Okay, so I have This Thing that I’ve been thinking about for awhile (but a lot more during my last couple rounds of edits for Paper Valentine). And now, I’ve finally thought it about so much that I made up an official rule about it.*
First, some background:
Almost immediately after The Replacement came out, something happened that I hadn’t anticipated, which is that people started asking me where I get my ideas. Before becoming a mildly-public** figure, I hadn’t known that this was actually a pretty common question. But it is, and it is usually asked by junior reporters doing local author profiles, and at first, I gave really bad answers that sounded vaguely combative and looked terrible in the paper. Meaning, the first words out of my mouth tended to be, “I don’t know. Where do you get YOUR ideas? Because it is probably the same place.” (Sorry, reporters! I promise I was not trying to make your job harder.)
Also, one thing you should know about me is that I nevereverever try to be rude or unhelpful. I just sometimes am anyway, by accident. This is at least partially related to how disorganized my brain is, because as anyone who has ever received an email from me already knows, I am completely devoid of transitions. It’s not that I don’t understand how they work—I just forget to use them and then say the next thing that’s on my mind after the first thing, and don’t really include a bridge of how I got there.
As a semi-related observation, I am also a person you should not, under any circumstances, invite to grown-up parties. I try so, so hard to act like a reasonable adult and not say bizarre, upsetting things, and to listen attentively when people talk about what curtains they want to put in their guest rooms, and be gracious and decorous just like Betty Draper on Mad Men, because she is a person who can always be counted on to know exactly what to say about factual, unambiguous things like curtains and guest rooms.
And I’m getting pretty good. I can hold it together for about an hour, which is a vast and startling improvement from my teenage years, when I could hold it together for approximately five seconds. After an hour though, the social acumen starts to go downhill fast. (The inner/outer monologue of Brenna-at-a-party typically goes don’t talk about zombies, don’t talk about zombies—“Hey, did you ever think about what if there was a hippopotamus-zombie?”—shut up shut up shut up stop talking!—“Zompotamus!”)
Also, one time at D’s Christmas party for work, this ACTUALLY HAPPENED:
Brenna: “I read on the internet that the average American eats roughly 2.7 spiders a year accidentally, while they are sleeping. But I’ve been thinking about that, and it is totally not true, because if a spider walked on my face, I would wake up!”
All the other work-wives: O_o
Okay, now this is turning into less of a discussion of being a creative professional and more of a discussion of how I can’t be trusted in polite company where people drink white zin and know how to play tennis, because no matter how hard I try not to, I will talk about eating spiders by accident, over the sound of my own brain screaming shut up shut up shut up!
Anyway. The place I’m going with this is that I eventually started telling people my head is like a junk shop, because whenever I need an idea, I go up there and pick through the shelves until I find something cool. And people nod at that and accept it with relative ease, because it’s a metaphor that conjures up the randomness and unpredictability of ideas, and also, I think they might think I’m just being coy and facetious and making a little joke.
But I am not.
You guys, it is weird in here most of the time.
And I don’t mean in the capricious-yet-totally-human way that people are occasionally self-conscious about, where they feel like the only person who ever worries about the possibility of a bridge collapsing at the exact moment they’re driving over it. I mean in a What if mice were robots? way.
The thing about a person who makes things up as their job is, a lot of times they wind up thinking that totally imaginary things (robot-mice, for instance) are very, very important, while simultaneously finding other, more practical concerns, like why is that box sitting in the middle of the floor, to be very unimportant.
(Answer: it’s sitting on the floor because I was carrying it upstairs and then in the middle, I got bored.) (Also, I don’t mean the spiteful, resentful kind of bored where you’re like Forget this, it’s stupid and I don’t want to do it anymore. I mean the other kind, where you’re like Lalala, taking this box upstairs to put it in the closet—oh look, a bird!)
Anyway, yes—my one important rule!
My rule of creative professionals is that if you want to be productive and innovative and happy—if you want to be your best—you’re going to need at least one person in your life who is somehow convinced, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that you are not weird. Who thinks your job is cool and worthwhile and interesting and enjoys your junk-shop brain, and when they come into a room and say “What are you doing?” and you say “Just measuring how high this marshmallow bounces if you drop it on the floor,” they nod and go make a sandwich.
This is a precious, precious person.
For me, I’m especially lucky because I get to LIVE with a person who thinks I’m reasonable and interesting and also not completely incomprehensible—a person who will talk through ridiculous scenarios with me and remind me that popcorn is not remotely a real meal and it’s time to go to bed now.
And this is why D is awesome. Why he is my absolute favorite. And now I want to make a list of things that explain how awesome he is, but it would be long, so I will just give you several examples.
D and I are not clones of each other, but it doesn’t matter (your person of awesomeness doesn’t have to be another you). For instance, D doesn’t really read that much, and he thinks a lot of my movie choices are inexplicable and kind of terrible. But even though he doesn’t really read that much, he will still always, always read my drafts and help me with problem-scenes, and he still got a me a giant set of shelves for my out-of-control book collection. And even though I have really questionable taste in movies, he still drags a blanket off the bed and naps next to me on the couch to keep me company while I watch Pet Sematary for the millionth time. In the middle of the night. Because he is nice.
You need a person (I need a person) who will always let you do whatever work you need to get done, and not complain when you go from zero-to-insomniac in forty-eight hours, and remember that when they are ordering Chinese food for the third time that week, it’s all temporary and if they just sit tight and eat the Kung Pao chicken, soon the book will be turned in and life will go back to a dependable series of home-cooked meals.
(Also, I may or may not have just written this entire post simply because last month, I basically completely stopped cooking, and D just took it in stride and ordered Chinese food three times in one week and never once said a word.)
*Also, in retrospect, it seems like a pretty self-evident rule, so someone else probably made it up first.
**Not really. Like, three people know who am. But one was this totally cool author-guy named Tom Pollack at BEA, and he’s British, which means he knew who I was from five thousand miles away, which was the first time anything like that has ever happened and it was exciting.