Somewhat relatedly, I got to see a friend a rarely do over the weekend and was thrown completely for a loop. Usually in a conversation I can arrange a list of answers that I’ve already honed in previous conversations* into set pieces: this is my work drama, this is how my mother is doing, this is how home ownership is coming along, etc. etc. And it’s true that I got to trot those out. But she also kept tripping me up by asking about things I’d forgotten I’d let it be known mattered to me. Had I read this author, had I heard about that book, and was I still writing?
I don’t anticipate these questions because in the past decade it has dawned on me that the price you pay for sharing such information amongst peers tends to be too high. As a result, when people forget that I do such things, I let it go. My in-laws remember my academic career, such as it was, rather than the awards I won for this or that story. My immediate friends remember the degree I just finished wading through, and the doors it would ideally have opened. (One day…) But I don’t usually field questions about my writing, and am so startled and sheepish and touched when asked that I stumble through the rest of the conversation, no set pieces to hand, trying madly to filter out what I do and don’t want to say about project A or B or C. But because this friend dated back the full decade, to when everyone, in either the arrogance or naiveté (probably both) of youth freely announced such pursuits without (too much) fear of repercussion, in the form of condescension or too-keen interest or otherwise, she knew. And, moreover, she remembered. And I was absurdly unprepared for it, and sat there mumbling to the cobbles about editing and deadlines and contests, all while blushing harder than my cherry tomatoes in their pots out back.
Which is ridiculous. I’m thirty years old. I have always done this thing. But to have that be remembered and respected, by someone I don’t see every day or even every year — and to be asked, and to be met with delight when I replied in the surprised affirmative that yes, I still did such work — pleases me. So much more than I anticipated feeling on a rainy Saturday afternoon.
*How I used to chafe, as a kid, hearing my mother do this! I’d hear the same words come out of her mouth again and again, to stranger after stranger, and resent the prefabricated nature of it; how she had something ready for a whole host of situations and it just came to hand easily, rehearsed, perfected. It was years and years before I realized that such responses held off-stage and at the ready grease the many less-important daily interactions along, grind us past their necessary ordinariness, so that we can get to those that matter.