The last trip I took just before the pandemic was to Los Angeles. I didn’t visit for work, like I usually did. Instead I went to see friends, various people I liked who I wanted to get to know better. I was always buzzing through town and meeting people I thought were cool, but I never got to spend any real time with them. But I didn’t want to use my busy-ness as a reason for not building real relationships anymore. I wanted to create new stories in my personal history with these people, ones that involved more than just me seeing them for drinks after I gave a reading. I wanted more from life.
After Los Angeles, I went with my friend C to Palm Springs for a few days — we got there on March 9. We ate and drank and sat by the pool and talked about books and tried to ignore the impending news. C is the most gorgeous human, with a charming laugh and huge eyes and an easy vibe. She is the kind of person who gives me rides to the airport just to spend time with me. We had been friends for such a long time, fifteen years at least. We just tried to enjoy the moment together, even though it felt like things were changing, something was happening.
Then I was in Vegas for two days. Then I went to Flagstaff for a day to do a reading. Then the Tucson Book Festival, where I was headed next, was suddenly canceled and it was March 12 and my publicist scrambled to get me a flight out the next day to New Orleans. And that was one life and now we all have another, one in which, amongst other things, the notion of being busy has been completely redefined.
Last night, I was biking home from a little pool party in the neighborhood where we drank wine and talked about therapy the whole night, and I was feeling happy to have been out and had good conversation because it’s so hot right now and I feel like I spend so much time inside, just thinking and working, not bad things to do, but we all need human interaction every once in a while. From a half block away, I saw two well-dressed women on a street corner and then one of them called my name and it was C! My Los Angeles friend. In town for a family occasion, standing there with her sister, waiting for a car to arrive. We've been naked at Korean baths together and once she threw me the coolest book party, but she’s never met my dog and she’s never seen my house so I invited her and her lovely sister over for a while. Sure, we had time for this. And everyone I love should meet my dog. She fed him a piece of pepperoni before she left.
Later, I replayed the night in my head. I was thinking about how when I glanced at them as I biked up the block, I just saw two women in pretty dresses checking their phones, and I thought they must be lost or looking for the next bar to go to, and then when C said my name it was as if she came into focus very suddenly. I wasn’t looking for her. Why would I have been looking for her? Then her sister wanted to know how we knew each other, how we had met, and I don’t know if we had ever told that story before. It wasn't that good of a story. We had spent so much time afer that moment acquiring new stories. But now we had the best story of all. That time we ran into each other on a street corner in New Orleans and I met her sister and she met my dog.
When I write I always think about how we acquire all these stories in life, how we build personal histories with people. The things we want to remember and also the memories we make — sometimes just so we can push past bad memories out of the picture. I think about the present tense of a relationship but I am always keenly aware of ten years in the past and ten years forward. That things that happened a long time ago are still happening now. Stories live in the body and some acquire heft and others just leave residue, but whatever happened is always there.
When you build your characters how far back do you go? How far in the future do you leap? When you build their relationships are you conscious of acquiring memories or can do you just let your characters live in the moment? When C said, “Can I give him a piece of pepperoni?” I did not think: let us acquire this moment. But after the fact I knew I would never forget it.
The details, the moments, the personal histories, are always tangling, always vibrating, always in conversation. She is always on that street corner now. I am always on my bicycle, riding up in clothes damp from my bathing suit. Palm Springs was the last place we were innocent together in a specific way. Fifteen years ago we met at a cafe through a friend when I was looking for freelance work. Ten years from now we will say do you remember that time we saw each other on a street corner? Do you remember the pepperoni?
Have a gorgeous day.
You are reading Craft Talk, the home of #1000wordsofsummer and also a weekly newsletter about writing from Jami Attenberg. I’m also on twitter and instagram. I try to answer comments as best I can, which are open to paid subscribers. You can subscribe here or give a gift subscription here. (If you are a teacher let me know, and I will give you a free subscription.) Fifty percent of the proceeds will go to various cultural, educational, and social justice organizations in New Orleans (and sometimes elsewhere). This week’s donation went to support New Orleans Women and Children’s Shelter.