When I was a young teen and just beginning to be quite sure that (whatever else it might contain) my destiny was somehow linked to the writing of books, I remember sitting down with a notebook and trying to figure out what exactly made for “good” writing.
Ideas, I decided.
Lots of ideas, dense-packed like a snowball. Meaning and significance and endless things to unpack, all scooped together with the airy filler pressed right out. All the better for whizzing through the air, cold and fast and right on target.
I suppose what that really means is that I was meant to be a journalist or a “creative-nonfiction” sort, and obviously my imagined insight has everything to do with personal taste and nothing to do with absolutes. It’s a quirk of fate that my bent is to hopelessly admire George Eliot and Henry James. I’ve read books now that quicken my pulse with the perfect beauty of the writing, the stylish cluster of details. But I can’t write them.
Carl, on reading a first sampling of my fiction, was relieved to be unencumbered by so many boring descriptions of rooms—although, on the less flattering side, my father did complain once that I seemed to have no grasp on meteorology at all.
Ideas. Details. The specific that quietly echoes the universal.
That’s what I like.
I was thinking about that this morning while I tried over and over to find the right embellishments and lettering for the front page of Iris’s newborn scrapbook. It’s still not right—not full or interesting enough—although I did commit to the birth date on the photo, using tweezers to get the tiny numbers down (mostly) straight. Details are hard.
And yet, so worth it when you find the right one.
This morning—predawn, sleepy as we listened to Iris start to fuss not 5 minutes after I put her down, sound asleep, after her early morning snack—Carl rolled closer to share a video on his iPhone while we waited a few minutes to see if she would settle herself. I heard his explanation as Jimmy Fallon mumble mumble Unabomb Phil.
Our brains are slow at 5am. After a puzzled second, he agreed. “Yes,” he said. “Unabomb Phil.”
I fumbled for my glasses and, squinting at the bright screen, watched the interview. Jimmy Fallon and one of the stars from Downton Abbey, one of those delicious if soapy costume dramas I can’t seem to pass up. Lord Grantham. I love him.
Also known as Hugh Bonneville.
Which pretty much sums up the bleary, mildly-paranoid ambiance of our nights. (Iris did eventually go back to sleep… after a poop and a diaper change and a small snuggle with her dad). But for a second it really seemed possible that Jimmy Fallon would have a terrorist on his show and that—OF COURSE—said terrorist would have a catchy moniker.
I hope someday that’s the memory I have left of these crazy nights. The blissed out expression on Iris’s face after she falls asleep nursing at 5am and Unabomb Phil.