Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How To Fall In Love

Having decided that writing is the thing al que voy a dedicarme, to which I will dedicate myself, and having discharged all the other obligations that conveniently kept me from applying butt to chair (during a week of torrential rains that in any case kept the seat of that chair unusably wet), yesterday I opened the folder marked “Restoration” and got back to work on my novel, which is whole but unfinished, the final third flat and unmoving, even though the ending is written and immutable.

They fall in love. They will be together, and thus his life will change.

The novel is epistolary in structure--just letters. Yet every time I reread the first half of the book I fall in love with these two people, and see how good they would be for each other. Surely each must also feel as I do.

But with a physical gap the size of the Nebraska plains between them, and temperaments as divergent as the tropics and the tundra, how will I get them to see that they complement, they complete each other? Or, more importantly, as  they come to see it, how will I show that to the reader?

How does a correspondence change as feelings deepen and change? The first half of the book is discovery. She tells him something of her life, he relates something similar in his. In the excitement of recognition and the chance to be heard, there's little comment on each other’s information. But, of course, the unwritten message is “Yes! I hear you. And here’s how it happened to me.” Because at first it is about “me”: I’ve found someone interesting to talk to, I've found someone with interesting things to say to me, someone who listens to me. The thoughts, the feelings, only gradually become about the other person.

So, in completing my novel-in-letters, I need to show love developing—but without that physical pull that signals early possibilities, without those tiny touches and not-quite-accidental pressures by which we ask and answer those early questions (might she? could I? is this?) 

And so I must think about this: How do you change when you fall in love? What are the observable clues?

Should I look within myself? How do I change when I am “in love”? How different is a 40-year-old in love from a 20-year-old? How different, really, is a 66-year-old? To the outside view, probably a world of difference. Inside? I suspect it’s all much the same.

But what is romantic love? What causes love to happen? Why is one person “loved” and admired but fated to be a best friend while another will become a lover?

And how the heck does this happen by letter (or, more recently, by e-mail)?

Because it does happen, and I can prove it.

I am a writer, a lover of words. I have loved men for their words, and have made them love me for mine.  In 1995 I began corresponding with a fellow member of an e-mail discussion group about Brazilian music, sharing random thoughts and feelings and indulging in the occasional electronic wink  ;-)  One day he suggested to another member who was writing a music review that the word he sought might be “ineffable,” a lovely word I would not have thought of. 

That night I called my closest friend and announced that I was in love . . . with a man I had never actually met.

And Reader, I married him.

So if I want to understand how to move my two characters toward their ordained resolution, perhaps it’s time to unseal that big box of e-mail printouts from 1996 and re-read all that groping toward understanding, the missteps and the emoticons, the slowly dawning inevitability.

And although that story did not have much of a happy ending (as most stories won’t, if you follow them long enough), it may help me see how these two folks I’ve come to care about so much over so many years of writing can find each other and find what they need in each other.

Maybe they can even help me understand what exactly is the meaning of this word “love” that I sometimes think I use without the precision I demand from the rest of my words.

Or perhaps love is the one word, the one concept that truly is “ineffable.”

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