“You look so good,” he tells me, from both 2,700 kilometres and mere centimetres away. He’s on-screen, via Skype and satellite from somewhere near the Arctic Circle. “You’re beautiful.”
It’s 3am. I wasn’t prepared for a late-night video session. I was prepared for bed – in fact I was in bed – complete with bed head and sleepy eyes sans mascara. And that’s how I respond to his appreciation. With denial. With a verbal inventory of my beauty sins: My hair’s a mess, I’m not wearing makeup (or clothes!).
So he takes a video snap shot and sends it to me so I can see what he sees.
And I do. Although I could make you a list of everything I don’t like about this picture of me, I see. I see shiny skin. I see sweetness. I see a woman soft with love for a man who is very far away.
And that’s sexy. Sexy isn’t (only) preparation, occasion, fishnets and false eyelashes. It’s bare skin, bared shoulders, naked soul. It’s eye to eye. It can even be screen to screen. It’s 3am.
And, sometimes – lots of times, especially when you want to capture concepts and intimate cosmologies – that’s the most wrenching way to write.
Take for example, the seemingly mandatory line in nearly every online dating profile: “I like walks on the beach…”. Bullshit. Is that how you live? Daily walks at sunset in the sand?
Don’t tell me your fantasies. Tell me your reality. That’s what I will love. That’s what I want to read.
That’s why readers don’t skip dialogue. Because it’s ordinary. It’s what people do. They don’t wax poetic about beaches and beech leaves and willow trees. They talk to each other.
And so, if you must laud the landscape, do it the way Berliners do. Name an astonishingly pretty promenade and avenue of six lanes of traffic sheltered and shaded by four rows of arching Linden trees something disconcertingly literal, like “Unter den Linden”, or “Under the Lindens”.
Because that’s poetry. That’s the poetics of practicality.
Or, if you’re writing about love, wondering about how to answer that eternal question, “Who knows how to make love stay?” – honestly, it’s such a pressingly regular search for me that I’ve created a Google alert for the topic – stay away from the stars and the moon and words like “eternity.” Go practical. Go boringly ordinary. What do you really love? Talk cheesecake to me, baby:
Tell love you are going to the Junior’s deli on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn to pick up a cheesecake and if love stays, it can have half. It will stay. – Tom Robbins
When you want to write about the qualities of a culture – business or national – ground your airy ideals by referring to the values of a magazine or movement as the “aspect and furniture of the establishment.” When you’re trying to capture the essence of a nation – if such a thing is even possible – screw history. Embrace aphorisms and obsessions. Talk shite. Literally.
(And read Vanity Fair. Every edition is a lesson in practiced, polished and inventive writing. God bless atheist Christopher Hitchens, and, if you’ve learned my “thread the grommets/lace the corset” structure, the set-up, follow-through and end of “It’s the Economy, Dummkopf!” by Michael Lewis is a superb example of what Imma talkin’ about.)
The rule: to write convincingly about concepts, go gutteral. Cheesy, cheesecakey, practical, literal, boring, ordinary.
And the results will be extraordinary.
My houseguest, the famed Stephen J Kelly of London and unrepentant wearer of my infamous PORN t-shirt, told me about his love for the Unter den Linden and, upon his return from a tour of Victoria, brought me blueberry cheesecake from John’s Place. See? Writing is nothing more than theft, but it’s not even a grand felony. It’s shoplifting trinkets. You steal from your life.
Sunday School for Sentences will be a sixteen-part series. Missed one? Here they are:
- Sunday School for Sentences #1: Explain the Expected in Unexpected Ways
- Sunday School for Sentences #2: The (Textual) Reverse Cowgirl
- Sunday School for Sentences #3: Object Lessons (from Kanye West and JD Salinger)
- Sunday School for Sentences #4: How to Give Good Quote
- Sunday School For Sentences #5: Why You Should Write Bad Poetry
- Sunday School for Sentences #6: Two Damn Fine Writing Tips
- Sunday School for Sentences #7: There Are No Magic Words
- Sunday School for Sentences #8: How To Execute a Climax or Series of Climaxes. I’m talking About Writing. Mostly.
- Sunday School for Sentences #9: Thread the Grommets, Lace the Corset, Feed the Rabbits
- Sunday School For Sentences #10 – Work It
- Sunday School for Sentences #11: The Pigs In Space Edition
- Sunday School for Sentences #12: Screw SEO. I Write (Wackadoo Titles) for PEOPLE, Not Search Engines. And So Should You.
- Sunday School for Sentences #13: How to Write an Intimate Cosmology of Cheesecake, Cheesecake Shots (or not) and Shoplifting
- Sunday School for Sentences #14: What Picasso And Dave Chappelle Know about Writing. For Realz.