In a writing class recently, we experimented with first and second person. Why not third? I don’t know, since it’s my favorite. To me, first person is sometimes too personal, and second is just too presumptuous, but third lets me hide behind the scenes yelling stuff and throwing water balloons. Still, it was a fun exercise, and I must admit that although it felt wrong, that second person pulled something out of me that I didn’t know was there.
instructions: write about something you love in first person
There’s something about the sound a train makes that moves me. It makes precisely the noise I’d like to make to explain that feeling. It’s an animal noise, a cat in heat, a lonesome howl, the squee of a hawk from the clouds.
I’m having an argument with my husband and the train cries in the distance. I’m bent over pulling weeds in the back yard, all twisted and sweaty, and the train moans. I’m sitting on the sofa with my laptop and there’s that train hooting somewhere out there. I’m lying half-submerged in my stingy little tub when the sound of the train leaks in a crack in the tiny window and ricochets off the bathroom tiles. I’m checking the mailbox wondering whatever happened to handwritten letters when the train calls my name. In the middle of the night, I might not know I’m not sleeping until the train tell me so. On summery nights, warm waves of air carry the sound of the train faster, further, delivering each blast through my open window (thrown like a message in a bottle, a molotov cocktail, mazel tov contrail), and my mind shakes loose and follows.
This is a road trip: The pavement rubs the tires rubs the axel rubs the chassis rubs the seat you’re sitting in until your tailbone is humming like rubber on cement. The blurry landscape flutters by like a painted banner flapping in the breeze. You feel yourself slipping away, or maybe the hazy, fuzzy landscape slipping in, and your past dissolves, your name doesn’t matter, and your thoughts flatline, leaving nothing, leaving room for anything. You might get off at the next stop or pull over on the side of the road and step out into a new life. You might change your name to Whatnot or Hey There or Jo or take up cello or get a job at a roadside kiosk selling flowers or indian heads or homemade pot pies or whatever. You might wake up and open your eyes to entirely new life.
In every case, the sound of the train pulls me out of my head, out of my body and my scene, reminding me that something exists beyond what I see, offering reassurance that even if I’m stuck here, somewhere out there people are going places, doing new things, and starting over.
instructions: continue in second person
You overhear someone say that it’s Thursday and you wonder what happened to Tuesday and Wednesday. While we’re at it, what did you do last weekend and what was for dinner last night, anyway, ho hum. Did you ever forget what you were eating while you were eating it? Were you ever that bored?
Do you find yourself having conversations and arguments you’ve had before? This is the part when you get defensive. This is when you try to grab the blame and turn it on the other guy. That’s you cue to throw your hands up in the air and stalk off. Now is the time to start feeling sorry for yourself and this is how you apologize for not being sorrier.
You stand there washing the same dish you’ve washed countless times before and when you look down, you notice the spot worn in the wood under your feet. (The spot leaked slowly from your feet like fog. You are so full of nothing that your feet erase the ground as you go.) You squirt the same shampoo into your hands and rub it in the same pattern. You brush your teeth like clockwork and when you look in the mirror, you don’t see a thing. You pull on your personal uniform, do your day, and it looks pretty much exactly as you expected it to. At social events, you tell the same stories you always tell. Maybe you’ve told these stories so many times they tell themselves. Maybe you do close your eyes, maybe you even fall asleep a little, just a quiet snore or two, but then awake to find someone else has started telling their same-old story, and so you start nodding and making appreciative noises, waiting for your next turn to talk.
But you’re tired of the same old story. Maybe your story is like a pair of jeans you bought twenty years ago. The story is dated and faded and and full of holes which you keep mending with clumsy thread and iron-on patches. The pockets make your butt look funny and you can’t even button the fly up anymore and when you try to pull your story on in the morning, your toe gets caught in a hole and rips it a little more each time, but its the only story you have and so you keep putting it on every morning and sewing it back up every night. Or maybe you just started sleeping in your story and have thereby completely eliminated the illusion of choice. Maybe now, even your dreams conform to your story, but that’s okay with you because it fit like a glove twenty years ago. Because twenty years ago, that story looked good.
(Where are you now, where are you really, now while all this is happening? Are you floating just overhead, watching yourself like an angry ghost? Or are you yawning and nodding in the corner, waiting for something to happen? Are you on the edge of a cliff inside yourself, standing there with your ears full of train song and your thumb stretched out to the clouds?)
Which do you like to read, or write in? Do you prefer I, you, or she?