Friday, March 18, 2011
Magical Thinking, Reinvention, Shopping and Writing
Here's how I know I'm a writer.
I'm a world-class clothing shopper. Some might call it an addiction, but that's such a nasty word. I don't buy everything. I don't have a compelling urge to buy flatware, or furniture, or cars. But I adore clothes. I love the possibilities of clothing. I've been thinking about this a lot this week as I did my spring cleaning. I was delighted to only have single-digit bags to give away, rather than the 40 plus bags of two summers ago. Whew! Addiction, um, enjoyable fun activity, in reasonable check.
I'm giving away a lot of really great things. Items I loved, most of them still fit (whew, again - weight has not fluctuated 40 pounds in two years). There's nothing wrong with most of them. I don't wear out my clothes because I simply don't wear them enough to do it. But about every five days, there's a pull to a clothing store that goes off inside. Perhaps this is located where my non-existent biological clock is supposed to be. (Whew, again - much rather have the clothing-shopping clock than the biological clock). If I had kids, I'd have to buy them clothes, which would substantially cut into the amount of clothing I could buy for, um, me, and frankly, I like to think I'm subsidizing the Goodwill shoppers of the world with some pretty fabulous, good quality clothing once a year. (Here's where the fabulous magical thinking part starts to occur.)
I don't think of clothing as a need. I think of clothing as art. So to that end, I'm continually creating and re-creating the canvas. Some people apparently only need five shirts and five pairs of pants. I simply do not understand how that is possible. Kind of like calculus.
But here's how the writing figures in ...
I find myself in a store. Oh, the sparkle! Oh, the mannequins with their fabulously accessorized outfits and really extraordinarily toned arms! Oh, the shoes! And here's where I fall into magic .... I could have the life of the woman who can wear that dress. I could have the feet that could run in those pointy stilettos. I could have the waist that could wear that bracelet as a belt. I could be in Central Park with that silk scarf and that fuschia bag. Oh yes, oh yes, I can.
So then (and here's the important step) I take the dress off the rack. My size is not there. My size is never there on THOSE dresses -- the ones that you see on the skinny mannequins and the Styles section of the New York Times. But, I've fallen so deeply into the wonder of magical thinking that I believe that I may perhaps suddenly have become a size 8 (the largest size, of course, on the rack of THOSE dresses). This is America. Anything is possible. I hold it next to me and some sort of bizarre quantum occurrence happens when I see myself in a mirror holding the dress next to me and I believe that the body I see in the mirror will fit into that dress with room to spare. It's miraculous. Maybe I should take the size 6 too.
Into the dressing room I go, and I've often wondered if there are still security cameras in dressing rooms because the show must be hilarious all day long. I step into the dress. It's not going to go above my knees. I can tell just by stepping in it. Of course, I knew that before I pulled it off the rack -- the only size 8s I have are feet -- but you know, it's America and anything is possible.
I could be the woman who wears this dress if I ...
- eat only broccoli and quinoa for the next three weeks
- run to work
- grade papers while running on the treadmill
- run to work with the kettlebell (go up the stairs twice)
- replace my DNA with Natalie Portman's
Excellent. Sold. The most logical of all these thoughts is the DNA replacement. Surely, that's covered under the health insurance plan.
Then it goes home. It's beautiful. I am on my way to Central Park. I am on my way to the National Book Awards. It goes in the closet. The dream is so complete, so full of possibility.
And then the next day, sigh, I remember my beautiful dream, my walk in the park with a parasol, perhaps, and an accessory cat, and I look in the mirror where at least my feet are still a size 8, and I gather the receipt and the dress and the imaginary accessory cat, and go back to the store.
But for a day, I believed it was possible. And that is the place you must get to in your fiction. You must believe 100% in the impossible. In magic. In this world you are creating and these people you are listening to. You must believe it. You can't think it's a joke. You can't think you're kidding yourself. Total immersion. Gotta go there.
But then, you've also got to be able to look at that draft and be realistic about it. What is actually working? What will never work? What was what you wanted to work, rather than what the story wanted? (Ah, the biggie!) In other words, the next day, you've got to be woman enough to take things back to the store, but still, the next time you sit down to write, immerse yourself once again in magic.