stray thoughts, in chronological order

1. on the plane to st. louis on friday i was looking out the window at the houses below, noticing how strange christmas lights look from an aerial perspective, and this thought came out of nowhere: if i’m never going to marry and have kids, i will have no excuse for being unsuccessful. i don’t know where that thought came from, and i’m not sure i even think it’s true, but i haven’t been able to forget about it since.

2. in large groups of people i don’t see often, i usually spend more time with the kids than with the adults. i’m sitting there eating my dinner or drinking my beverage, and then i’m surrounded by young people asking me who are you how old are you how many bracelets are you wearing why is your hair pink how many earrings do you have did that nose ring hurt what are you doing? once i get used to the questions, i find the directness refreshing. the kids view alison 28 23 because i like pink 8 yes eating a sandwich as acceptable responses, and never ask any depressing follow-up questions about how my employers feel about piercings and pink hair. they’re more likely to laugh at my jokes, too.

3. while in st. louis i went to the same bar i visited on thanksgiving. the same band was playing again, and once again people asked me what i was working on. this time it was my father’s writing instead of my own; he’d written a piece on which he wanted my feedback, and at the bar i was making notes on the printout he’d given me. i had a nice conversation with two local girls; they asked where my parents lived (i don’t know the city that well, but i was able to give them some nearby streets), and we talked about st. louis and austin and such. “my boss thinks st. louis is the ass of the nation,” i said, “but i totally disagree. i really like a lot of the places i’ve seen, and i think i’d enjoy living here.”

“we love it here,” one of the girls said.

“yeah,” the other one said. “and at least your parents don’t live in the counties.”

(the counties vs. the cities in st. louis is similar to inner loop vs. outer loop in houston, though i imagine this sort of geographical coolness can be applied to any large city.)

4. as i was reading at a bar by myself on a saturday night, i kept glancing up and seeing people i thought i knew. this was impossible, of course, since the only st. louis resident i know that i’m not related to wasn’t there (and the ones i’m related to were definitely not there). but it kept happening anyway, and i started to think about how there are probably more people in the world than there are unique faces. after all, eyes and a nose and mouth and cheeks and skin, etc., can’t possibly exist in infinite permutations on a human head, can they? if this is true, then at any given time in history there are fewer potential faces than there are people to wear them, which is why we often think we see someone we know. but it’s not someone we know. it’s just a duplicate.

i swear i only had two drinks.

5. i make fun of my mother and her doll collection a lot, but i do love seeing how happy she is when she talks about her dolls with other people. as i said to her this weekend, “i wouldn’t let anyone else make fun of you the way i do.”

(if that isn’t part of the definition of the word family, it should be.)

6. on the way back to the airport, my dad and i discussed his writing. i liked his piece quite a bit more than i thought i would, which had less to do with my expectations about his skill than it did with the myriad undergraduate writing classes i’ve taken in which everyone sucked. when i find a stapled sheaf of 8½x11s in front of me, my experience asks me how much is this going to suck?

(my sister and i are both good writers; i don’t know why i worried for even a second that my father wouldn’t be.)

but it didn’t suck at all — in fact, i thought it was really good. so mostly we talked about nerdy language things like when to put a dash between words that are adjectives modifying a noun (“middle-class homes” vs. “we are middle class,” for example), and the various ways one can approach dialogue modifiers: the simple, hemingway-esque “she said” ones i favor, and the more descriptive “she remarked dryly” ones that i think tend to get in the way of a smooth read. as i said to my dad, if the dialogue itself is written well enough and the characters are well-drawn, the “remarked dryly” is superfluous, because then the reader already knows she’s being dry.

we also talked about the process of writing itself. he mentioned my post in which i’d quoted ken levine who was paraphrasing kurt vonnegut, and i told him about ariel’s response to my post in which i’d quoted ken levine who was paraphrasing kurt vonnegut. “she said that she disagrees, because when she writes and it doesn’t flow, it feels like she’s trying too hard and it will come out sounding forced.”

i don’t think my dad and i talked about this in depth (after all, it’s only a twenty-minute drive to the airport), but i think i understand the flow vs. forced concept. if my understanding is correct, then flow vs. forced exists outside of the “writing isn’t easy” concept. because no matter what your process entails, the thing about writing that isn’t easy is recognizing when it’s working and when it isn’t. i think that what vonnegut’s “every day it just flows” writer lacks is the ability to distinguish quality from quantity. it doesn’t matter if you’re like me and your struggling means you should skip to another paragraph and come back to the problem one later, or if you’re like ariel and your struggling means that you’re trying too hard. what makes either process successful is the ability to know when the writing isn’t working.

i told my dad that sometimes i don’t know how i feel about a particular situation until i sit down to write about it. he said that that was his reason for writing his piece in the first place.