Monday, March 12, 2012

Conversation Starter


Waiting through one of my children's lessons this week, I had my ear talked off by a not-quite-acquaintance who was also waiting on a child. It was one of those small increments of time I had planned to spend reading, or maybe refining my to-do list, as if arranging my set of not-yet-accomplished tasks in the perfect order would somehow move them closer to done. But this woman started talking, and she asked me a question, and then I asked her a question--help, I'm politing and I can't get up--and pretty soon we were having a whole conversation and then I was getting the evil eye from an impatient pre-teen who really understands the value of time, unlike us older folks. 

Driving home, my first thought was, damn, I wanted to finish reading that story. But then I started thinking about how I'd describe the conversation--the odd (to me) topics she raised, the worries I simply don't share, though maybe I should. And then, eureka! I thought, might she fit (hand in glove) in the new story (or maybe it's a novel?) that's starting to take shape? I've been kneading at the idea like dough, throwing in a new ingredient now and then, letting it rise, punching it down, putting it back in the fridge to ferment (it's a sourdough, obviously). Maybe her worries--foreign to me, a little bizarre--are just the dough conditioner I need. Or maybe more like sprinkles, to keep the baking analogy but change the hoped-for dish. A little sugar confetti of newly understood anxiety, a mace and nutmeg dusting of aspiration.

The buses are full of people with problems, worries about money, about work, about whether and when they'll be able to retire, if their kids will get jobs, if they'll get a job, will it rain before they get home, this one day when the umbrella lies abandoned at the foot of the stairs. Most of the other drivers at the traffic light are fretting about something; if they're not bopping along to whatever's pounding out of the car stereo or hollering into their phone mics, they have the look of people who might be running late, might have left the stove on, might not have heard all the directions to the interview, might have misunderstood a crucial bit of grandpa's dying wish.

But my head is full to bursting with my own worries. Just my worries, the ones ragged and familiar as old flannel--and just as muffling, when it comes to sound from the outside. So that sometimes, in the interests of empathy but also of fiction, it is a real gift to be dragged into someone else's forest. Even if the trees of my own preoccupations loom almost immediately out of the fog to remind me that the to-do list is still a jumble and the plot starter is still mostly water and yeast.

6 comments:

  1. You have such a great way of putting into words I would never have thought of using experiences I instantly recognize, but don't always recognize.

    And now, of course, I'm dying to know what this woman's worries are, and why they seemed so strange to you. There could be an entire story right there.

    I hope your ingredients come together. That is a worry I share with you. And a situation I recognize way too well.

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    1. I don't want to expose my eavesdropping self (can you eavesdrop on your own conversation?) or unwitting interlocutor --let alone my nascent inspiration-- to the bright light of day. But the fact that other people are busily fretting about entire categories you haven't bothered to think about, or the realization (again!) that experience is more layered and complex than you thought-- yes, there's another story there, too.

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  2. Am totally mystified about what those worries that seemed to you so foreign, odd, bizarre, may have been. Have you started on the outline of your story yet? Am totally intrigued! Very nice post!

    Now, on another topic entirely: Regarding the Spanish question in your blog title: as a native Spanish speaker, born, bred and breathing in Montevideo, Uruguay, let me point out that in Spanish, questions take an initial question mark, otherwise it's a punctuation error (I am, to boot, a University-trained, certified translator of English by profession). What's more, as is, it doesn't sound quite idiomatic. Down here, if it has to be phrased as a question, we would rather say "¿Aquí enseñan (whatever it is that you are inquiring after)?", or, if you don't know what is being taught and want to find out: "¿Qué enseñan aquí?" We would not use the "pasiva con se" construction in this context. Just a schoolmarmish hint, to be thrown into the dustbin after reading.... Not a criticism at all!

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    2. Thanks, Niki-K. Still thinking about just how and where this new worried character might fit.

      As to your entirely accurate points about punctuation and the verb "enseñar" (I am, by day, a Spanish professor), those were addressed in my very first blog post (Sept. 2010 ) in which I discuss the Ecuadorian question, ¿se enseña aquí? which asks if the listener has grown accustomed to, or likes, or is used to a place. Not, I know, a usage universal in the Spanish-speaking world, and a question that perplexed me for quite a while.

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    3. And the link to that first post: http://gladharttranslation.blogspot.com/2010/09/i-do-know-my-title-should-have-another.html

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