Brenna’s A-Plus Number One Rule for Creative Professionals

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.

12 thoughts on “Brenna’s A-Plus Number One Rule for Creative Professionals

  1. I had a very similar party conversation were I talked about spiders! Only I claimed that spiders drink our tears at night and that is why I alway wake up with really dry eyes. I thought this was an interesting topic to be discussed. I was alone in this thinking.
    Love this post! Good to know I am not the only completely random person out there.

    • I claimed that spiders drink our tears at night and that is why I always wake up with really dry eyes

      Oh man, you have no idea right now HOW MUCH I WISH THAT WERE TRUE! (Well, not really, because it would mean that there are spiders routinely cruising around on our faces and dancing in our eyelashes. But still!)

  2. Ha ha ha ha :D. First, I just want to let you know that I thoroughly enjoyed this blog post :D. It’s amazing!

    I completely understand the not-having-transitions thing. I’ve gotten better with explaining myself, but when I really get to just free flowing talking, I make jumps that to me make perfect sense, but to the other person, they have no idea how I got from point A to point B. I’ve gotten pretty used to people looking at me like I’ve grown another head, because they just have no idea why that came out of my mouth :D.

    I agree with you. I think it’s very important to have someone who just gets you. Otherwise, it could be very lonely. D sounds awesome, by the way.

    Also, “Zompotamus” is my new favorite exclamation :D.

    • It’s just so much easier to skip the boring parts (also, the boring parts are transitions)! I don’t usually care HOW I got somewhere, only what it was I got to. Which is probably why I used to get in trouble in math all the time for never showing my work.

      Also, that is the problem with zompotamus—it’s just so gratifying to say, and then I can’t stop myself!

  3. You would TOTALLY know if a spider was crawling on your face. Totally. I always wake up when something gnarly is crawling on my face, like this one time, when there was an earwig infestation in my bedroom, and I woke up covered in the horrific things. But I woke up because I felt one on my FACE, making it’s way toward my mouth.

    Also, who makes up those wacky midnight spider-eating statistics? That’s what I want to know. Probably weirdos who like to film unsuspecting people sleeping. Now THIS sounds like my kind of party conversation.

    Also, ordering take-out Chinese three nights a week is actually what I’m hoping will happen after I’m one day selling books enough to be able to afford not to cook my own food all the time. I think I envy your erratic writing/eating lifestyle.

    • YES! I grew up in a very spider-heavy house. If anyone were going to accidentally sleep-eat a spider, it would be me, but considering the sheer number of times I’ve flailed out of bed like a lunatic because there was a hunting spider on my arm, I find it highly unlikely.

      Also, a couple months ago, D and I *had* the conversation about where they get these figures and why the spiders all seem to have death-wishes, and how if every American ate three spiders a year, that would be like a billion spiders, and are these spiders rappelling down from the ceiling into people’s mouths Mission-Impossible-style? What do they want? What are they hoping to accomplish?

      (Also, the cooking hiatus always makes me feel irrationally guilty, since it’s the one domestic thing I’m actually good at and I feel like I have a responsibility to it, and spending money on Chinese food is self-indulgent and unnecessary. Then I talk myself down and just call it a cost of doing business. Like manila envelopes. Or caffeine.)

  4. Loved this! But I will now be kept up at night as I wait for spiders to kamikaze themselves into my mouth.

    (I should have found a better way to say that.)
    (For the record, I don’t want anything to kamikaze into my anything).

    Someone once told me the best story about this: he and his wife lived in a basement apartment that was basically spider heaven and one night, he woke up because a spider was crawling across his forehead and he killed it by literally slapping himself in the face!

    But that’s not all. He then took the spider corpse and added it to his existing spider collection so he could look up what kind of spider it was and learn all kinds of interesting things about it.

    Also, this: “…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.”

    For some reason, when I read this, I imagined your person to be Sam from the Mercy Falls series.

    • But I will now be kept up at night as I wait for spiders to kamikaze themselves into my mouth

      I remain firmly convinced that this NEVER happens, and it’s simply the product of … stupid mean people who want to scare us?

      Also, I came from a big put-that-creature-in-a-jar-and-study-it family, so your friend’s squished spider collections doesn’t even sound that weird. That was just a normal weekend!

      And oh, my person is not remotely Sam (casting no aspersions on Sam, of course—he is a lovely person). No, if I had to pick a Stiefvater character to compare him to, it would be Sean Kendrick. Who wouldn’t have a thing to say about dropping marshmallows all over the floor because he is too preoccupied with horses that want to eat people’s faces, and even if he looked like he was judging you, he would really just be thinking about sandwiches and adventure.

  5. Amen. CK and I get suspicious when we meet Mate-and-Hate couples. How can that work? I don’t want to know! Life would be horrid if we could never change, and it would be intolerable if we had to change to match other people’s desires. Life is about adventures, unpredictability, new beginnings, loss and variability. I find partnership sustainable because my mate supports my dreams. Grad school at 29? SURE! You never wanted a kid before, but now you do? OK! Today neon seems like a good idea? Makes sense!

    • Exactly! You need someone who’s essentially going to be on your team—who can maybe point out when you’re being unreasonable or about to do something unwise, but is also capable of identifying those instances from among a whole flock of other random things that are totally fine.

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