Old Moon

Monday, April 30, 2012

Not a Reporter...

For some reason I can't enjoy interviewing new residents. I love meeting new people, learning about them, mulling over impressions. I dislike trying to ask the right questions to construct the kind of shallow profile required by our newsletter. It should be a simple matter to ask someone where they come from, what brought them here, what they've done in their working lives, number of children and grandchildren, etc.

I recently had a challenge when I was asked to speak to a couple who have recently moved in. Both are known to everyone local because he is a judge, connected to the most well-known names in the state, and because he grew up in this town. His career is distinguished and varied. I thought this would be a snap.

Over several years I've discovered that for me to write something of interest, my best bet is to get the subject into a mood to chat--freely. I'm not a reporter. I don't have the temperament of a prober, of a seeker after "the facts."

The couple I spoke with are in their nineties--she in assisted living, he in an apartment. He spends nearly all his time with her in her room. Entering this tiny domain, walls decorated with pictures of their children and other relatives from both sides of their respective families, reminded me of days with my maternal grandmother. She was a committed Anglophile, southern, and devoted to tea not just as a beverage, but as a kind of symbol of civilization. The obvious missing element in the room was the tea tray.

I tried the usual approach with no success. Both wanted to talk about how the two had met (during WWII in England, where the husband was convalescing from wounds). The common rumor has always had it that she nursed him. In fact, she did not. She happened to be working in a hospital near the Army hospital. They met through Red Cross-sponsored social activities for the recovering soldiers. As time passed, I couldn't divert them from discussing the war, their experiences over the five years between their engagement and their marriage. They discussed his wounding and convalescence. He discussed his treatment as a wounded prisoner of war. She gently prodded him to include details he was omitting.

They talked about themselves--in relation to each other--in their youth. They had no interest in being quizzed about his career as an attorney and later as a judge. She was proud of having worked in orthopedic surgery when she came to North Carolina as his wife. They said relatively little about their five children.

When I told a friend about my afternoon, he immediately wanted to know the details of the gentleman's working life. When I admitted I knew only what was public knowledge, my friend was incensed. "A man's life is his work!" I tried to describe the joint efforts the couple had made to tell the story they wanted to tell. He was scornful, even rude about my lack of initiative as a reporter.

His reaction got me questioning what I should do if faced again (this was not the first time) with the reluctance of strangers to talk about what I understood was expected for the newsletter. I don't think I feel too bad about it because where I live, fellow residents--like myself--are mostly finished with the mechanics of earning a living, have numbers of grandchildren and great grandchildren, and enjoy their memories. In this case, the couple are so intimately synchronized that they effortlessly fill in blanks for each other. I felt, though welcomed most warmly, like an intruder. The strongest impression when visiting them is their total interest in each other. I came away filled with admiration for such a marriage (of 62 years).  I hope readers of my interview will see that. Surely it's as important as all that's already well-known about the husband's career?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rush to the Finish?

Are you a last minute, work better under pressure person, or do you need thinking time, downtime, dream time, to come up with something written? In my college days I used to look on in wonder as my roommates would scramble to complete papers the day before they were due, and be pulling the last sheet from the typewriter just as they were leaving for class. I'd have been paralyzed by such behavior.

Right now I'm trying to work out the plot for a novel of a kind I've never tried before. Never mind the problems I'm having with that. I'm just wondering how other writers deal with such things. I've read enough books about how to write and create so I ought to be able just do it all with scarcely a thought by now. I'd like to find out where others do their right-brainstorming.

The shower has been one of my best, along with weeding. I used to get pretty far when I was pushing a vacuum cleaner, but nowadays I don't automatically have that tool to hand. My house is cleaned for me unless I can't stand any more cat hair or the petals have fallen from a neglected floral arrangement.

The worst time for me is after I've turned out the light at night. That's when the head goes into fourth gear. That's when I wish I could just put everything on hold and cut through to the finish the way my roommates used to manage in those days when I would slog along for weeks so I'd have the assignment ready several days ahead without the adrenaline. Maybe that's what I need to practice now, but somehow I feel I'm not up to learning a new habit.

Time Wasted?

This is by way of being a confession of basic weakness. I dislike those who talk one way and behave another. I haven't said as much, but I deplore the amount of (wasted?) time spent at my computer when I'm not producing.

The trouble is the number of people I sincerely call friends whom I've never met except on the Internet. They're my justification for spending so much time reading and writing things like this blog.

I've wondered about those legions of writers from before the time of rapid communications we're accustomed to today, whose letters we wouldn't be able to read if they'd been able to correspond almost instantly.

Yet I wouldn't give up the friends I've made with people whose interests intersect so comfortably with my own, on whom I depend, and whom I've never met.

That's how I justify these hours spent finding out what's on their minds and presuming to share what's on mine. I know that if I don't show up every so often with a post, they might not be there for me. I know I need to be there for them!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Trying to Avoid Hubris

Waiting for the turkey
I wonder if other grandparents are as amazed and delighted as I am in the past couple of years by a couple of my grandchildren. Both are juniors in college. Both have driven me long distances. I've always found confinement to a car for hours on end can be a good incubator for sprouting verbalized reflections. One of these is male, the other female. I've felt distinct embarrassment while listening to them because I can't avoid making mental comparisons to myself (as I remember me) at their age, and it's not a happy recollection.

These young people seem to have built-in radar that enables them not only to see into the problems, hangups, and ambitions of their contemporaries, they seem able to imagine approaches to problems to alleviate them. Their ability to empathize is astonishing to me, who normally see only what shows at holiday reunions overshadowed by food and drink and joviality. They talked without embarrassment of emotions and worries we were in the habit of hiding with the greatest possible care. Now I can't remember if this was deliberately taught, or if we just absorbed the culture to which we were exposed. Over and over again, I think,  If only I'd been as wise as they are already, even when I was twice their age!

This phenomenon doubtless has a good deal to do with the character of the respective institutions in which they're students. That's what my grandson claims, but I think it's more than that. My temptation is to hope that some of it they learned from their parents, who were our children. We've always been proud of them, but could it possibly be that our example helped to make them, and hence their children, so seemingly precocious?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Above It All?

I just read a quote from a celebrity I'll leave nameless (except to those who happened to read the same thing) that set off a new train of thought--or more precisely, set my thoughts on a completely different track. As I said in a recent essay on Senior Women Web, one of the reasons I write is to figure out what I think. When I read "...an alienated world view..." some chord was struck. I saw I should see if I know how I feel about that.

Those three words seem so capable of multiple definitions, they might apply to as many personalities and purposes as there are ways of interpreting them. Is the speaker feeling apart from all other human beings? Apart only from the majority of them? In a world she's incapable of understanding? In a world she's incapable of sympathizing with? Is she feeling like a stranger among her fellows, or on this planet, or in our limitless universe? She claims it's a good place for her to be. I can think of a number of reasons for feeling that way.

There might be an argument in favor of some kind of alienation for a writer of scientific enquiry or of history, but hope not. There might be a shallow case to be made for the writer of sci fi or fantasy or horror. Is some plane above or below or beside ordinary human experience useful? I even wonder if it would be a good approach from the business standpoint. Would it help sell articles and/or books?

Should a poet or a novelist or short fiction writer, or an essayist or journalist be thus separated from life? It may not be admirable to be hysterical, empathetic, involved at all times in every situation, but somehow it seems to this would-be writer that those times (except for the hysterics) should be darned few and far between for the sake of the readers!