I've thought recently about people who write books with characters. How they can live in the lives of all those people, start to finish, until done with them. Or actors, moving from character to character, not letting go of the persona until “it’s a wrap,” or however a film ends.
This isn't like walking a mile in someone’s shoes. I can do that, mentally. I've lost loved ones, some so young. I know gut wrenching, mindless wailing grief. I've stood at the finish line, cheering a marathon runner on to the end. I've listened to old folks relive their lives. Slipping into a character isn't walking a mile in their shoes. A mile or so and I can leave.
I cannot imagine a soldier. I've never been terrified. I cannot imagine myself a refugee; I've never been hungry enough, or seen my children in want of life’s necessities. I cannot imagine living in a patriarchal society. I cannot imagine accomplishing heroic feats of strength or daring. I cannot even imagine myself accomplishing a feat.
I cannot imagine having a screaming fit, or throwing things. I cannot imagine assembling or preparing a gourmet meal; setting a table for eighteen; having a dining room big enough. I can imagine cleaning up afterwards.
I am too literal. I am more corner German greengrocer than shape shifter. I cannot imagine how a writer moves through a piece of fiction, hanging all the facts in their precise places, characters saying the right things, arriving in the proper place, at their time.
When I was very young I wrote stories in my head. Once I had such a complex bit of conversation forging on in my head I began reciting it out loud, to keep everything straight. “Who the hell are you talking to,” my cousin asked me, from up in his apple tree. That was so daring, to hear my three year older cousin swear, I made up a story about that, too. In my head, of course.
I am so literal, my stories all are about me, and the characters in my life. I can write about them, but only as I see them. My world of flat Stanley’s. Take my cousin Bob, there in the apple tree. I loved his mother, my Aunt Laura, but never understood Bob. I once met a man who knew Bob for years. He mused a moment and said “Strange couple, Bob and his wife.” I nodded. “Live like the lilies of the field,” he added.
Lilies of the field, a lovely image. Living that close to the moment, not. So, Bob hasn't been in my stories. Because when all is said, I’m of the corner German greengrocer stock; he got all the Irish dreams to live on. I cannot imagine that.
1943, the greengrocer's son and me
My Grandfather Rolf