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Walk With Me…

June 8, 2009

1.

When I was small, I thought it would be neat if you could snap your fingers and say, “Oh yeah, well this is how it looks in my head,” and instantly share how the world appeared in your eyes. A little frame would hover in the air, and other people could watch it, like a precursor to reality TV.

Someone had told me that no two people see things the same, like no snowflake has a twin, like no two thoughts could ever be exactly the same. I didn’t get the difference between sight and worldview, and assumed they were talking about a physiological process, that the same light and air and everything touched each person’s eyeballs but formed a unique picture in each individual head. I might think pink looked, well, pink, but another person’s pink might be my blue.

2.

Last week, I received an email from a friend who teaches first-year classes at a Toronto university. He described his morning commute, his long day, the lecture he accidentally delivered while flying low. The students had loads of questions at the end of each session, and to avoid missing the evening train, he gathered his lecture materials, tucked them into his satchel, and encouraged the students, “walk with me.”

I imagined a scene from Indiana Jones, the intrepid and much-desired professor molested by young ladies after class. He’d try to escape their clutches, ultimately making a break for it through an open window or ducking into a broom closet until they gave up and abandoned the corridor for study hall.

I thought this sounded dashing and fantastic; my friend was mortified that I would characterize him that way. “No, no, no,” he protested, “it’s much more modest, not at all debonair! Walk with me rises at the end, like a question, never a command. Harrison Ford, oh my gosh…” trailing off into bashful silence. Meanwhile, I privately gave him a broad swagger.

3.

I am struggling to complete an essay about food culture. The piece is in its third incarnation, each radically different from the others. My pitch, which was enthusiastically accepted for inclusion in a forthcoming anthology, was a series of interconnected anecdotes describing friends’ engagement with cooking and personal history. “Love it,” the publisher declared, “but can you take out all the personal stories, and make it more hands-on, more how-to?” I agreed, and reworked it to focus more on the cooking, less on the names and locations.

“Ok, better, but still too personal,” came the next round of editorial feedback. It reminded me of the scene in Lost in Translation where Bill Murray is coaxed to turn and look into the camera, and speak slower, with intensity. Like being told, Yes, that’s great, but can you make it totally different?

Fair enough. The editors have a picture in mind, a cohesive collection toward which they are working, while I know only the slice I am wedging into the whole. And so, more revisions. The other day, I finally conjured a picture of what I’m writing. Like snapping my fingers and mapping my image over top of the editor’s dream. It’s far from complete, but getting there…I think.

Of course, it’s possible my blue is their pink.

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