life in a small place

“Are you okay?” she asked me. “You look upset.”

Yanked back to myself, I looked up, trying to figure out why I wouldn’t be okay. Why would I be looking upset? What had I just been thinking?

She’s the mother of another school-age child, and we meet through school-related activities. She’s a caring, sweet person, and I guess I’m silent and mysterious, but at least not unapproachable. I’ve got no social skills, so I never really know when to tell a story versus when to stop telling a story. I’ve already got a reputation as “that woman who knows all this useless trivia.” If you’re wondering why children don’t wear seat belts on the school bus, I’m the one to ask.

I live in a very small place. Just before I’d seen her, I’d been deep in my own head, herding my children but at the same time rewriting a passage that had been giving me trouble. Keeping my children in line; preventing those words from wandering all around, getting them cordoned into strict order. And then, like a teacher putting her class into size-place for the first time, moving this bit over there, comparing those two, slipping this back in with the other.

It was only  a couple hundred words. Less than a page, but it wouldn’t do what I wanted. While writing in my head, I’d been frowning.

Back in college, a housemate told me, “You’re scary when you write. You’re not really here.”

In Angelborough, I have no idea who knows I’m a writer and who doesn’t. My son mentioned it at school, and I posted a flyer for my book in the church. But beyond that, I’m not sure anyone’s made the connection. Only a couple of people here have actually read the last book.

I don’t want to be That Scary Chick Who Lives In Her Own Head.  (I was her in high school — the one in the locker room reading the three-inch-thick book with the title PURGATORY.) It’s actually better to be the repository of useless trivia because then people laugh. (“If you tell her you spilled your coffee this morning, she’ll tell you how much caffeine can be absorbed through the skin. Go ahead, try it.”)  What would happen if I said, “Oh, I’m not upset. I’m just trying to get some words in order”?

I’ve already done that in Angeltown, standing in line at the grocery store, so deep in my own head that I rolled my eyes at my own mistake, then realized the cashier thought I was rolling my eyes at her. No, I wanted to say, it’s not you. I was thinking of something stupid I’d done, and then I went ahead and did something else stupid. Would you please double-bag my stupidity?

But this other mom had asked a question and I needed to answer, so I said, “No, I’m just tired,” which is also true. It just wasn’t the whole truth.


  1. Ivy

    You really should have come to Murrow. Half the school had read either Dante or Milton at some point for fun. At one point so many of us were reading in class, the teacher started taking books away. After she’d gathered them, she looked over the titles (Emma, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, A Tale of Two Cities, Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, the Iliad, stuff like that) and called us the weirdest group of delinquents she’d ever had to deal with. You’d have fit right in.

  2. cricketB

    I lost an entire spring and summer to a first kiss scene, or maybe it was the scene leading to it. A dozen different settings, changing a word here and there and seeing it go in different directions. Spent most of the summer in her head rather than my own, and missed out on just “being there”. Not something I ever want to repeat.

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