“Do you remember me?” he asked. “From the party.”
I forgot what I was doing before the phone rang. I remembered him. “Of course,” I said.
He went on to ask me how my day was going. I talked, walking to my dorm room window, turning, walking to the door, and turning again. Back and around, pulling the phone cord tight as I could. He was so polite to talk to me when I was certain he wanted to talk to my roommate. Guys always wanted to talk to her.
I decided not to make him find the right moment to ask for her. “Look,” I said. “A’s not here.”
A beat of hesitation and he said, “I didn’t call to talk to her.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
He laughed. “Yes, I’m sure. I called to talk to you. Just you.”
I was 18 years old and it took too long to get over that rush.
I was 25 when I met the man who would become my husband. I was 26 when he said he wanted to marry me. I didn’t answer him right away because I was sure he’d snap out of it. Surely he was confused. “Do you think he meant it?” I asked another Peace Corps volunteer. She rolled her eyes. “Yes. He meant it. Can’t you tell?”
“No. Maybe? ” I said. “Well, no.”
Habits die long deaths if they die at all. Writers have habits. They write standing up or sitting down with this particular pen and on this exact paper. They may have ticks and mannerisms. They have themes. If they’re lucky, they have voice and style. Oh, this story is by Flannery O’Connor and this story is by Charles de Lint. Can I tell who the writer is because of the voice or because there is always a criminal or a professor or a member of the undead?
If something recurs in my stories is it a motif or an obsession? Theme or laziness? Voice or a tick? And when I do I know?
6 thoughts on “I mean you.”
Hi – great piece (found you through Shelly’s blog). I’d agree – it’s your ‘bone’, the thing that just won’t go away, that you have to write out and get down.
Funny picture — in a way illustrating the point of the story: What is this thing, anyway? Did I ever see one of these before? Do you think he meant it?
“Voice” seems to be one of those topics to which the (non-)definition of obscenity — “I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it” — seems to apply. I used to think it had to do with a characteristic writing style, e.g. long ropy sentences vs. staccato punchy ones, casual vs. formal diction, and so on. It does have something to do with that, I now believe, but it may also be shorthand for The Whole Package. It’s like when somebody asks you to describe your favorite “look” and you start to list hairdos, wardrobe, so on and so forth. Impossible to pin down.
What’s odd to me is that I’m not sure I can identify voice in writing. But I can see someone’s artistic style right away. I used to know when my students went to the art teacher for “help” because I could see her imprint all over their assignments. Ugh. And I can still tell one ex-student’s graffiti when I see it plastered in unexpected spots in the city.
But then, you have a definite, clear style. Maybe we keep working on those themes (or ticks) until we work through something in our own heads and can lay it to rest.
Pingback: Vengeful Moments and Other Character Flaws « writing in the water
Pingback: It is not polite to whisper. « writing in the water