second person

Screen Shot 2014-11-04 at 7.13.25 PM

Untitled Film Still #48 by Cindy Sherman

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?

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About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.

30 comments

  1. aqilaqamar

    Reblogged this on Iconography ♠ Incomplete and commented:
    The second person detailed in a creative fiction 🙂

  2. I’ve written two memoirs in first person and I’m sick to death of “I”. A novel in third person is chomping at the bit to be written next! Second person feels “in my face” the sheer number of “you/yours” on the page halts the flow and keeps me from hearing the story.

  3. All three are great to write about, but I prefer the third person point of view. It makes me write all I want without sounding strange.

  4. Im usually journaling so the first person works. I liked reading your passage in second person as I began to have an experience with your description! Ill be aware next time I write if the potential of writing using another perspective!!! Quite like the sound of a writing workshop..ive never been!

    • It was an interesting experiment—the 2nd person and the workshop—I’d never done one before, either, and I must admit, there was a little too much talking and a little too little writing, but it was good to stir the mud.

  5. “My mind shakes loose and follows.” “The spot leaked slowly out from your feet like a fog. You are so full of nothing that you erase the ground as you go.”

    Oh girl. Where did you get those words? Breathtaking, they are.
    I like all kinds of persons. First person is so intimate, as you say. We are sitting inside a person being that person with them as close as a person can be. Second is how Christopher Robin refers to Winnie the Pooh and I will always love Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, so I will love second person. You did it amazingly, too. Third is just happy and healthy and maybe safer.

    So yus. All the persons. 🙂

  6. Your words are wonderful, so evocative I love the sound of distant traffic, the sense that people are going somewhere, somewhere away from here.

  7. “Which do you like to read, or write in? Do you prefer I, you, or she?”

    All POVS can be good, bad or ugly, perhaps more than one at a time.
    I do prefer she, because I’m a he, (I can’t help myself making this rhyme.)
    I loved your small story, your story of story, second person my favourite part,
    all the washing and brushing and squirting and snoring, I feel like I need to anyway, I really did enjoy this, and it wasn’t because it was first or second person, it’s because you’re a writer who writes things that reach inside me, and remind me I’m alive. Sorry for almost writing fart on your blog, I hate being in a rhymey mood, and who suffers? All of us. Don’t mind me, I’m a little crazy from writing a 36,000 word book last week.

    I’m really happy you’re writing. I will always read it, whatever it is.

    • You can write fart on my blog any time and holy cannoli, how could you do that? 36,000 words wowowowowow. That’s like more than I say in a year. What’s it about, if you don’t mind me asking?

      • It’s part of a genre series I’ve been writing as an experiment. I can’t tell you any details publicly, but I’ll email you. It’s had two or three unexpected side-effects — it’s made me a better writer, it’s stimulated many ideas for what I consider my “real” work, and MONEY! Actual money, every day, like as if I’d written something good — it feels half like a magic trick and half like Oh well, it is work, why shouldn’t there be money from it!

  8. I’m glad you brought this up, Anna. This is going to sound weird, maybe, but when I write in first person, it’s almost always about a completely fictional character. It gives me a chance to explore someone else’s mind. The third person POV usually contains more of who I am, probably because there is more distance between narrator and character, so self-examination is off the table. And I really enjoy second person—it’s like communicating with one’s subconscious, bringing the hidden thought process to the surface.

    The toughest thing I have written recently was a first person nonfiction piece for a journal that invited me to contribute. It was just too close to the real me, and I struggled, trying to get every sentence to be a perfect reflection of who I think I am (and doing it without lying).

  9. Some things just don’t work in 2nd person, do they? Although I imagine it’s been done, more than once, I can’t really see writing a serial-killer novel where “you” continually are doing some despicable and clinically violent thing. I think the reader would be totally turned off. You would. Or you would scare me. 😉 I like both 1st and 3rd person and I think they have largely the same effect on readers. I guess for me it really depends a lot on whether I only flesh out one character or more than one. Just one main brain’s thought process, then1st is great, otherwise I’m the all-seeing 3rd person.

  10. Well, of these two little exercises, I liked the first best.(except you slipped into second person prematurely and that sort of threw me for a loop). Your writing gleams in any person. I LOVE this line: until your tailbone is humming like rubber on cement.

    Most of my writing is more expository type stuff. I get all mixed up and confused trying to get into characters’ head, I get mixed up in my own head! Actually it’s interesting that you brought this up. I had been working on a bio type thing about my mom. Got all finished with it and realized that it was no longer about her. I’d played way too loose with the characters in an attempt to skirt certain family issues. So I started over, playing with first person. That’s not going so well either.

    Ach. I’m just a hopeless technical writer.

  11. I get so lost in your words & revealing tales that I am totally compelled to keep reading on whehter the piece is written in first or second person. One thing I do know…going out of the comfort zone can have a way of helping us discover pearls that we did not know were there. But honestly, and thankfully, your more intelligent & savvy writer-friends clearly have better feedback that I am offering here.

    Thank you, as always, for taking me on a journey through your words. XOs

  12. “Watching yourself like an angry ghost”. Yes, this, today. I like all the persons, but I’m most comfortable with I. Which I guess makes me as self involved as ever 🙂

  13. aubrey

    I strongly dislike writing as “I”. Something about the closeness, it makes me feel foolish, for some subconscious and-should-be-talked-out-with-a-professional reason. I prefer the distance of 2nd or 3rd. I can stretch my arms and bid my imagination carte blanche and have a nice journey – be sure to write home.

  14. I think its great to push your boundaries thats the only way you learn and progress. I’m writing a book of shorts to a theme. The big switch move from policy to storywriting has been liberating. Switching genres, getting personal in the first, dabbling in the third not sure I like second but ur post is screaming….have a go!

  15. I love this part “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. ” Makes me think of how lost I feel everyday when I don’t realize I’m doing something and forget who I am. Truly scary but we try to put the blame on someone else in reality it’s all on us.

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