Friday, February 26, 2010

Driveway Discussions

My plans for the day yesterday got thrown out of whack early in the afternoon when there was a knock on my door. It was my neighbor, asking if I had electricity. Initially, I said of course I did, I was just working on my computer. To check, I flipped the light switch for my entryway light -- and nothing happened. It then occurred to me that, duh, my computer is a laptop and has a battery. The battery is just about shot, but it will hold a charge for a little while. That's one good reason for writers to use laptops. If the power goes out, you don't lose what you wrote since the last time you saved.

While I was on the phone with the power company, my neighbor apparently did some investigating, and she came back to tell me that the power company was doing some work down the way. We went out and stood in the driveway, watching to see what they were up to. Another neighbor came by and said they were replacing a transformer, so they'd cut off power to the area. Nice of them to let us know they were going to be cutting off power.

So, my neighbor and I hung around, watching the power people with their big crane thingy, and chatted about books. I was telling her about my current Dick Francis binge and what I like about his characters, and she asked me what I'd studied in college. I told her journalism, but mentioned that I've done a lot of reading about psychology. It turns out, that was what she was curious about. She has a psychology degree and thought it sounded like I was really into psychology. Even more, she studied Jungian psychology. From there, we got into discussing archetypes, Joseph Campbell and the collective unconscious, and analyzing the possible psychological underpinnings of the mass appeal of the Twilight series.

Yes, I even talk about that kind of stuff while hanging around in the driveway, chatting with my neighbors.

We eventually got cold and went into our respective houses but said we really ought to get together for tea sometime (we're both solitary sorts). And then I realized how dependent I am on electricity. If the power had gone out fifteen minutes later, I probably would have already headed out to run a couple of errands, but my garage door has an electric opener, and it's a pain to disengage it to open the garage manually. Or I would have already made my afternoon pot of tea and put it in the Thermos. But since my house is all-electric (we can't even get gas where I live), I had no way of making tea. I do, however get tons of natural light, even on a cloudy day, so I was able to read. I was just starting to wonder how long it would take to boil water over a candle when the power came back. I rushed to make tea and get it in the Thermos in case the respite was temporary, but I guess whatever repairs they did worked.

As for what it is I like about the Dick Francis characters, I was telling my neighbor about how his characters are so perceptive, noticing little things about people and situations. She said, "Oh, like Sherlock Holmes?" and I said that it was more like someone who was able to do a lot of the things Holmes does, but didn't realize he was capable of it. In general, Dick Francis characters are people who rise to the occasion. They think they're ordinary, or at least only skilled or proven in one particular area, and then they get into situations they're totally unprepared for or that are beyond what they're prepared for, and that's when they find out what they're made of. They don't realize they have Holmes-like powers of observation until they witness a crime and the police are impressed with how much detail they recall. They don't know how brave they are until they're in a desperate situation and have to put themselves at risk to save someone else. For me, a lot of the pleasure in reading these books is watching the characters find out who they really are and how strong they really are in the face of great adversity. I guess it's that old best thing/worst thing theme that I love -- where the worst thing that could happen turns out to be the best thing because if it hadn't happened, you never would have known that you were functioning below capacity.

I think I haven't been nearly mean enough to my characters. I haven't tested them thoroughly enough. Now I need to think of something awful to do to the people I'm currently writing about so they can rise to the occasion.

Meanwhile, I will be putting myself to the test tomorrow. I'm speaking at a library, and while the coughs and sniffles aren't quite as bad right now as they have been, talking for half an hour could set me off again. It will be an adventure.

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