Person to Person

“Usually what happens in real life is that people ask you questions you can’t remember the answer to…When you do actually know a bit about something, it is such a pleasure to be asked a lot of questions about it.” -Anne Lamott

I hate small talk. Always have. I know it’s necessary – especially when you leave your house – but it’s tiresome, and doesn’t everyone really feel that way, at least a little? One of the unexpected benefits of working on a historical novel for the past eighteen months (and yes, I’m still being a little deliberately obscure about the topic), is that I’ve been required to schedule appointments or coffees or lunches with various experts in certain fields. To date, I’ve met with:

  • An EMT
  • Three high school juniors
  • A photography hobbyist
  • A physician’s assistant
  • My old neighbor from Darien (he’s 80 now and happens to live in the next town over; very lovely)

And while, yes, there’s always the requisite small talk at the beginning of our time together, eventually we get down to business. These various people have information in their heads that I cannot find in books. Anne Lamott talks about this idea in her chapter “Calling Around.” She also suggests that these calls can be a welcome break from the isolation of writing. So very true. And on more than one occasion, I didn’t actually walk away from the meeting with what I thought I was looking for, but these surprises are always welcome, especially when it comes to writing.

One of the more satisfying moments I’ve recently experienced is when a writer in my workshop commented that I must have spoken with an EMT because of something he read in one of my chapters (okay, if you’re wondering, I learned that EMTs are trained to walk, not run, on to a scene. They can not be out of breath when it’s time to help the patient. Isn’t this interesting?). People love to learn something when they read. While I know what it’s like to be a woman, a mom, a teacher, a little about publishing, to live in the northeast, be the youngest, left-handed, you get the idea – there is so much I don’t know related to the subjects I’m writing about. I am at the point in my writing process where I need to take breaks from the actual writing and add verisimilitude by grounding the fiction with subtle and actual truths. I still need to meet with:

  • Someone who has experienced PTSD
  • A professional photographer
  • Someone who is suffering from or has a family member with Parkinson’s
  • A male high school junior
  • And more that I don’t even know about yet

 

A Short List of (Unrelated) Thoughts

  1. The other night I was reading a book, and I was almost to the end, when my five-year-old son asked, “When you’re done with that book, are you going to put it up there?” and he pointed to our built-in bookshelves. This made me think about reading and books and how he views reading at this point – is it merely a group of items gathered and displayed on shelves? Is he possibly on to something? Would I be better off having, say, ten or so books up there that I just keep rereading over the years? As it stands now, I often have trouble recalling certain plots, some characters. Sure, the strong ones will always remain, but then – I want to reread them.
  2. To do: read through novel draft and edit out all cliches.
  3. As I enter my third year of getting weekly allergy shots (it’s not supposed to be that frequent at this  point, but I consistently miss so many weeks that they have to keep bumping my dosage down), I think about how similarities between building immunities against my allergies and writing my first novel. I’m playing the long-game in both scenarios, and if I think about how long it’s going to take, sometimes I want to quit. But I’m two years into the shots already, and over 200 pages into my first draft, so then those years and pages would be a huge waste of time, wouldn’t they?
  4. I like living in a place where you hear one person say to another, “I heard you were back, but I haven’t seen you around.”
  5. As of now, my daughter does not like to read. She has asked me to stop talking about books. Did I do this? When did I fall in love with reading? No one else in my family read like I did. I know for certain that no one ever pushed it on me. Does it matter? Didn’t Gibran say in The Prophet something like: “Children come through you not from you”, so then why should I expect her to come out of the womb loving books as I do?
  6. This morning I tried to read Joan Didion’s three-and-a-half page essay “On Self-Respect” for nearly two hours, despite being continually interrupted by my various family members: “Mom.” “Mom.” “Liz.” “Mom.” “Liz.” By the time I reached the last paragraph, I had no idea what Didion was trying to say, and their calls for me had fallen into such a rhythm that I felt like I could sing along to the chorus by the end.
  7. When my daughter was six-years old: “Honey, you have to do your homework,” I call in to the playroom. “Not yet. I’m still teaching my lesson,” she answers without looking up. The dolls are lined up neatly in a row. She has taken attendance, answered a few questions, and is now teaching her students about the use of an ellipsis in stories. You know: dot, dot, dot. To build suspense, in her words. It’s a very busy imaginary world she’s living in, and her real homework sheet sits there untouched. But I don’t judge. Though I know I’m the parent, I’m busy thinking about an essay I want to write about how her view of childhood differs from my own, in more of a global way. You know – the way we are on our phones and computers way more than our parents ever were? I’m still hashing out my thesis, and actually I probably won’t figure out what I’m writing until I start writing it, but the point is that I’ve recently realized that both my daughter and I lead very busy imaginary lives. I also constantly avoid my “homework” – that to-do list that feels so insignificant, but if those things don’t get done the big things start to fall apart.
  8. Because when you turn this number on its side, it stands for infinity, and has always been my favorite number.

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Get Thee To Rowayton

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The fireflies are out in Connecticut. They appear each summer just as the Tiger Lilies bloom and the Hydrangeas pop. Amidst these annual seasonal highlights, Shakespeare on the Sound presents a play on the banks of the Five Mile River in Rowayton, the quintessential New England coastal town. This year, arguably the most celebrated of all Shakespeare’s plays: Hamlet.

You’re probably familiar with the basic premise of this play: the ghost of Hamlet’s father visits Elsinore Castle in Denmark to encourage Hamlet to enact revenge on Claudius, the murderous uncle who swiftly married Gertrude, the queen. While Hamlet struggles over whether or not he is morally able to perpetuate the violence necessary for retribution, he also struggles with his love for Ophelia and his trust of his closest friends and advisors. Along with the perpetually quoted “To be or not to be” speech, the play also boasts a plethora of Shakespeare’s astute insights on human nature and how to live:

“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice”

“One may smile, and smile, and be a villain”

“Our wills and fates do so contrary run.” [Read more…]