Tagpizza

A few thoughts about peoplewatching

Thank you for the book suggestions! I appreciate them all. As luck would have it, I’m not picking out books today, but I’m thinking of them as I write. Thinking of them a lot because I’m spending the afternoon in a library. Not mine, not the one of old chairs and old wooden bookcases and books I held as a child, but that’s okay. This one is also full of books, which really is the important part, is it not?

The thing about libraries is that they are quiet and full of books, but they’re also full of people, which makes it hard for me to work. People are rather fascinating, and sometimes hard to ignore, unless, of course, they’re members of my family, in which case I can tune them out like turning down the volume on a radio. Which isn’t, perhaps, something I should admit in public.

But about all those other people…the thing about them is that even when they are quiet, they are expressive. Even when they are still and intent and completely wrapped up in matters of consequence, they give parts of themselves away. Tapping, frowning, smiling, biting on nails (or fingers, apparently), how they sit (legs crossed, feet flat on the floor, chair legs pushed up a little…), how often and when they glance out the window…the list is endless. Our stories trickle out of us everywhere, in so many ways.

If you were watching me, for example, you would notice that I keep rubbing the inside of my ring finger with my thumb. If you were Sherlock Holmes, you might conclude that I’d recently been divorced, or was carrying on a torrid affair with someone who thought me unmarried.

The true, and more prosaic, explanation, is that I made pizza dough this morning in order to let it do a slow rise in the fridge, and I took my wedding band off and set it on top of the baking powder tin so that I wouldn’t get it covered with dough. Significantly less thrilling, but there you have it.

If you write, or daydream, all these little things–motion, emotion, dress, location, scent, habit–all these things are tiny little doorways that you can’t help but want to enter. Does the scowling woman scowl because she is unhappy, or because she is unfriendly, or does her mouth like to go that way and she would smile, fully, warmly, if I were to speak to her? Does the man rubbing his beard find it itchy, and wish that the weather would warm up so he could shave it off without fear of a chilly chin, or did his father have a big beard, and he used to rub it when he was small and frightened in the night, and touching his own beard takes him back to that place of feeling safe and loved?

It is rather distracting. It’s exactly why I don’t tend to write in public spaces–too rich, too full, too hard to stick to my own little universe. This is the sort of thing that happens when I do. There must be a solution, somewhere. Blinders, possibly? Portable cubicles? Aversion therapy?

Let me know if you find an answer. I’ll be your first customer.

Things to do when people are in your basement, tearing apart your heating system

1. Make pizza sauce. From scratch. From a pile of tomatoes. Because it makes you feel useful. And focused. And normal, in a way that a slightly feral, overly imaginative, often anxious homeschooling mother might not feel when strangers are looking in.

2. Make bread. Why? See above.

3. Try not to listen to the sounds of blow torches and draining pipes and clanging metal and occasional loud voices. Definitely try to not imagine a disaster down there.

4. Tell the dog everything is just fine when she sees a unfamiliar truck parked in the backyard and barks. And barks. And barks. Watch the dog go back to sleep.

5. Drink tea that went cold while doing steps 1-4.

6. Remember you are a writer. Realize that you don’t have to be here, that you have a teenage girl named Blue at a bus stop waiting for you. She’s been waiting for a day or two, and you’re the only one who can get her out of there. She doesn’t care about the hot smell of the newly welded pipes, or the thud of something very heavy falling to the floor. She just wants to get on that bus, the one you have to send her way, so she can find her sister.

7. Write.

Brief thoughts on pizza and writing

Friday nights we have pizza for dinner. In our house, pizza night means making a yeast dough from scratch, and either using sauce I made with fresh tomatoes over the summer, or starting with a can of crushed tomatoes. Either way, it’s a process. It works well for us. I’ve done it for enough years that it takes little thought on my part, and everyone enjoys the end product.

But it’s not the right approach for lots of people looking for pizza on a Friday night. That’s totally fine with me. I don’t judge people who don’t make their pizzas from scratch. I don’t think my homemade pizza is inherently superior to any other pizza out there. In the end, I do it because I take pleasure in the experience, and my family does as well.

My philosophy about writing is more or less the same. Learn what works for you and do it. It doesn’t make it the right way for everyone. It also doesn’t make it wrong if other writers don’t work the same way. Our minds are weird creations. They are full of trapdoors, and secret passages, and staircases leading nowhere. The trick is not to learn to rebuild your mind to look like someone else’s, but to learn to navigate yours in all its chaotic glory.

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