i am a writer because i think about the conversations i am in and how they would look if they were broken up into dialogue. how would i capture the honesty, the nuance, how will i take the ordinary and make it sublime? i am both present in the moment and also editing the world around me. i even make observations of my own emotions, wondering if at some point the cherry blossoms and midday light will be loaded onto a dolly and rolled into a warehouse, packed away, only to continue shooting the same scene again tomorrow.
how will i remember in june how i felt in february? how can i hoard away the world as a series of images to put into words one day. how will i do anything else but write?
how do you know when you are a writer? i am not sure how to answer that but i will say this: i believe that being a writer--like any act of self-expression, involves both taking part in your surroundings and also knowing when to be in the audience. being able to capture the simultaneity of both the moment and it's aftermath is the burden, bliss, and responsibility of writing.
recently i was out to dinner. i have been using the first quarter of the year, as many of us do, to clean up my act. of course it was a four course wine tasting, and each dish was dutifully paired with two wines--rich, bold, robust, earthy, and beautiful (my wine jargon needs work). it was my mother, brother, and i, sans our significant others. sorry you two, but i warned you this would go into writing. let's just say there is a complicated history. one whose arms wrap wholly around as much laughter and love as wanting to pull the other’s hair.
on my way there i received a text from my brother, "where r u," i just about turned around. knowing i was being asked less a question and more being accused of ruining an entire evening. i was ten minutes late and had been clear that i would be there as close to six as i could. it was his birthday and i stopped to get him some candy, he was turning 38 after all. i had looked for an E.T. or Kermit Pez dispenser, to no avail. i eventually settled on the Yoda.
i marched into the restaurant. my brother leaning in closely had that look on his face while trying to get one more thing in with mom before i arrived.
he stood up and we hugged, an awkward, "happy birthday" came out as i shoved the bag of candy in his direction. "read the card," knowing the card didn't include much more than my best wishes and a generic declaration of sisterly love.
our past year had been rugged.
"hi sweetie," my mom chirped, this had been her idea.
"hi" i grunted.
i sat down to a complicated first course and began shoveling it into my mouth. a pre-emptive attempt at muzzling.
i saw the curled edges of old photographs framing us. we were so complicated, fragmented, we were one minute laughing, and the next, seething. had we become shapeless in our misremembered pasts? the blurred landscape, trying to see what's beautiful from the corner of our eyes. we buzzed around each other, chatting senselessly about the moments leading up the next—the room surrounding us, the wine, the food.
in recent years my mother and brother and i have begun to look more and more alike as we become the only one’s left in our immediately family to resemble. my mother uses her napkin to wipe the corners of her mouth in the very way i have seen my grandmother do. i freeze for a moment, my voice sounded just like hers earlier that day. the room gets bigger and smaller depending on what we are talking about. we move through each course unaware that we are a part of anything other than the crack of the fork on the plate. a hopeless byproduct of the ability we all share in straddling chaos.
on a richter, we had gone tectonic. i remember pointing my finger in the direction of my brother’s face. as we careened further away from braised duck and stewed apples, an innocent winemaker made his way over to us.noticing that we had an open seat at our table he pointed his chin to the empty space and said,
“mind if i join, you look like an interesting crowd?”
my mother and i exchange a quick glance, terrified that we might gather one more into the cyclone.
my brother says with a grimace, “sure no problem, we’re just catching up on some family history.” he is famous for full disclosure.
i, like my mother, take a more theatrical approach. “oh, what? me? oh no, there’s nothing to see here!” in an instant my mother and i can go from irritation to sheer etiquette—“oh, please join us, tell us about your wine, tell us everything.”
from afar i imagine it looking like someone trying to hug an earthquake. my brother has no off switch, which can be both fierce and sublime while my mother and i have a full switchboard—a dominant trait passed down through the women of our family.
as the innocent winemaker discussed his wine, my brother’s entire body faced him, full-on, animal kingdom style,“ just to be clear,” interrupting, he says, " i don’t know anything about wine, and it must be your lucky night because we were just in the middle of catching up, and by catching up, i mean, deconstructing the anatomy of our pairings.”
was that what my brother actually said? no, probably not, but this is my piece, even though it is part of a shared experience, i own this incarnation —and i can no more divulge the entire history of my life from day one than i can remember what i had for breakfast last Tuesday. it’s the job of the writer to decide what stays, what goes, and what fills into the gray.
there are a million struggles and revelations when writing—the act of allowing those to come in and out of focus must be first and simultaneous to writing whatever it is that you actually want to! the difference between a work in progress and a finished piece could be a comma, a title, one thousand hours, or the light streaming in from the other side the room.