Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chinese takeout

More from "1, 3, 2, 4." I've changed Toph's name to Benjamin based on <ahem> popular demand.


Benjamin came home from work on a Saturday to learn that Leo and Jimmy had gone to lunch together. Two white takeout boxes with red pagodas stood side by side on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Leo offered a list of the things they had talked about: jobs, vacations, childhoods, ex-boyfriends--

"And what did you have to say about ex-boyfriends?" Benjamin asked.

"Nothing really." Leo shrugged and turned his attention back to the television.

It had been three weeks since Benjamin last had a day off. He hung up his shirt and slacks and yawned his way to the bed. He napped frequently these days, covering his eyes with a pillow to block out the afternoon light that streamed in through their bare window. Leo always complained that this made him look headless, but Benjamin couldn't help it--maybe his eyelids were too thin. Only a few minutes seemed to have passed when he sat up to find himself alone. He dressed, peed, ate some yoghurt using a spoon he found on the counter. A short while later, Leo returned panting and glistening with sweat. He had gone for a jog. He had decided it was time to get back into shape again.

and

In his first life, Benjamin had been more sensible. Though he didn't finish his degree, he fell into a well-paying job as a corporate speech writer. He found that he had the innate talent to write words in other people's voices. Then, in his thirties, life suddenly felt as if it was chugging along faster than he had realized. He noticed more missed opportunities, more lack of discoveries, more things that were almost done, but not quite. He saved up a good deal of money, and, upon the invitation of his friend Marissa, he sold his house in Silver Lake and flew to London on a one-way ticket, sleeping on a couch, and living out of a single, over-sized suitcase.

Men in London--at least the ones he paid attention to--were young and trim and well-groomed. He loved seeing them pass by in their little gray suits and narrow black ties, their sleekness balanced by unkempt hair that only the young can really get away with. Not once did he approach any of them--he didn't need to. He was content just to see them and to be among them. In London, he felt as if he was on an expressway, making up for lost time. Each morning he would walk the streets for hours, snapping photographs, eavesdropping on English conversations, not returning to Marissa's until the late afternoon, when he would finally take some time to plan his return to the States as he waited for her to finish her work.


What's Peanut eating? Chicken bits fed to him under the table. Shhh.

10 comments:

  1. I like this. It feels very real, very solid. The London paragraphs are excellent.

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  2. I like this too, Davin. :) I liket his line, especially: "Then, in his thirties, life suddenly felt as if it was chugging along faster than he had realized. He noticed more missed opportunities, more lack of discoveries, more things that were almost done, but not quite."

    I feel like instead of moving forward, this type of writing swells instead. Does that make sense?

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  3. "swells" is a good way of putting it! I hope I remember that term.

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    1. You will! It is now catalogued on Davin's blog. :)

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  4. Thanks for reading you two! I think for years now I've been more focused on the swelling rather than the moving forward. I'm not sure if that's always a good thing, but it's what typically interests me. I realize I want to write the book that lets people open it at any point, read a few paragraphs, and get satisfied without needing to understand the entire story. That's how I often read--again, I'm not sure if that's a good thing.

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    1. I'm interested in this sort of writing, but I keep running up against the question of deciding what belongs to the novel and what doesn't. If there's no story pointing from first page to last, how do you know what you're writing? I have no idea what I'm writing right now, but I keep writing it. I'm writing lots and lots. Certainly you could open it to any page and start right in, but I don't know what that does to my conception of narrative. Especially as I read from first page to last and expect the writer to present something that operates on those principles. It's tricky, this writing that swells instead of rolls forward. I keep trying to make mine roll forward; I'm afraid of not having that impulse toward some kind of causality, some kind of event that dramatizes ideas about character.

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    2. I find I'm more readily accepting of the "swelling" type of writing in shorter fiction, even a novella. If I'm going to settle into a novel, I want more traditional storytelling. Then again, there's The Waves, and that's "swelling" fiction, and I think it's considered a novel, isn't it? I find when I'm reading that book, I read it much differently than a regular novel, and I'm prepared for what kind of a ride it's going to be. I've probably read that book four or five times, but only twice cover-to-cover. The rest of the times have been opening it up and reading here and there. I also have it all marked up with notes and highlights, which makes it easier to open up and find favorite passages to read again. I don't think it matters so much what kind of book we're writing, than making sure our readers understand what they're getting into. Starting a novel with a premise that promises a straightforward storytelling method, and then veering away from that, would be an issue for me. Davin, I doubt you've done that. :)

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    3. Michelle, I really like what you say about making sure readers understand what they're getting into. That makes sense to me. Or, I guess I would say "make sure readers don't feel tricked by the end." I think one reason I find endings so hard to write is because my own fear of failing to write a compelling story with forward movement makes me veer away from my original directions, which are usually more along the lines of this "swelling" fiction. Somehow, the beginning of any consistent story creates expectations and a sense of what type of writing a reader is getting into. I don't think this has to be an obvious announcement, but there are clues when you approach a well-written story.

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    4. Scott, I'll say that, for me, I do always want my stories to be able to work if a reader moves through it from beginning to end. That's my own arbitrary rule. But I don't mind having extraneous other stuff along the way as long as it doesn't contradict with the beginning to end movement. I think of the extra stuff as that bonus tater tot you get in your bag of fries if you buy fast food at just the right transition time between breakfast and lunch.

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    5. Ooooh, bonus tater tots! Hehe, yes, I know what you mean. Fiction should be fun, even if it's taking itself seriously.

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