I just finished reading Bird by Bird
by Anne Lamott on Thursday evening, which I enjoyed the heck out of. It's a book about writing, but it's also a book about learning to be still and really look, really see the world and distill it in your writing, about learning to see the truth clearly and to write it as best you can. This was the message in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
by Annie Dillard, too, though I wasn't much interested in hearing it at the time (I was seventeen, and convinced that I knew better). My best friend and I joked that we were going to drive out to the creek of the book's title and take pictures of us peeing in it, and write our response to the experience of reading the book and making our own pilgrimage: Pisser at Tinker Creek
. (This still makes me chuckle a little, which is how you know I have not even vaguely moved past the level of sense of humor of a nine-year-old.)
Anyway, Bird by Bird
was great stuff, and I immediately ran to the post office to mail it to my mother when I was done with it, not just because she would dig the learning-to-be-still stuff, but also because Lamott's sense of humor is EXACTLY like my mother's -- dark and a little sick and deeply hilarious. That had a lot to do with why I loved it so much, I think.
Lamott also devotes a ton of time to talking about a lesson I only just learned this year, and that, once walkawayslowly
got through to me about it, seemed so obvious that I could not believe I had never known it before, which is: get to know your characters, for the love of God. So much of the original fiction that I've written has felt like it was missing its center, somehow falling flat, and it was because I didn't know my own characters
. I've been writing a lot less in terms of actual stories since that conversation with Merrin, but I can tell you why my character's great-grandmother died when and how she did, and while it's highly unlikely that I will ever once mention it in the story itself, I know
it, and that's the whole point -- it gives my character history, grounds her, makes her more real. Bird by Bird
also has absolutely one of the best lines about plot that I've ever read, a line that immediately made me run to my notebook to write it down: That's what plot is: what people will up and do in spite of everything that tells them they shouldn't, everything that tells them that they should sit quietly on the couch and practice their Lamaze, or call their therapist, or eat until the urge to do that thing passes.
It made my breathe catch in my throat a little, because that's just it, really, that's it exactly: that is what I want to be reading, about characters who know better and do it anyway, whatever that it
may be -- I want to read about them giving in to their urges and coming through it all okay in the end, eventually. I want them to pull through, but I want them to do that thing in the meantime, and I want whatever that thing is to be the inevitable thing, the only option there could possibly be for how they will actually act, even though we and they both know that they should know better. And that's what knowing your characters is about: knowing what that thing is, and why they would up and do it. That
is what I'm going for.
I'm meeting a friend for drinks tonight. This friend is a cute boy, and it's not a date, it's so not a date, but I can't quite shake the date-like feeling, anyway. We're both new to this city, we've known each other for three years and some change, we're both single, and he's really cute -- that's probably got a lot to do with why I've got it on my mind. Years ago, when we first knew each other, he and one of our mutual friends had this huge messy UST thing going on, which I wanted absolutely no part of, and also he was way awkward back then. I feared the awkward when I met up with him for coffee a couple weeks ago, but it never appeared, except for a little bit of stumbling over his words as we were parting ways ("Want to get lunch sometime?", since we work near each other). I'm having a really hard time remembering why, exactly, I should not go for this. We've got a bunch of mutual friends scattered around Europe, but he and I don't have this great friendship that we'd be ruining or anything. Food for thought, anyway.
I'm moving out of my apartment, also. It's not my roommate -- my roommate is really great. It's my roommate's cats, one of whom is currently attempting to be cute by sleeping on my lap. It's hard to remember how much I despise them when they are being cute, but it's very, very easy to remember how much I despise them when it's six in the morning and they are meowing and clawing at my door. Earplugs are my very best friends, but I decided it was time to pony up and get my own place. I've already got a new place, as of the 15th, and got the lease for it in the mail yesterday. I'm a little terrified of what signing a lease entails (I'm just a little scared of committing to anything in this country) but am working on getting over myself. I'm also beyond thrilled about getting to pick out my very own IKEA dishes. One of my good friends and I compared notes a little while back and discovered that we both used to eagerly await the Williams-Sonoma catalog when we were nine or so, and would make lists of everything we wanted in our future houses. That should give you an idea of how deep and enduring my love of kitchenware is. The new place is a tiny little studio, but I like the area, love the balcony, and the price, she is RIGHT. Good thing, too, because I have lots of travel plans, and seem to have committed myself to even more while at a friend's party last night. Hey, cool. That's what being in Europe as a twenty-something is for
, right? Traveling lots and saving no money!