1. 97% of my aesthetic as a writer comes from children’s books.
Observe, if you will, this scene from a favorite circa 1987: Gus Was a Friendly Ghost.
I’ve spent most of my artistic life trying to capture the darkly funny, mysterious summer nostalgia of this book, in which Gus (a friendly ghost) carries out his gentle, ghostly duties to the delight of the family who summers in his house; and glides around, all alone, throughout the winter months — lonely and introspective in his isolation. Questions of mortality and one’s place in the world are hinted at. A rude mouse is involved. It’s very deep.
Against a backdrop of muted purple tones (which make it seem as if the characters exist in a perpetually hazy, mid-summer twilight), Jane Thayer manages to do perfectly what I spend hours and hours trying to emulate [and here’s the actual epiphany]: she captures the darkness of life in a funny, sweet way — hinting at savagery without heavy-handed obviousness resorted to by so many amateur writers (of which I am the queen). It doesn’t have to be all cancer and car wrecks. True poignancy often lies beneath the mundane: a missed connection, a failed attempt, a ghost alone in a big summer house.
Of course, I dunno, in 1987 I also considered Trout Fishing in America the height of all things sophisticated, so you can’t necessarily trust my early opinions.
2. You can only get about 65% close to someone.
I’m a serial monogamist, emphasis on the serial. It’s fairly depressing. I talk to an old friend on the phone and she asks if I’m still with the guy I was with two months ago, and when I say I am, she acts WAY too happy about it. It’s become almost a joke amongst my family and close friends: “Oh, you’ve made it two weeks? Maybe I’ll learn this one’s last name. Ha, ha.” My inability to stay with one person doesn’t stem from any fear of commitment — in fact, I’ve been sick of the dating scene for the last five years and envied my friends who’ve managed to find someone they can settle down with. The problem is that I have a hard time finding people I really relate to on any sort of deep level. Even if I love the person — and I’ve loved a couple of them — I’m occasionally seized by the fear that I’m not 100% myself around them, that they don’t really “get” me, and vice versa.
And then I had this epiphany: Maybe you don’t have to “get” someone completely to be with them. Maybe being understood would be boring, or annoying, like dating your own reflection in the mirror (although, having spent a lot of time by myself and amply practiced kissing the mirror as a sex-crazed and involuntarily celibate adolescent, I can say with authority that this is preferable to some types of men). Maybe not relating is normal. Can anyone say they’ve been in a relationship where they felt truly not like an alien?
Studies* show that you can only expect to “get” someone 65%. The other 35% is mystery. Weird thoughts that you keep to yourself because he wouldn’t understand, memories of childhood that no one will ever feel as nostalgic about as you do, spiritual beliefs that even Sylvia Browne would find totally weirdo. It’s okay to be the only person in the world who feels a certain way about a certain thing.
Well, you know what? I only have time for two epiphanies today. I know I shouldn’t make a numbered list if there are only going to be two things, but I’m feeling like I want to rebel against standard list-making procedure. There are more high quality epiphanies to be shared, but I have to go eat canned ravioli and catch the bus for work.
[Why do I suddenly feel like I want to sign off? Is this going to become one of those blogs where I always sign off, as if I’m writing a letter to the people of the world? I’d hate to be one of those blogs!]