You know what I mean, don’t you? Of course you do.

“You know,” my mom says to me, “how sometimes you can just tell.” She sips her coffee. “That you’re attracted to each other.”

mom in her teens--I think
mom in her teens--I think

I’m 20 and I don’t know what she is talking about. You mean you can tell when a guy you like likes you back? “Oh, sure,” I say and eat a french fry. I think about the one date I had before the summer vacation. He hasn’t called.

“It’s okay,” she says. “I don’t expect you to tell your mother about your love life. We don’t need to know everything about each other.”

“Mom, I don’t have a love life to not tell you about.” That one date had been my only date that entire spring semester. And I had asked him out. Clearly I couldn’t tell anything.

She sets her coffee mug down. “It’s okay for you not to tell me. You’re old enough to have a life of your own and somethings moms really don’t want to know.”

“I’ve had one date in six months,” I tell her. I want to make her believe me, but I’m too distracted by this news that she knows when someone likes her. How do you do that? Will this knowledge descend upon me at, say, 21. Or midnight? As a freshman I’d learned that a fellow can kiss you and two months later marry that girl you thought was his ex. If kissing didn’t mean he liked you, how on earth was eye contact supposed to work?

My mom looks at me the way she did when we went to Wendy’s on prom night. She doesn’t want me to marry. Not before I have a career anyway. But she wants me to be happy. “It’s no big deal,” I say. “I’m not going to date just to date.” Of course, I don’t tell her I’ve kissed guys at parties. I think I can tell how they feel about me, and I don’t expect them to call.

So, I read a lot about how to write, and often I wonder how it is this all seems clear to other writers, but not to me. Like one day I’m going to look at something I’ve written and know it works or it fails. Like the light is going to shine from above on some enchanted evening.

I don’t want to give up hope or admit how hard I try to make the most of what I’ve got–makeup and miniskirts and too much time editing everything. I don’t want to feel that the words go a little too far, but then don’t actually go that far at all–a kiss on the dance floor but a great big no to anything else.

And I’m still startled when a reader calls.

8 thoughts on “You know what I mean, don’t you? Of course you do.

  1. I’m trying, Shelly. But not being used to it seems so intrinsically me, I’d hardly recognize myself.

    And Sophie, if the caller ID tells me its you, I’ll definitely pick up.

  2. Unsurprisingly, a very insightful post. When you tell people you’re a writer, immediately — whether they say so or not — I think they form this composite mental image: the artist-in-the-garret (Emily Dickinson), and the writer-as-celebrity (pick one). Both of those stereotypes depend on the writer’s relationship (or lack of it) to the world and to other people. But I don’t think most writers themselves write for those reasons; their chief motivating relationship is to what’s on the page — and of course to what’s in their own heads. Even when they become so famous that they need personal assistants and publicists to handle all the attention, at some level writers seem genuinely surprised to have found any readers at all — let alone readers passionate enough to seek contact.

  3. faemom

    As for knowing when a guy likes you, I know for me it was always through the eyes of friends. I never knew when a guy liked me. But I thought I was the only one that was so clueless.

    It’s the same way of writing. It’s through some one else’s eyes. But you will fall in love with phrases you wrote, and often you will have to destroy them to make the piece work. As for editing, one of my teachers told the class a story of some great writer in the 19th century (I can’t remember who) who was telling his sister (who he lived with) about the horrible stressful day he had. All morning he aganized over taking out a comma, and all afternoon he agonized over putting it back in. His sister(and keeper of his house) dumped the soup on his head. So edit away. Just don;t make the mistake of telling the woman who takes care of your house how hard it was. 🙂

  4. Thank you Karen.

    JES, I don’t like telling people I write unless I know they write too–one reason I like doing NaNo. Saying it always makes me feel like I’ve stepped out of my proper station in life.

    faemom, nice to meet someone else who felt clueless! And oh if I only had a women to take care of the house I’m not sure I’d complain if she dumped soup on my head. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I was in college when I went on my first date and had my first kiss. It totally freaked me out that some guy would like me. I was expert in the unrequited loves. But over the course of my college career, I started to pay attention to those signals that guys sent out. I remember telling my friends that I thought this guy or that guy liked me, and they said I was crazy, the whole school did not like me. I didn’t have faith in my perception anyway, so their comments just put a nail into the coffin, and I never got the nerve up to actually do anything about any of those crushes.

    In retrospect, I can see that I was probably correct in my intuition about those guys. But it was the faith in myself that I lacked. I think the same happens with writing. You are wracked with insecurities when you are still in the middle of the matter. You can’t see with perspective when you are still wrapped up in the situation. Too close to the poem, you think it sucks. Still seeing from your main character’s eyes, you think you are eyerollingly bad.

    But when you get out. When you put it down and move on to something/one else, live a life learn lessons, use what you have learned already in new tasks, then you can pick it up and see what your work is made of. Ah. This connection is real. This observation is correct. This story is true.

    Sometimes I open up a journal and find a poem I stashed away because it was crap and I have to gasp. “Hey! This is good!” is not an uncommon statement in such a situation.

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