Monday, December 10, 2007

Perchance to Dream

1. It is one entire thing to become involved with the characters, agendas, and surprises of your own work, but another thing altogether when your contact by a book of another writer seizes you, wrenches you off balance, then leaves you staggering for an equilibrium you are not sure you had in the first place.

2. When you have bought into the characters, agendas, and surprises of someone else's work and they come to an end, as they must, there is a profound sense of sudden loss and loneliness, much like the ending of a love affair.

3. All right, her name was The Air We Breathe by Andrea Barrett; it got you thinking of Flaubert because of the uses she made of point of view, and the more you thought of that connection the more Barrett's novel, set in 1916 in upstate New York, seemed to pick characters such as those who were witness to Charles and Emma Bovary.

4. Which gets you to thinking...
a) your characters occasionally send you post cards
b) or appear in your dreams
c) or say things to you which you shamelessly repeat in class or at parties as though they had just come to you, playing into the myth that you are fast on your feet.

5. For some considerable time, you have been in contact with a character you supposed was you but who is so unlike you that you wonder how you missed the dissimilarities.

6. You liked him so much that you even used his grandfather as a character in a story about an actual historical oddity of there once having been a U.S. Army Camel Corps.

7. Your characters are members of your family, which works out well enough because there is/was a pretty good balance of relatives you greatly admire and those you seldom think of, giving you leave to be judicious about your dealings with both aspects of the family, character family and family family. It is quite true that your mother's older sister in the later years of her life kept a refrigerator filled with Eskimo Pies and went to her death bed believing that you had stolen a year's worth of her check stubs from her desk and six Eskimo Pies, but it is also true that you never wrote anything about her.

8. This aunt had a son who had dreams in which he was a dentist. Sometimes at lunch at Canter's Delicatessen, he would detail some of these dreams. A friend of his, who was a psychotherapist and often joined us for lunch, asked my cousin if he thought these dreams meant anything relevant.

9. From observing each of these men, I learned the importance of imbuing my characters with dreams and subtexts they did not feel comfortable discussing with many people.

10. Once when having lunch with only the psychotherapist, I asked him if he had dreams about being a psychotherapist. He shook his head. Unlike your cousin who is a dentist and does not want to be a dentist, I am a psychotherapist who wants to be a psychotherapist.

11. I wonder what Gregor Samsa wanted to be.

12. Nevertheless, it is good to know what people dream of being and quite nice to discover their goals without having to hear the entirety of the dream.

13. One night at a family dinner, I caught my father's youngest sister looking intently at me. "I've never really done anything for you," she told me. I was quick to assure her that she had never treated me with anything but respect and affection, but she demurred. "I have thought some terrible things about my sons. I surely thought something terrible about you." Some days later, an envelope with her expansive writing arrived, containing a check for an amount that truly baffled me. I held on to that check for years, regarding it as a token of her affection and a sign of her great eccentricity. She was the only person in my acquaintance who knew the Yiddish word for squirrel. Some years later, my favorite cousin told me the significance of a nineteen-dollar check, which endeared me all the more to my cousin and caused me to see my aunt in an even more sentimental way.

14. At a yard sale held by a convent of Hindu nuns, I bought for twenty-five cents a Yiddish-English Dictionary, confident that it would reveal to me the forgotten Yiddish word for squirrel.

15. It didn't.


R.L. Bourges said...

shelly: it's "wewerico" in romanian, so something like veverke in yiddish, maybe?

Anonymous said...

Shelley, this is like a short story in itself. You write so beautifully. I wonder if you tell stories just as well. :)

Lori Witzel said...

Re: #2 -- Robertson Davies did that to me. I still feel a little forlorn and lonely about it.

Re: #14 and #15 -- You knew I was going to find something like this, didn't you?

Re: addictions -- I am editing a fresh pic right now, so you won't have to wait until tomorrow.

x said...

I imagine that the Yiddish word for squirrel is quite possibly SVERRILL, as that's how my parents would pronounce it anyway. I have never in my life dreamed on being a psychotherapist, which I am. I spend a lot of time in my dreams just trying to complete high school.

x said...

I meant to write SKVERRILL. My Yiddish spelling is terrible. Especially my fake Yiddish spelling.