Name Ramble

27 April 2001

You know, I don't think this is my most interesting entry. I really hope not. I needed to ramble on for awhile and not think about finishing anything or selling anything or paying for anything or grown-up anything. So the summary is: my cousin and I are from different worlds, I'm still nervous about the book, and AT&T @ Home seems to have a problem with their network, because our internet connectivity is spotty at best. So if I owe you e-mail, or if you've sent me an urgent e-mail, realize that that's why I haven't answered. And if you feel like stopping here, go ahead.

On my "to do" list for the day is answering a letter to my mom's cousin Darcy. Darce and I are the same age, within a couple of months. (Her birthday was last week, actually.) My family visited Sioux Falls once ever four to six weeks when I was a kid, so Darcy and I were thrown together a lot. We have a lot of history together. She took a trip out to Southern California with my grandparents and me, the summer I turned thirteen. I'd already been to forty-some of the states. Darce had never been so far from South Dakota. We played hundreds of games of Yahtzee in the car.

So in a way, I'd say we're close cousins, good cousins. She has sisters and brothers, nieces and nephews. I have the motley assortment of people I consider my real family. There are other people closer to both of us. But we're cool, we write letters and make each other smile with something that isn't a bill in the mailbox. When her older brother died in a horrible accident, we wrote long letters about memories of him, so that she knew she had someone she could talk to, someone who cared and knew him but wasn't as close to the situation. And she's been interested and supportive about my books and short stories, too.

But in her last letter, she asked me how come I was publishing as Marissa Lingen rather than as Marissa Gritter. And the different worlds we come from just popped into sharp relief.

The question for me was never whether I would publish as Marissa Lingen. The question was whether I'd take Gritter for a last name at all. I'm not sorry I did, but I don't think of myself as Marissa Gritter. I don't think of myself as Marissa Lingen, either. I just think of myself as M'ris or M'rissa. (I still don't know where the first "a" went.) But all of my girl friends have thought seriously about what they're doing with their name when they get married. Not so for Darce. You're a girl, you get married, your name is your husband's name. Simple as that.

When we were little, Darcy and I would play MASH. Not the TV show. The game where you determine your future by listing four options in each of several categories: future husband, future type of home (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, or House), future career, future car, etc., and then count off and eliminate every Nth option until you have a winner in each category. N is determined by various pseudo-random methods. Anyway, I always had stuff like "physicist" and "marine biologist" for my career choices, and I could rattle them off in five seconds flat. (I never put down "writer." Writing was too serious to be subjected to the whims of a fortune-telling game.) Darcy always had to think about it awhile, and she came up with things like "work at K-Mart" and "bank teller." Stuff I never dreamed people wanted to be. But my choices were just as incomprehensible to Darcy. No one in her world wanted to be an astronaut. No one in my world wrote "Mrs." with the name of their current crush on their school notebooks. (Except Mandy, and we mocked her mercilessly for it.) I was disturbed by the differences in our lives every time we played MASH. We were cousins. We were family. We were not even living in the same universe. But there's only so many times you can play Yahtzee or Dots-and-Boxes or Crazy Eights, and Darce would never play imagination games with me, not even Political Refugees Fleeing An Oppressive Government. (Definitely the best one.)

When she and her friends thought about the future, it meant thinking about marriage. When my friends did, it meant careers. The closest we ever came was Mandy's and my book collaboration project.

It was the summer after our eighth grade year, and we were sure the future was upon us in the form of (dramatic theme music) high school. Mandy and I would go over to each other's houses, or to the pool, or to Kristy's. Mandy would bring her copy of Seventeen, and I'd bring my writing notebook. One day at the pool, Mandy said, "Why don't you write something I like?" I said, "Oh, like what? The future life of Miss Amanda Fritz?" And she said, "Yeah!" So we spent big parts of that summer writing about the reunion our group of junior high girlfriends was going to have.

I was, of course, going to be a physicist. In the book, I was going to be on sabbatical to write a science fiction novel. Mandy was going to live in New York and be a buyer for Bloomingdale's. (I don't think Mandy had ever been to Bloomingdale's at that point. It was just very un-Midwestern and thus glamorous.) And then Kristy got in on the whole thing. Kristy wanted it to be a romance novel. I was supposed to be the romance expert, since I was the only one who had actually kissed a boy at that point. Plus, I had access to my cousin Kari, who was Older and even had a boyfriend. Sometimes Kristy would dictate dialog to me. Mandy proclaimed it sweet. Then I would read back what I had done to it. Mandy proclaimed it hilarious.

Mandy tried to take everyone's side for years and years.

I got bored. I gave people Mafia and Yakuza connections. And every time Kristy annoyed me (reliably once a chapter), I had a tragic accident almost kill her husband.

Kristy and I aren't really friends any more. I'm not sure why that happened....

Anyway, I never spent a lot of time thinking about marriage when I was a kid. It was just an assumption, a big part of a whole, but still a part. And now I'm not sure how to explain that to Darce. I'm not sure how to connect with her at all, actually, when the name choice is pretty much purely gut-level instinct, and her instincts are so counter to mine.

When I started trying to justify it, I said things like, "The Lingens have had more influence on who I am as a writer than the Gritters have." Which is, I suppose, true, because I was writing for at least twelve years before I knew there were any Gritters. But there aren't that many Lingens in my life. Mother and Dad, sure...and my aunt Mary, my aunt Jeannie, my great-grandmother...I think that's it. Uncle Pete hasn't been around much, and I don't have grandparents on that side who are named Lingen. My grandparents on that side are my aunt Ellen and my uncle Phil, and their last name is Clark. In fact, we don't have a lot of names in common around my close family, because it's extremely matrilineal. My grandparents are called Adams, but we don't have much contact with anyone else named that, now that Gran is gone -- mostly on that side, we deal with Grandpa's sisters, who are all married, some of them more than once. Sometimes it makes me wish for two names, one matrilineal and one patrilineal. That wouldn't help most of it, though. Sometimes I wish for a simple personal indicator, like Marissa Författarinna, Marissa-the-Woman-Who-Writes. (Which would leave Timprov Redaktör if he didn't want to be Författare, and poor Mark would be Mark Dator Vetenskapsman if things translate literally, which they often don't, but I still think he might be better off with Gritter. And anyway they didn't have sensible Viking ancestors who kept that type of name for a long time.) And sometimes I think, like Mark at one of our first parties together, that we should all change our names to...oh, never mind, I won't embarrass him like that publicly unless he comes home and says that I can. (In private correspondence, however....)

In other news. Yesterday I bought The Thief of Time (the new Terry Pratchett, for review) and Guide to Literary Agents. I figure the latter will be useful pretty soon no matter what happens. Timprov spent a quarter of an hour last night spinning scenarios for me in which the editors could reasonably not be rejecting me at this point. So I'm concentrating on those...and scowling thoughtfully at the agent listings...and alternating between grooving with Jakob Dylan and with Tori Amos, with a thought to some Ian Anderson solo stuff when this CD is over. Have a good day. We're going to help Amber move tonight. Poor dear. She's on move number twenty-two at age twenty-six. That seems like a lot. I'm only on number seven if you don't count any college stuff. And I still hate moving. But I don't mind moving other people. So it'll be a fine and Amberful evening.

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