing at life, teetering on the brink of disaster with a wide-eyed faith.

Stories are best when they have climactic scenes.

Life isn’t so clean. We can’t always engineer the scenes like we want. Nineteen years ago, Paul told me to pull over on the Marquam Bridge in Portland. He supposed I’d be expecting a proposal in the woods or on a lake. He got down on his knee with the cityscape spread below us and the cars whizzing by us. After I said, “Yes, yes, yes!” before he could get the words out, he said,

Put the ring on. I had a terrible dream that we dropped it between the slats of the bridge.

After I slipped the ring on, he wrapped me in his arms and kissed me, with the cold wind whipping up from below us. A few moments later, revolving red lights flashed and a police car pulled in behind us.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“More than all right,” I gushed. “He just proposed to me!” I was hopping with excitement.

‘Well, that’s just great,” he said. “Now, will you please get in your car and move on? I’ve had two or three calls that someone is trying to commit suicide!”

Un-engineered.Random. But memorable.

Life is stranger than fiction. Sometimes you just can’t make this stuff up.

Donald warns that you can’t get too set on a climactic scene. They have a way of disappointing us if we try too hard. Create a scene and move towards it, but keep an open mind to change. With life, characters don’t behave like we tell them to. Even our own hearts betray us.

But we shouldn’t throw them all away in a sweep of realism and practicality. I guess we need to keep seeking the idyllic, the romance, and the secret surprise in life.

In Module Six of the Storyline Conference, we’re supposed to dream up a climactic scene for each of our ambitions.

As a writer, I’m surprised that this assignment stumps me.

I’ve been writing steadily for two years now and have only made a smidgen of money. A few weeks back, I had a breakthrough. I enjoyed the perks of a writing assignment in a free hotel room in Astoria. I woke up in a luxurious bed at the Cannery Pier Hotel.

Our room perched 600 ft. out on a pier in the water. Immense ships dwarfed the boutique hotel as they passed through the Columbia River channel just yards away. Guided fishing boats emerged from the fog like ghosts. My sister, Elida, went with me. We trotted over to Columbia Coffee Roasters just over the trolley tracks.

The peach scone was … better than my own scones. I’m no slouch. And the coffee … mmmmm.

Interviewing an artist who is pursuing her own dream was the cherry on top of a great day! I thought, this is what I want to do. Meet people. Experience places. Write about it.

It wasn’t really a climactic scene though. Climactic scenes have some pain in it. Suspense. A more appropriate one would look more like Will Smith in The Pursuit of Happyness when he shows up to that interview with only one shoe on.

This is a failed attempt at gathering apples in an old orchard on Gray Butte. We drove out there with our cardboard boxes and our ladder, but the apples were picked or wormy or sour.

We’re not unhappy. The weather was fine; the company was lovely … but it just seems so much lately is laced with disappointment. We drove to a pear festival near Hood River. Again, the company was wonderful.

But it rained nonstop.

Our camper isn’t waterproof because we’re desert dwellers. And well, the missed opportunity for a perfect day is absolutely acceptable when it happens once in awhile. But, lately, as it falls on the end of a string of sighs … it wears a body down.

It feels that fate foils our efforts. In the days of the cabin, when the snow fell sweetly around our home and ambition hadn’t crept into our hearts, it felt like fate conspired with us to make memories.

The snowshoe tracks glisten in the moonlight. The long talks. Dreams shimmered just behind the gossamer veil.

A climactic scene with Paul would be one without rain or wormy, sour apples. A climactic scene would be a true escape — an all-paid vacation, a reprieve from the worry and the grind.

These are complaints that shouldn’t be written. These are the whines of a very blessed person. But I’m revealing the poorness in my spirit. I’m hoping to inherit the earth. I’m honestly sharing the desires of a woman who shouldn’t ask for more. Why am I wanting more? Is it the approach of a new decade? Perhaps I’m just tired.

A climactic scene with my daughters would be similar. An escape from the worry. A confirmation that I’ve made the right choices. A seal stamped by God that affirms my decisions. Have I raised them right? So differently. Will they be lonely? Will they reject it all? Will they regret? I want to give them a scene they won’t regret. A reason to boast. Will they be proud of me?

My grandmother passed away yesterday morning. It is too painful to write much about it. Today, I can only think about her traveling to Brazil or Hawaii, coiffed and breezy, chatting and laughing, working in her garden or cooking something tempting for breakfast, giving her opinion unasked (but right), knowing what she wanted, getting what she wanted, and if she didn’t, making what she had the very best of the best, she knew herself, there was little wavering, she was bold and bright and beautiful, and I’m going to miss her very much.

Death is anti-climactic. When I go, I want to have lived. I welcome the tears if they have a purpose, a meaning. I dread them if they are empty and soulless. And tears are only void when they are never accompanied by climactic scenes of restoration and happiness. Come quickly, I say. Come quickly.