Remember the days when writers used to write paper letters to each other, sent through the mail? Did their letters feel so different from all the emailing that goes on today? We set up writers Claudia Dey and Stacey Levine in a paper-correspondence, and are posting their letters on The Believer Logger slightly after the letters are received by their intendeds in the mail. This is the second letter from Claudia to Stacey. Here is the previous letter in the series. This was the first letter.
It is spring here and everyone is injured. Just yesterday, I saw a young woman in jean shorts with a gold-colored prosthetic leg. This would never have happened if she had been wearing an overcoat. With human skin comes medical equipment, I guess.
Apparently, the new thing is “cool”, which I admit I have tried, but found, with its emphasis on opposing actions, exhausting. I prefer a more direct route so I just wanted to say outright: I am having a terrific time on our blind date.
There are a couple of flourishes in your first letter that readers would not have been able to see. One is a sticker of a pretty, galloping horse with the thought bubble: “I am not confused.” Another is your signature: Stacey L. The L is shaped like the L on Laverne’s shirts. I am curious: Have you ever worn a uniform? Or ridden a horse? (I have done both, and unfortunately, my horse was confused.)
Please, what was the honking sound you set your paragraphs to? Animal? Machine? My ambient panic? I felt especially concerned when you left off your letter to investigate Nancy Drew-style: “There’s nothing wrong with going outside late at night…”
You asked what I am up to this week, and all I can say is: Last Sunday, something very upsetting happened on our street. We pulled the curtains open and there were police cars, ambulances, two fire trucks and a SWAT team in front of our house. I stepped onto our porch and asked the nearest cop what was going on and he said: “There is a man in distress and we are trying to keep him calm.” I had a baby in my arms. “There are no weapons involved. There is nothing for you to be concerned about.” I decided we should leave the house.
Going out the back way, I turn into the alley with the stroller and, ahead of me there are four people in stocking feet standing with their backs to a garage door. They are making the sound of children in trouble; laughter, but not quite, and they are looking up. On separate rooftops, there are two SWAT team guys in full riot gear. They are standing very still. A gasp and suddenly the four people run between the houses; whomever they are tracking has moved from the back of the house to the front of the house, and they are on the roof.
Five hours later, I am coming home with the baby in the stroller and now, also, with my six-year old. We are meeting my parents at our house to celebrate Mother’s Day. (It is Mother’s Day.) We arrive at the back alley and it has been cordoned off with caution tape. At its far end, a neighbor I recognize sees me and shrugs. A police officer appears; he lifts his finger signaling to wait. He then comes back several minutes later, “Just out of your eyesight there is a woman on her roof. She is threatening to jump.” I explain where we live. “You need to take the other way home.” Doing so, my six-year old asks, “What kind of fever does she have?” I tell him that is a good way to think about it.
We get home and my fingerprints are pressed into my son’s hand. The baby has fallen asleep. My mother, who loves crime of any kind, tells us what she has found out: The woman had a fight with her boyfriend. She has threatened to jump if anyone walks by and looks up at her. She is running and jumping between the rooftops. Is your office door locked?
An hour or so later, my son scrapes his knee. As my father says, it “ looks angry.” He is inconsolable. Eventually, a good half-hour into murder-scene crying, I bring him out on to the street to distract him with the emergency. There are about a hundred people on their front lawns in barbecue outfits, talking in groups and looking up. The SWAT men are carrying metal things and trick driving, but despite this display, my son wants to get closer to see the woman. No, I say, while explaining to the trumpet player across the street that I am consoling my child with his bleeding knee by watching a suicide attempt.
Soon after, they rescue the woman with a cherry picker. Wheeling her on a stretcher into a waiting ambulance, I can see the back of her head and it tells me nothing about her. A neighbor grumbles: she kept the street closed for seven hours. As if to say: and she didn’t even jump!
In true date-fashion, I’ll answer your questions now (again, terrific.) I do not use outlines. This is not to say that I don’t have ways of ordering. I am very orderly, but not omniscient. Maybe I am like those architects whose blueprints are scribbled onto napkins and I have rooms filled with napkins and they are carefully catalogued. I actually feel I would make a lesser building if I did have an outline - that I would be superimposing something GPS-esque on to my work prematurely - and that the best parts often come unbidden. You?
Regarding Canadian-writer happiness measured against American-writer happiness, let’s meet at the border and discuss it. Which side would you want to be on? The happy or the unhappy side? Does one make for better writing?
I am reading “The Girl with Brown Fur” and find I am laughing like those four people with their backs to the garage door, looking up, not knowing what will happen next, but caring in a way that is unsettling.
The thing is, about the woman almost ten doors down, unless she had been really precise about her fall, it would not have killed her. She would have broken bones – maybe just a leg - and joined the legion of people walking around injured.
Tell me: How was your Terence Davies movie?
Your pen pal,