Second grade poetry.
sleeping in the
blooming in the
garden like a
I was getting ready for an interview recently, a follow-up phone call for a magazine piece profiling a semi-famous person. An entrepreneur who’d started off on the completely wrong foot before finding the right calling as a television personality, and on the way, happened to become a helluva great bartender.
I love this kind of journalism. It’s real-life storytelling, all the messy and gorgeous stuff of human nature that reminds us it’s never really just the facts ma’am, it’s the facts behind the facts. How people do what they do, and what drives them to do it. The times of struggle and stagnation, and the innovation that follows. It’s the story of the Olympian and the visionary, and it’s just as much the story of the murderer and the spy. Real life is as crazy and rich as any fiction.
At any rate, this is what my pre-interview notes look like (pic above). Sloppy, one freely associated thought leading to another, all needing to be written more neatly and put into sequence before I pick up the phone. These are the building blocks of the process, or at least my process. And it struck me that no matter how much I love technology — and oh do I, the convenience and connectedness, the smart phones and e-readers, the fitness apps and spreadsheets — the concrete thing always comes before the computed thing. First comes the spark, the action, the motivation. The legwork. Next comes the technology that organizes the action, bring the idea to fruition.
Not too long ago, my recording of an interview somehow turned itself off mid-conversation, and I discovered I’d lost an hour of material. After returning to my car and pounding the steering wheel like a raging cartoon character, I sat down and wrote out the skeleton of our conversation, everything I could remember. And then I set out to write around the lost interview, which is actually more laborious and creative than writing from an interview using quotes (which I could call back and get, later). The confidence gained from the legwork years made the loss much less of a big deal than it would have been, younger.
Because in the end there are conveniences, but there are no real short cuts. No matter what kind of technology you have supporting you, you still have to germinate the idea, have the epiphany, put in the practice time, collect and interpret the facts, mix the drinks if you have to, to pay the rent. The technology helps us get where we need to go, no doubt about it. But when all else fails, there’s the scribbly paper. You’re the only one who can make the scribbles, and no battery fail can take that away from you.
Me: “What are you doing?”
Him, deadpan: “Living wild.”
A minute later the 8yo comes in, not wanting to go to school.
Me: (Blah blah blah)
Him, changing tack: “I don’t even know why you trust these strangers to take care of us. It isn’t safe.”
A book I read last spring ruined me for books for a little while. Because after I finished, I had such a book hangover that I didn’t feel ready to go back to the trough right away. When I did, the first 50 pages of anything would feel so pale by comparison that I’d wander off mentally, then physically. It didn’t help that we were in the midst of moving, so my attention span was pretty compromised.
The book is A LITTLE LIFE, by Hanya Yanagihara, and news came out last week that it had made the longlist of nominees for the National Book Award. Irrationally, I felt a pride of relational ownership, like a niece had made the US hopscotch team, because that’s what falling in love with a (then) little-known book feels like to me. You become its advocate, you feel like everyone should see how spectacular it is — what, you’ve never seen my niece hopscotch? how can you not have seen that fancy footwork, those vertiginous transitions between movements…
I don’t recommend the book wily-nily to everyone because it’s a tough read — not tough on the sentence level, but in the sense that the subject matter isn’t for the faint of heart, circling back constantly to the suffering in a character’s past and how he struggles to overcome it, secretly, his entire life. I won’t say more, though the reviews always do, because I think it diminishes the scope of the book, intimidates potential readers, and ruins the joy of discovery. But to me it was a brilliant book about lifelong male friendship, a topic not often written about with depth unrelated to sports or military, and what it truly means to look out for one another.
Someone brought this collection of quotes (http://lithub NULL.com/hanya-yanagiharas-a-little-life-in-10-quotations/) to my attention the other day, a blog feature that offers a hopscotchy sense of a novel through 10 chronological excerpts. I think it gives as good a sense of the book as any review, and without any real spoilers, which is nearly impossible to do.
I can’t promise you’ll fall for it as arrestingly as I did. But I can promise you’ll never forget the characters brought so brilliantly, heartbreakingly to life in Jude and Willem.
Of Jude: “Always, he wonders why and how he has let four months—months increasingly distant from him—so affect him, so alter his life. But then, he might as well ask—as he often does—why he has let the first fifteen years of his life so dictate the past twenty-eight. He has been lucky beyond measure; he has an adulthood that people dream about: Why, then, does he insist on revisiting and replaying events that happened so long ago? Why can he not simply take pleasure in his present? Why must he honor his past? Why does it become more vivid, not less, the further he moves from it?”
The double wooden doors take some pulling but they do come open on complaining hinges. Inside is a rotting old couch, a 1950s wooden high chair, modern plastic Disney toys, and a 12-candle platter like an altar in the middle. Several pages of scribbles from a little girl named Helen, who wrote the word MUSIC several times in large childish lettering.
Then in a tiny controlled handwriting corner of the back of the page, “And now I know.”
Underneath the cottage, entered from the back side built into a steep hill is a deep, cold root cellar. The ceiling is so high it’s possible tractors could be stored inside. But the door is tiny and the room not quite large enough. I have trouble imagining crates of root vegetables stored 15 feet up, or anything for that matter that would be small enough to fit through the door. But it’s cool down there even in August, and with the sun starting to set, I can imagine what it would feel like in the dark.
It’s going to be torn down, along with the other structures on the site and most of the trees, all in the way of the townhouses that will sit on these 13 acres in a few years. And I’ll never know what she knew.
Afterward I suggested that maybe he could have toned it down.
Him: “But he might need to know everything about me.”
Me: “He doesn’t need to know that you can make fart sounds blowing against your arm.”
Driving past highway construction last night, had a heated conversation with the younger boys about jobs that sometimes require working when other people are sleeping.
Nope, shouldn’t be necessary, says the 5yo.
“What about doctors and nurses in hospitals?” I ask him. “Should sick people be told, ‘Sorry, no one can keep you alive during the nighttime?’ “
Him, shaking his head. “That’s a tough call. Don’t ask me that question. I’m just a kid.”
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