Friday, March 31, 2006

Character Study (paca)

I was reading through an old notebook of stuff I have written over several years. It's not really a diary. It''s just periodic ideas that I noted down. Most of them are a few years old; probably written some time in the eight years I was in Tennessee. One thing that I have worked on periodically since at least 1994 or 1995 was the story of Vanessa who was super-tight best friends all her life with Hannah. However, something happened their senior year in high school, where Hannah disappeared. If she committed suicide or ran away is not clear. The story is about Vanessa as an adult still dealing with this shock.

Vanessa's current friends in her late 20s, early 30s are Holly, new best best friend, and Ming. I wanted to write their story up, but apparently I realized that I didn't know much about Vanessa as a character and so I did a sort of character study of her. The idea was to interview her. It was rather interesting to me to read this several years later. I particularly like the bizarre self-referential stuff, because, of course, I am interviewing myself. Here are some parts:

Me: So, V, I need to know a lot more about you. You are supposed to be the main character.

V: I didn't ask for you to write about me at all.

Me: Neither did I. I only know a couple things about you. I know what you look like.

V: No, you don't know at all. Your image is of me at 22. I am almost 30 now.

Me: Well, how have you changed since then?

V: Not sure I'm in the mood to do this.

Me: It's important.

V: Only to you.

Me: No, if you don't become more real, everyone will think little of you. Everyone's gonna like Ming and Holly and will wonder why I didn't focus on them instead.

V: I agree with Everyone. I like Holly and Ming much more too.

Me: Now that- you seem to have self-esteem issues.

V: Self-respect really. I don't have much respect for myself.

Me: Why? You are intelligent, educated, witty, well-employed, beautiful.

V: But what kind of a person am I? I don't do anything important. I don't help anybody. I could disappear right now and no one would particularly care.

Me: Holly and Ming would be devastated.

V: I know, but they are just friends.

Me: Friendship isn't worth anything?

V: Of course, but I am second fiddle. They are both married now. Holly has kids.

Me: Do you resent them for that?

V: A little. See, that's the kind of person I am. Self-centered. I only think about others as they relate to me.

Me: I think you are selling yourself short. I know a lot about you as a teen, but you are fuzzy in college and virtually vanish between 22 and 29.

V: That's your fault.

Me: Yes, it is. But see that's interesting. When you were a kid, you were a sweetheart. Where did this cynical attacking nature come from?

V: You know that story.

Me: I don't think it's that simple. Seems weird that you would completely change from this one event.

V: Well, I did.

Me: Huh. So you still – to this day – center your life around Hannah. She's been gone for 12 years.

V: I don't center myself around her.

Me: Yes, you do. It's still the fundamental relationship in your life by which you measure everything.

V: What do you want me to say about it?

Me: I'm not sure. I don't want to counsel you because I want you as you are now. Your growth away from this is the point of the story.

V: Well, you've got me, it seems.


Me: You seem to fight it when I make a valid point that someone likes you for you.

V: OK, first, one big reason they like me is because I am a blast from the past. I bring a piece of Hannah back to them. ... And, two, what was two?

Me: No, I would forget #2. I get lost where I was. You might not, because you are smarter than me. And you probably wouldn't try to number your points. Don't take on too many of my traits.

V: Look who's attacking now. But at this point I really have forgotten #2.

Me: Sure?

V: Oh, it's that, yeah, I do fight back against praise. I'll state it bluntly. No one can be depended upon. So I might as well shove them back before they can.

Me: OK, V. But you are smarter than me. You've done the counseling. Only Ming is more self-reflective, so you know you are letting one event in your life shape everything else. It's like seeing a purple car and deciding all cars are purple even though you see red and blue cars all day long.

V: You can't reason through this stuff, apply logic, and QED me out of it.

Me: Would you know QED?

V: Sure, I took some philosophy. I'm a brain when in the mood.

Me: Yes, you are. So what were you saying before the rude interruption?

V: That it's not like seeing a purple car. You name every single person that I was close to at that time – Hannah, my dad, and, lesser, my teachers, Hannah's parents – they all abandoned me. And the person I thought was my soulmate disappeared without a word. That's not a freaking purple car.


Me: Topic over. What happened to your mom?

V: You like to cut to the chase, don't you?

Me: You're a big girl.

V: That a comment about my chest?

Me: No, so don't change the subject.

V: You are the one changing. It's because you don't know yoursef yet.

Me: I'm waiting.

V: She can't have disappeared. That would mess up the source of my abandonment issues, screwing up your little story, so she must have died.

Me: What if she's not really dead?

V: Ooh, melodramatic soap!! But, no, she's gone. It happens. I think when I was 4.

Me: So you are 29 in the early 2000s...

V: I was born in 74.

Me: So your mom died in 78.

V: She can't have been in the army.... So that leaves car wreck or disease. My dad says it was a disease. Probably cancer.

Me: He would know, I presume. So you were raised by your father.

V: Yes, just the two of us.


Me: Not sure you've moved on at all since you were 17.

V: Can the evaluations of me. I'm not interested.

Me: Probably not true or fair either.

V: Why do you always write about women?

Me: I think because I am attracted to them.

V: If that's it, why isn't this a story about some man being with a woman, instead of a tale of female friendship?

Me: This is more direct, perhaps. It's me and not another character spending time with them, with you.

V: The problem is that you don't know women. You aren't one and so can never understand. You are setting yourself up for failure.

Me: I don't have to know much. That's the reader's job. I just have to supply enough true things for the reader to create you. I could spend 100 pages describing your hair, and I'd still be in the same boat. The reader has to take my suggestions and finish you in their mind.

V: You know, that's pretty clever.

Me: Thanks, I just realized it. I was gonna go on about common humanity and a general ignorance, blah, blah, blah. Got to skip that. Do you get along better with men or women?


V: Self-improvement is sort of my meaning of life right now.

Me: And yet you aren't doing much that you really feel great about. It's like you are adopting someone else's potential, not your own.

V: We don't all have fates to follow. We make ourselves. We are who we want to be.

Me: Interesting. What if there is a Tao flowing southest and you are choosing to go northwest?

V: What if?

Me: You have a very acute mind.

V: If you do say so yourself.

Me: I'm well aware of the quizzical reality of fiction. So you studied philosophy?

V: I took a few courses, but my degree is business. Banking.


And on it goes. I did eventually write a story which turned into play about my three heroines, but it, well, it sucks right now, despite some funny bits. That was 3 or 4 years ago. One day I will try revising it. My favorite parts of the above character study is when I turn Vanessa's attacks on my own foibles.

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