The Left Hand of Morphisms
21 October 2001
Some people think -- subconsciously, I assume -- that if they're really friends with someone, if they know them and love them well, they can ignore them for weeks or months on end and nothing will change. They're wrong.
One of my oldest friends has this talent, only now I know how she does it. I called her yesterday afternoon, and oh, she was pleased to hear from me. But it was like I had been on pause, for the weeks and months she hadn't heard. I had thought, once, that she and I would be golden children together, that we would understand together the pressures that brings, and the joys. That we would be able to call each other, or write, and talk about our lives, really talk. That she would be one of the few who understood.
But it didn't work out like that. She gave up her music because her parents wanted her to, and now I can hear the sadness in her voice every time we talk. And twenty-four is too young to be yearning for the simpler days when we were young. She asked the strangest questions -- what kind of clothes am I wearing these days? What does it matter what kind of clothes I'm wearing these days, and how do I describe them? And all of a sudden I realized that the reason she could feel I was on pause is that all of my life, all of my activities are the same thing to her, and that is "what I could never have." So it's easy to see everything I do as part and parcel of the same, because it's been defined away as Not Her Life.
When we were little girls, my parents' house was the America she had wanted to emigrate to. It was quiet, with a piano and plenty of books, and the people there were kind to her and tried to help her rather than mocking her for her ever-diminishing accent. When my father teased her, it was always gently, and my mother's brownies were the ultimate symbol of American life, my mother's brownies and my miniskirts. But it was an American life she could handle, where she would pull away from more raucous houses with lots of children and parents who yelled casually.
I got her to agree to come for dinner by promising to make my mother's brownies. I do want to keep my old friend as a part of my life. But I don't see how she can really consider me a friend as long as I'm the symbol of what she couldn't have. I see that she does. I don't understand how. It confuses me. And what book I'm writing has attained equal significance with what clothes I'm wearing, because they're all in the vast expanse of Not Her.
Yesterday in Mary Anne's journal, she was talking about a book idea coming out of nowhere and bopping her on the head. Asked if that's how they work. Well, yep. It is. They smack you about and make you dizzy. Then they go away for awhile -- how long depends on the idea. Then they come back and bop you again. If they're like the Not the Moose Book, they sit and play your head like a trap set until you relent and write them. If they're like Accepting Alice, they sit back and poke every six months or so -- "I don't mean to bother you, but when you have a minute, I think there's a scene I need." And so on.
I hear tell that other people decide to write books. "I Want To Write A Book," they say. This confuses me greatly. I don't see what that has to do with anything at all. But then, I actively didn't want to write Fortress. I wanted to keep on with the collab with Timprov but not write my own solo novel for another six months to a year. That was the plan. Yeah. Whatever.
Now Mary Anne is not sure she's old enough to write this book and isn't sure anyone would want to read it and isn't sure it'd be worthwhile and isn't sure she has all the right elements. Well, of course not! Books don't get written because we're prepared and competent! They're like babies that way -- if you hold off having a baby until you're prepared and competent, you will be dead, and still have no baby. On a certain level, prepared and competent get us nowhere. Nobody is prepared and competent to dream and write enough of a world to write a novel. Nobody is prepared and competent to send it out again and again when someone decides to stomp on it. Nobody is prepared and competent enough to do it all over again with the next book idea that starts using their head for bongos, because I swear to you it is no easier the next time. But you do it anyway, because otherwise, you miss the chance. And because prepared and competent are overrated anyway.
Ah well. It's Ursula LeGuin's birthday. I'm going to celebrate by getting well. Really. I mean it this time.
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