Time spent with people that does not also include conversation is not really time spent with people.
I didn’t know this was a weird perspective to have until moving to the Grand Rapids area and spending most of my time with friends instead of family.
During the growing-up years at home, I attended cookouts and reunions and birthday parties and holiday celebrations. The two things that made these gatherings fun was 1) the food, and 2) the conversation.
Conversation. Sitting around and talking. Catching up (even if it’d only been a couple days, or only thirty minutes). Discussing people and politics and current events. Arguing, not to fight, but to attempt to change a person’s mind, or better understand why you think the way you do. Sharing memories, stories, thoughts, opinions.
During my college years, “fun” was people coming over to your room to hang out and talk. A good time was sitting in the cafeteria for hours, eating and talking with your table-mates. I didn’t make friends with the students who did things with me. I made friends with the students who talked to me, who seemed to enjoy talking to me, who I enjoyed talking to, and who kept on talking to me.
When I visit my best friend, we . . . talk. Like, I’ll go to her house at 10 in the morning and leave at 4 in the afternoon and during those six hours we’ll have not ceased talking, nor will we have anywhere near finished talking. When I visit the Farm, and my parents, and my sisters, we sit and talk. When I visit my mother-in-law, we talk. When I visit Dallas, to see my friend-who-moved-away-and-it’s-fine-I’m-fine-people-can-move-away-I’ll-live, we talk, and we talk with her family, and that’s just the best thing, the funnest thing. (Also, have you seen Dallas? It’s gorgeous down there.)
The Random-Boy charmed his way into my life by – take a guess – talking to me. Asking me questions. Caring about my opinion. Sharing things he thought were funny or interesting and expecting me to do the same. I loved that. I eventually began to love him.
Anyway, it’s kind of taken me a while to understand that when people use words like, “party,” “hang-out,” “fun,” or “visit,” I immediately picture “sitting around+talking+maybe food” and get really excited without realizing that this is my expectation.
Turns out that sitting around and talking isn’t really fun for a lot of people. Like, they would rather do something else. Often it’s “play a game.” This is so weird to me. Like, why would you interrupt the conversation? Isn’t conversation the point?
Apparently not, as the Husband and I have discussed:
The Husband (baffled but trying to understand): “How is watching a movie with someone or playing a game with someone not spending time with them? You’re together! You’re doing something together!”
Me (struggling to explain something that has never needed to be explained before): “But you’re not talking to each other – it doesn’t count.”
The Husband (now mildly offended): “It doesn’t count?”
Me: “If you’re playing cards or whatever it’s just something to do with your hands while you talk. But if you’re playing one of those long, involved board games you can’t talk because it’s too complicated or you’re pretending to be someone else. A character. You’re spending time with my made-up character, not me.”
The Husband: “But it’s still you. People are spending time with you.”
Me: “Kind of? But not really.”
The Husband (sighing): “I think your family is just different.”
Me: “But it’s not just my family. It’s my mom’s side and my father’s side and my parents’ old friends and the best friends I made at school and their families and your family too. Don’t even start with this ‘your family is different.'”
The Husband: “What if we got you some drinking buddies?”
Me: *storms off to talk to my cat*
I wonder if this is one of the reasons my family members have mostly remained friends with other family members. When we go looking for people who like to converse as much as we like to converse, we end up back with each other.
‘Do you think, Diana, that being grown-up is really as nice as we used to imagine it would be when we were children?’
‘I don’t know–there are some nice things about it,’ answered Diana, again caressing her ring with that little smile which always had the effect of making Anne feel suddenly left out and inexperienced. ‘But there are so many puzzling things, too. Sometimes I feel as if being grown-up just frightened me–and then I would give anything to be a little girl again.’
‘I suppose we’ll get used to being grown-up in time,’ said Anne cheerfully. ‘There won’t be so many unexpected things about it by and by–though, after all, I fancy it’s the unexpected things that give spice to life.’
~ Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery
The most unexpected thing about being grown-up, I think, is how the freedom of adulthood (It’s my life! My money! My roof! My lawn!) narrows into patterns of laundry-folding and bill-paying.
All those limits placed on child-you by the grown-ups in your life (No, you can’t watch that. Yes, you have to eat that. Take a shower. Go to bed. Be quiet. Don’t drink that. Get in the van: we’re going to church. Practice the piano. Study for your quiz) are still there, because the grown-up in your life is you. Now you’re the grown-up saying all these things to child-you, who is still there, filthy and sticky and stamping her feet and saying, “No, you can’t make me!”
Oh, yes I can.
The freedom granted by knowledge, by the possession of a car, a house, a job where you make your own money is a freedom that remains only by making responsible choices:
“With this knowledge, I go to bed at 11 PM instead of 1 AM; I eat salad and drink a glass of water at lunchtime instead of pouring Froot Loops over ice cream and making another pot of coffee.”
“In this car, I go to the bank, to the grocery store, to church, to donate canned goods, to work, and then back home again because I’m so tired now.”
“In my own home, I print out a cleaning list similar to the one my mother had and use it to tidy the house room by room, the way she used to, the way I absolutely hated as a child, when I had to help. In my own home I turn the television off because bedtime, or because it’s scaring me or making me sad. I put on an old movie or cartoons and fold laundry on the living room floor, like my sisters and I used to.”
“This is my own money, but it’s for socks and green beans and chicken and the water bill.”
And of course there are nice things about “being grown-up.” Using your grown-up wiles to try out a new recipe. Driving the car to visit friends or family or the beach or the library or the park or a little coffee shop. Practicing the piano in the sunshine and stillness of your own home. Using part of a paycheck to buy books and chocolate and flowers and pretty shoes and colorful gel pens. In many ways, grownupedness is just as nice as I thought it would be when I was a child.
But grownupedness is only this nice so long as I’m doing all the dull, boring responsible grown-up stuff that needs doing, and making all the dull, boring, responsible grown-up decisions that need making. This really aggravates child-me.
Too bad, kid. I’m the boss of you.
I adore restaurants.
There are of course times when I would rather not be eating at a restaurant:
A Frazee or Sonnenberg cookout. A Frazee or Sonnenberg holiday meal. My mother is cooking. My friend and former housemate Beckie is cooking. My father is making Green-Fried-Tomatoes. My friend and former roommate Sarah is making Shepherd’s Pie. I am making Chicken Pot Pie.
Any other time, I’d rather be eating at a restaurant.
I like the way restaurants smell. I like the way they sound. I like looking at menus. I like servers who smile and seem glad to see me. I like servers who are obviously over it, or bored, or sarcastic. I like just sitting there until the food shows up, as if by magic. I love the part where it’s time to eat.
And I know it’s not really magic. I work in a restaurant. It’s fresh ingredients and love and swearing and grit and showing up and smiling even when you don’t feel like it, not magic. (The cooks might be a little magic, actually. They work wonders back there. I’m just the go-between.)
But it feels like magic.
I think that’s why I like working at a restaurant so much. I like the way it smells. I like the way it sounds. I like smiling at the customers, and being glad they’re there, and that I’m there.
I like being part of the magic. And I love the part where I get to take some food home to eat.
I only ever learned pi out to two decimal places. Couldn’t tell you what comes after the four if you paid me to, although it must be a number less than five, otherwise they’d round it to 3.15 instead of 3.14.
I’m a little more knowledgeable about pie.
I learned pie-making from my mother. She makes crust from scratch and tells the best story about the time she made apple pie for her father and it, um, didn’t quite go as planned. Under her tutelage, I took home a couple of Champion Fruit Pie ribbons at the County Youth Fair, and now, in my own home, I make Chicken Pot Pie and Pumpkin Pie and Apple Pie and Tamale Pie and if I can ever get the Husband to try a different kind of cooked fruit, we might have blueberry or cherry pie once summer rolls around.
There’s something both deliciously homey and strangely magical about pie-making. The smell of nutmeg and ginger. The sound of a wooden rolling pin on the counter. The feel of flour and dough between your fingers. The moment of triumph when you finally get the top crust on and the whole thing safely into the oven. The moment of kicking yourself when you realize you forgot the butter and have to take the pie out of the oven to try and cram bits of butter through the slits in the top crust.
Eating pie, though. That’s the best part. You can’t eat pi. Although I suppose you could eat 3.14 pieces of pie.
That, I think, would be a fitting way to celebrate the 14th day of March.
I grew up on a farm, on Hill Road, with ten other children (three sisters, seven cousins), and at some point during this childhood, the older relatives began to call us “Hill Kids.”
Assonance, spoken fondly, to describe a pack of dirty-dishwater-blonde Homeschoolers, speaking in references and giggles and made-up words like “Dudefish,” and “Lampie.”
We made so many things up. So many worlds. So many stories. Peoples, places, histories, myths, legends, prophecies, romances, adventures.
We imagined a lot of men for our stories (nine out of the eleven Hill Kids are girls-who-like-guys). I don’t remember all their names, or what all of them looked like, or much about their personalities, though mine were often quiet and patient (or incredibly obnoxious and funny), and dark-haired (or blonde-ish in a raised-on-Tatooine kind of way), and they could usually ride horses.
I think of these imaginary men as I watch the Hill Kids (me included) get married.
These non-imaginary men are different from the stories. They’re not cowboys or pirates or Jedi or aliens or wizards or secret agents or Civil War era soldiers trapped on an island somewhere.
There’s just enough of the stories in them, though. Doesn’t ride horses, but rides motorcycles. Not a cowboy, but a crack shot. Not from Tatooine, but from a distant country. Dark hair. Patient. Not a pirate, but a sailor.
It will be interesting to see who else joins the family.
Joins the story. =]
Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.
~ The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
It’s been a long time since I read anything with an omniscient narrator. It’s different than I thought it’d be, but I’m sorry I waited so long to begin it. I keep wanting to circle words and underline phrases and draw hearts and flowers and thoughts in the margins, but it’s not mine; it’s on loan.
Perhaps I’ll buy my own copy. We’ll see how it ends.
Five and a half years ago, in the hallway of Cornerstone’s science building, on a bench across from the fish-tank, a friend and I talked about the date he’d arranged for me.
“Well, he works nights,” Friend was saying, wearily. “He can’t meet people. He’s not awake when anyone else is awake. I had to intervene.”
I’d spent three college years avoiding morning classes and doing the bulk of my homework in desperate, up-all-night sessions, so this mode of existence (getting up in the afternoon, going to work from early evening to early morning, and then climbing in bed as the sun’s coming up) sounded enchanting. If the date went well, and this Random Boy and I had a future together, it would be a future of nights instead of mornings.
Fast-forward into the Random Boy’s and my future, to last month, around Valentine’s Day, when he (after six years? Seven years? Longer than that?) was finally switched to a daytime work schedule, something he’s been attempting for, well, six or seven or longer than that years.
He is thrilled to have rejoined the majority of working friends and family who are up before the sun and home around 5.
I am, um, so-happy-for-him?
*sigh that is very happy-for-him, but also mourning the loss of those late nights, those sleepings right through the mornings*
I get up in the morning, now.
I hate getting up in the morning.
Mornings are all in keeping, of course, with my goals of being more productive, spending more time writing, learning to do new things, and running a smoother, tidier household. They’re a thick slab of day where you can’t do much except read books and Scripture and journal and drink coffee and make breakfast and put the dishes away and go over the budget book because nothing in town is open and no one is sending work-related emails.
Hopefully, I get used to this, and learn to find the joy in mornings. Until then, grrr.
Sometimes, I see lovely things and want to catch them. In word, with a photo, in a shout – “Look at it! Come see!”
But there isn’t anyone there, or I don’t have a camera on me, or I can’t find a pen to write the image out. I end up simply looking. It ends up being a lovely moment I experience alone, like it’s a gift made specially for me.
“For you,” a moment says. “Enjoy.”
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with sharing. I grumble about the internet and social media in general, but am continually enchanted – disarmed – by the generous, joyful, excitable spirit of humans using online platforms to share things that are beautiful, are delightful, are cute or funny or sweet or somehow wondrous.
I also think there’s value in letting some things be. In knowing that you saw something beautiful, and it was beautiful, and you don’t have to prove it to anyone. You don’t have to share.
I wish, this morning, that I could have taken a picture of the cardinal perched in the snowy hedge by my window. But to take that picture, I would have had to run upstairs, find my phone, run back down – and I was afraid that if I moved, I’d spoil it.
So, watching from my place on the sofa, with my cup of coffee, and sitting very still so as not to disturb the cat on my lap (who most certainly would have ruined the moment if she’d opened her eyes long enough to note the cardinal’s presence), I enjoyed this lovely thing, this moment of something beautiful.
And you will just have to take my word that it really happened, while I feel kind of silly for writing about the value of enjoying an unshareable moment as a special gift for you alone, and then sharing it anyway.
Readers feel resistance, too. They fear high feelings as much as you do. Paradoxically, it’s also what they seek in fiction. If you have ever raged or cried when reading a novel and cursed the author for making you feel like that, then you’ve experienced that resistance.
~ Donald Maass, Writing 21st Century Fiction
Here’s the thing. I have raged and cried at books before. I have cursed authors. And I never want to make another human being feel what I felt at those times.
I’ve sat alone, sobbing, snot running, halfway through a book, and it’s a book I’ll never finish.
I’ve read things that made me vow never to pick up anything else by that author again. Not because the author wasn’t talented, but because I won’t volunteer to be treated like that. There are some worlds I never want to see.
I’ve read stories that made me so angry I’ve thrown the book across the room – taken breaks – long breaks – from that author, because I don’t trust them anymore.
I get that this is me – my personal tastes and opinions – and that there are other readers who either aren’t affected this way, or who are affected this way and lap it right up. Fine. But I take personal tastes and opinions into my own writing, when I think about the stories I love best and most want to tell. This kind of emotion has no place there.
If it ever shows up, I will have failed to craft the story I meant to. I will have failed to write something I’d ever want to read. So it’s weird to read this advice. I suppose it’s great if you’re a different writer than me.
Anyway, not finished with the book yet, but I’m starting to wonder if almost all of it was written for different writers than me.
Oh, well. There will be other books.