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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Grist for the Mill

People think that because I'm a writer, I must be the most observant person they know. My wife will be the first to tell you that is *far* from the truth. She'll see someone on an airplane, as she did recently, and recognize them as someone with whom she went to school twenty-five years ago and hasn't seen since. I'm not talking a classmate, either, or a friend. Just someone who walked the same halls. Meanwhile, I'm *terrible* with matching faces to names. The truth is, I've met all of my kids' teachers over the years and some of them I can't match face to name now. It's gone from my head. I generally need a few exposures to someone, actual engaged conversations, before I'm able to log them in for the long term. It's always been that way.

Sniegoski is fantastic with faces. We'll be at a convention and someone will come up to have him sign something and he'll go, "didn't you have me sign something at a show in (name it, Chicago, Philly, Baltimore)," and sure enough, that's the guy.

Meanwhile, I am TERRIBLE. We must just all have different ways that we file information in our brains. My filing system isn't just a face, but a name, and information, some kind of connection. Often this can be awkward. An editor of mine, whom I had met once, came up to my table unexpectedly while I was signing and for at least twenty seconds, I had no idea who she was. Then she spoke, and it all clicked in.

Am I observant? Hmm. Maybe not. I don't notice what people are wearing, and I'm terrible with dates and remembering how long ago things happened. I remember events, but not their WHEN. On the other hand, I can recall people I worked with or went to school with and events from work and school with clarity that some people might find unsettling. Yep. I'll remember all the stuff you'd least want me to. But also the good stuff. The moments that made me feel something.

Maybe we're getting somewhere now. Maybe for me, I observe through what I feel rather than through what I see. That's why I have trouble remembering people until they've made a mark on me, for better or worse, and why I couldn't tell you, even right now, what my wife is wearing today, though she's in the next room.

As a writer, I can easily invent what people are wearing, or what they look like, where they're from, that sort of thing. So perhaps I'm not observant in the traditional sense. What I *am*, however, is curious. I'd like to think that's even more valuable. I read the name tags of people who wait on me in stores and, if I find them interesting, I ask about their names. Where do they come from? What do they mean? Sanguedolce, which Sniegoski and I used in our MENAGERIE series, was the last name of a beautiful sales clerk in Filene's (when Filene's still existed) in Salem, NH. The name means "Sweetblood." A woman who waited on me in a mall book store in Danvers, MA had the first name "Keomany," which led to Keomany Shaw, the earthwitch in my novel THE GATHERING DARK.

A couple of days ago, I spent seven hours in the Emergency Room of a local hospital. I'm fine, by the way. Or I will be. Nothing a bottle of antibiotics big enough to choke a horse won't cure. But everything that happened in that seven hours is filtered through my writer's brain. The hideously disgusting, nearly vomit inducing dye-monade I had to drink (three huge cups, spread out over 2.5 hours), the CAT-scan machine, the way those ER beds are constructed to make even a blob of jelly uncomfortable. And I asked questions, but writer questions, not patient questions. Why does the CAT-scan machine have an English accent? (Answer from Mark, the CAT-tech: "I don't know. Weird. German machine, English accent.) What does the word "occult" mean in the context of this test? (Answer from the Dr.: "Hidden." Of course I should have known that. She says "occult" is frequently used in the manner in medicine.)

So...observant? Maybe not. But...curious? Always. Writers are like ravens...when we see the glint of something interesting, perhaps hidden, we have to swoop down to check it out. You never know what bits of treasure you'll come away with.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rest. Heal. Repeat.

Luckily, I've looked the same for the past fifteen years, so there you go.

I've always said I'm a crow, drawn to shiny objects. I learned that at a young age from a book in which three critters - a dog, a cat, and a crow - band together to solve a crime, and, at one point, the crow sees something shiny and swoops down to retrieve it. It's a key piece of evidence, of course.

Here's a line from contemporary literature which I often quote:

"My inner raccoon likes the shiny thing," he said while looking apologetic. - The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson