She’s been my friend for decades. That was me at her daughter’s birthday party, singing and tap dancing in a rented Big Bird costume. She came to all my weddings. We’re chosen family but we almost had to hate each other in the beginning.
I met her husband first; I was a goldsmith and he was a diamond dealer, capable of witty banter. Business calls collapsed into lightning fast quip-fests and I fell in love with his words. He told each of us about the other and we’d exchanged cautious greetings on the phone. We set our first meeting; he’d bring her to an art opening I was having, promising her on the way that she could have any piece of mine that she wanted. We were in our mid-twenties and feigning maturity. But it was an art opening and I already felt awkward and socially intimidated and fearful about my work. In other words, I was desperately feigning.
My best friendships have all started with love at first sight. Yes, I saw her across a crowded room. We were physical opposites. She was petite and golden, with rich olive skin, glossy dark hair, and sparkling eyes. She wore a bold yellow sundress and strappy rainbow-colored shoes. I probably stared. As her husband introduced us, my throat got tight with all the things that mattered.
“Nice shoes,” I blurted out. I might have sounded sarcastic.
[A reminder: This is a series about writing; a map of the paths and stopovers that I made, with writing exercises included. It isn’t that I think I’m an expert or that my book sales have bought me a second home. Or even a second bathroom in this home. I’ve just had such a great time and sharing it serves as a thank you. Friend me on Facebook if you’d like to be part of the online group. We work on the honor system; participate as you like. Writing is common sense; you’ll get about as much out of it as you put in.]
It’s trite to say words matter –especially to writers. We know that words hang in the air forever. We even hope some of those words are ours.
When we first began reading, it was a storybook before bed or a Dick and Jane primer in first grade. We sounded out words in syllables, puzzling words into sentences until a story formed with the help of clues –pictures of dogs and bicycles and school houses. It was a big deal to graduate to “books with all words.”
Learning to write is a lot like learning to read. In the beginning, we’re a bit stilted. Writing is a puzzle and we’re still sounding out words. If things seem too complicated to describe, we might over-simplify in an effort to be understood. We don’t quite trust the reader. It’s easier to just tell them what to think rather than write in a way that invites them to come to their own conclusions. It’s complicated enough to make you nostalgic for a time when things were black and white. The other word for that is boring and flat.
Writers are hoping to hook the reader with confident prose, while we hide behind the words, teetering in a flop-sweat about our personal literary issues. We want it to sound so casual, so normal, knowing we only have a sentence, or at most a paragraph, before the reader will move on to something more interesting. Ouch.
On a good day, we try to see that word/time/challenge as an opportunity. Storytelling is an art that we practice. There’s the way we write now and the way we hope to write eventually. We’ll need to collaborate with readers to get there.
This Week: Continue writing every day. Let your words flow without judgment. Let your words be so abundant that you throw them about wantonly, littering the entire page. Be fluent in choice and quantity and imagination. This week write something out on thin ice. Tell a story and let the reader know more than you do. Describe something hard to describe. Let a scene have an emotional runaway. Write something with images and no dialog. Write something with dialog and no images. Write in a way that the abstract is as plain as furniture. Write about vulnerability and let your vulnerability show. Challenge yourself to be clear and still trust your reader to connect the dots. This is an open assignment; latch onto any of these ideas and follow it to other ideas. Be surprised where you land.
Then post on the Writing Herd FB page and share something you’ve written or your feelings about this assignment, or anything else you’d like to share. We’re your readers.
As for my friend, we’ve shared our lives that way women do. We bore witness for each other with humor and love and tears. There are words that will hang in the air, and stay in our hearts, because we survived that first awkward collision and kept on trying. Nice shoes, indeed.
Anna Blake at Infinity Farm