Thursday, November 11, 2010

That Sounded Better in My Head

For a certain type of person, our first thought is rarely our best thought.  Not every writer is Truman Capote or Oscar Wilde, quick with a quip or comeback, irreverent yet touching toast at the ready.  The less quick-witted writers among us put perfect reposts to put into our character's mouths, but in real life we're lacking the spark.

          Them: Honestly, you looked a little nervous during that reading.
          Me: So's your mom.
          Them: Huh?

          Them: I really didn't care for the last book you recommended me.
          Me: That's what she said.
          Them: Is that a joke?
          Me: No, it wasn't.  Because that wouldn't be funny at all.  I was just... 
                 emphasizing that you said it.

So now you know my secret; if it can't be filled with "so's your mother" or "that's what she said," I've got nothing.  Ironically, I've used two examples of things no one's ever told me in real life.  But they're the only scenarios I could envision on short notice.  

The speed of Becky's mind is one of the things I love about her, like when Hilldawg held up her arm and said, "Do you know how I got this bruise?" and Becky came back with her boyfriend's name without missing a beat.  It's a kind of conversational magic, one I seldom have.

In fact, I've felt quick-witted once in my life.  It was 1995.  The Disney movie Pocahontas (subtitle: Let's Destroy Truth and Fun*) had just been released.  A group of us sat around discussing the lyrics to Colors of the Wind, and my friend Kerry turned to me.

"What does 'have you ever heard the wolf cry at the blue corn moon' even mean?  Come on, you're Native American."

"I don't know," I said.  "What does 'when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that's amore" mean?  You're Italian, don't you know?"

Maybe you had to be there.

I also felt very writerly once.  Not in the sense of crafting a piece, or reading in front of folks, but in that Capote-at-a-party way.  A group of friends were enjoying a Thanksgiving potluck dinner at an apartment on Miami Beach.   We went around the table telling what we were thankful for in the past year.  

I'd visited upstate New York over the summer and swum in Lake Ontario.  After ten years of Miami's ocean the cold was overwhelming, but the fact that I had to kick four times as hard as I was used to just to stay afloat helped me keep warm.  Come to find out, the salt in saltwater makes it much easier to stay afloat.  I knew there was a metaphor in there about life, and friendship.  I kept in the back of my mind, intending to write it down at some point.

When I opened my mouth to give thanks, that's what came out.  Since I was making it up as I spoke, the story came across as extemporaneous and sincere.  I ended by saying I was thankful for my friends, the salt that makes it easier to swim the waters of life.  Since it was a speech it lasted as long as it took to hear it, leaving an impression of love and warmth instead of mere words which could be studied to death.

Writing is what gets me out of bed in the morning, but there something to be said for the ephemery of speech. 

* All Disney animals talk. Except in Pocohontas.


  1. Very nice post AJ.

    Like the new look.

    If these are your bookshelves, I would have tidied them before taking the shot...


    Originality is something that often escapes me too. In retrospect I'm always devastatingly witty, although I do now have a small stock of one liners that I can trot out where appropriate without too much thought. It's not being spontaneous but it is nice sometimes to ask an annoying {smaller than me} person " Are you being deliberately rude - or are you just stupid?"

    Unfortunately it's a line that I stole from a movie long ago........

  2. Thanks, I'm still working on it. The shelves are at Shakespeare and Company, at 37 Rue Bûcherie in Paris. I raided Becky's pictures for the shot because. . . I've never been out of the country.

    Don't tell anyone; I'm trying to come across as sophisticated.

    And I'm taking that line.