When your kids are in college, you can learn vicariously through them, and I’m picking up all kinds of new things this summer from my daughter, Paige, who is majoring in English.
Sometimes it comes in longer talks (I had to work hard to remember why I didn’t like The Great Gatsby — sorry, Doni — and defend my opinion), but mostly we share observations, like one last night, seeing the unlikely outcome of a story and reminding each other that it was made possible through the omniscience of fiction.
Not something you get in real life, which probably explains my attraction to nonfiction. Paige took a nonfiction class and got some insight into that messy framework, (did it help that she was also taking a psychology class to meet a core requirement?) but in the end, I think she’ll be a fiction writer. That’s not fictional omniscience speaking, it’s just that her Shelfari is full of fiction and mine, not so much.
So, I shared with her a story about her dad and me that I thought would make a great scene for fiction. Maybe it could still be woven into some key moment of emotional truth in a piece of nonfiction, but the story sits in my memory as a random bit, like an old key in the junk drawer you are afraid to toss because, even though you haven’t figured out for the past 20 years what it goes to, you know as soon as you throw it away, you will.
When I packed up my things in Colorado and first moved to California, Mark came to help me drive across the desert. It was the end of summer. We had not yet figured out what we would learn a few years later, when the kids were little, that driving overnight, in shifts, is a far better way to get across the desert in the summer. But, we did drive as long into the night as we could before we stopped at a roadside park in Nevada to lay the seats back and get a few hours sleep. About 4 a.m., we were startled awake by such a noise I had never heard before, or since. The racket stopped by the time we were awake enough for our eyes to focus on a woman and two men as they slammed car doors and started stumbling around the car, yelling at each other. It could have been my stupor, but I believe it was more likely theirs, because what they were saying was completely, totally, utterly incoherent. The yelling went on for a few minutes, then, they got back in the car, slammed the doors and started up again. That’s when we saw the source of the racket. They were driving across the caliche on all four rims.
I didn’t think a car could do that. Mark was incredulous, too. But there they went, down a desert road on rims, a piece of fiction in real life.