Friday, November 13, 2009

Peering inside (and outside at the weather)

I bet you thought I'd fallen into a foxhole.  Alas, I'm above ground and here to apologize for a light blogging week.  We all know that not blogging is in direct violation of this blog's purpose, and no doubt I deserve 40 lashes with a wet noodle (thank you Mom for that wonderful colloquialism). Corey and I will for sure be cooking a pasta dish this weekend, so I'll have him do the dirty work.

I have many excuses that I won't list here, except for the most interesting one, which is that I'm in the middle of a Nor'easter!  Now, I've been through them before--when I was a Bostonian they were a way of life each winter.  Long about mid-January I could expect to be holed up for at least three days while the snow fell outside and I watched reports on TV of piers falling into the ocean.  One year my heat went out and so I stayed on my couch wrapped in wool drinking soup for three days straight.  But now I live in the Mid-Atlantic so Nor'easters arrive in November and are not snow and wind, but rain and wind.  It's been so bizarre living like this--the rain has literally not stopped for three days.  So I've been lighting candles and making warm foods and writing a bit, but I found myself at a loss for good blog material, so I decided to just stay silent for a little while in hopes that inspiration would find me if I just had the patience to sit still.

Being cooped up always causes me to have insomnia and last night was a whopper.  It was a 4am-er.  My rule, as a lifelong insomniac, is that if I'm not asleep by 5am, I just call it a night--I don't go to bed, I give up and go about my day as best I can.  So while that didn't happen, making it to 4 was still a pretty big deal.  Anyway, my sleepless night's experience was a PBS documentary called The Way We Get By.  In honor of Veteran's Day it was a documentary about three elderly men and women who greet and send off troops going to and coming back from Iraq & Afghanistan.  They live in Bangor, Maine, which is a major entrance and exit point for troops.  But to me the documentary was less about the soldiers than about the three men and women who greeted them.  They were all older people, all living alone, all retired, and the trips to the airport each day were the events around which their lives revolved.  I won't give away all the great moments that the movie captures (you should watch it yourself if you have some time--it's streaming free on until December 12th), but I bring it up here because it reminded me again of the importance of telling stories and the importance, in doing so, of capturing the moments that matter.  The phrases and movements and insights of a person that tell us everything we need to know about them in a way that's undeniable--felt rather than just understood.  That is to say, we don't just want to know that Tom likes the ocean or loves his wife.  We want--and need--to know how Tom feels about the life he's lived, about his mistakes, his family, his purpose on earth.

And while capturing and explaining these things is often a writer's curse, it's also the blessing of the craft--that we are able to reach inside of people and explain things.  It's something we can't always do in real life.  When I think of writing in this very simple way, I am always struck by what I see as the best and most interesting part of humanity.  We want to understand each other--we want to know each other.  What makes us seek each other out to this extent?  Why do we speculate so much about the people we love, not to mention the people we dislike?  When I write, I'm trying to stand on a little stool (I'm short) outside someone's window and peer inside.  And the stool is unsteady, set atop a bunch of weeds and uneven soil outside, so it is often an unbalanced existence, but I keep trying to find my center, and I shift my weight from toe to toe, and if I stay up there long enough, neck straining, I will eventually see the moment that matters, the one that tells me what I need to know and out of which a whole story can grow.

(If you do watch the film sometime, let me know what you thought of it.  My favorite of the three subjects was Jerry.  At this point I can't quite put into words why, though I do know (I felt what he was about), but I'll think on it...)

Oh one more thing...I added a picture of the chive cream cheese from Monday after all (scroll down below).  When I was about 19 and my dad was trying to teach me how to cook (and I was very reluctant to learn) he told me, "Cooking takes your mind off things."  As is typical, seven years later I realize he was right: of late I've found it to be the single most mind-soothing thing I can do.  It frees my brain for an hour or so as I obsess solely about whether or not the sauce is thickening and how to slice the mushrooms so they look right, and by the time the dishes are clean I'm ready to go back over to my computer and re-enter my mind.

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