Last night’s poetry reading was nothing special. Actually, other than Allan Briesmaster and his right hand (which dances and curves and pauses, and disseminates the words as his mouth reads them), no one was really worth the subway fare.
The writer who went with me, though, said something that kept me up most of the night thinking (very much worth the subway fare): How well do we know people? How do we know when we know them well? The thought started with the idea of teachers and students; despite “close relationships” being frowned upon, teachers and students spend day-in-day-out together and end up knowing each other very well. If I think about it, I even knew the teachers I didn’t like (when our high-school history teacher was storming through the halls, frowning, we would all race to get the seats at the back of the class ’cause he would always speak emphatically when he was angry and grey, disgusting spittle would fly). Now, I would say I know most of my students. If they’ve been my student for more than a couple of months, I know them well. I think they know me pretty well, too.
We then talked about co-workers, but I never stay long enough in one place or work closely enough with them to get to know them.
Do I know the writers I hang out with? My first response would be “no”. But then when I thought about it, I realised I know things about the writers that most people wouldn’t know unless they’ve lived with these people most of their lives. Kinda cool: I don’t know how you take your coffee, but I know what terrifies you and how to make you cry.
They know the same things about me. Ugh.
Do I know my characters? Intimately. Until they do something I don’t expect and I have to spend a few days watching them until I understand what’s going on.
Do I know my children? When it really matters, of course. But they also do unexpected things and leave me standing in the middle of the kitchen with a dripping wooden spoon in my hand.
My cat. My cat and I know each other well. Very well.
The problem seems to be with people, obviously. If you were all cats, I wouldn’t have stayed up all night thinking about you.