Sunday, February 6, 2011

How You Got to You

You had not been asleep more than fifteen or twenty minutes before you were awakened by the sudden, piercing fear of not having brought with you any of the books of John Sanford, catapulting you erect, and into the new kitchen--it will no doubt remain "new" for some months until you get used to the idea that there is a shelving accommodation of some comfortable size for books--where, by the night light from the gas range, you were able to see at least two of his titles.

John was driving a classic old Jaguar XKE well into his nineties.  He phoned you to what he called coffee to celebrate his latest coup.  "How many writers do you know who've gotten a two-book deal at age ninety-two?"  What John called coffee was a muddy broth whose grounds found their way into your interdental spaces.  His "refreshments" were either Sarah Lee pound cake, or some variation with a chocolate frosting. 

 The physical aspects of coffee with John were, to say the least, memorable; the conversational aspects were inspirational.  On this particular occasion, I said, after the invitation, "But I thought you weren't speaking to me."  To which he replied, "Kid, life's too short to hold on to temper.  I'll admit, there were ten or fifteen minutes where I wasn't speaking to you, but now I'm inviting you for coffee."

Before you got onto a not-speaking relationship with John, before you undertook blogging as a form of organizing and invigorating the writing day, you kept a journal which you attempted to pursue as a distinct journal rather than a Dear Diary, today I thought of a story but was too shy to write it down kind of narrative.  

You'd been doing this long enough, since you were about twenty-one, even earlier if you count detailed day books as anything of worth, that you'd switched from first person to writing about yourself in third person.  Your thought was to make it easier to write about yourself, your thoughts, feelings, questions, and events; the he, you reasoned, was almost invisible; it was the goddamn I sticking out from every paragraph like the salami from Harpo Marx's raincoat that led you to switch from I to he.

John, you noticed, went even further, switching from he to the second person, which explains at least one of your debts to John as, indeed, it explains how and why you address yourself in your blog as you.  "Why do you write the volumes of your autobiography in the second person?"  You asked John this question on the occasion of the Sarah Lee cake having the chocolate icing.

"Because,"  he said, "that's the way it comes out."

"That," you said at the time, "is the damnedest, silliest thing I have ever heard."

"What is?  The second person?"

"No.  The fact that it comes out that way."

"Listen, kid, if it comes out that way, you've already made the decision.  Something inside of you that you like regards that as--"


"As fucking scripture.  As the Talmud.  As the Miqra.  The Tanakh."

"I didn't think you went for that stuff."

"I don't, but it's where all the stuff comes from that many people believe.  Here, have more Sarah Lee."

Two days later, you were working away on your daily warm-up and before you knew it, you'd written you instead of he.

Getting back to sleep was an easy comfort; you were able to get yourself there recalling that magnificent old copy of the Meriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the American Language which he'd beaten you to the purchase of from Georgia Young, the head librarian at the Montecito Branch of the library.  And the fact that John Sanford did not use a typewriter, nor in fact did Maggie Roberts, his wife, who wrote the screenplay for the John Wayne version of True Grit.

You were a son of a bitch when you tried to convince John about the virtues of The American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the American Language, and since that discussion came at an earlier time, may have resulted in your not talking for a day or two.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Now you've done it- triggered a craving for Sara Lee pound cake, the sweet comfort food my mother and I reached for all through the '70's. Maybe I'll write about that memory instead of eating my way through it...