A rare epiphany today. Sitting in on a grade school math class, I listened to children figure strategies to determine the precise number between 28 and 43.
Like that, I saw in the sunny classroom the mistaken path I’d taken in my novel’s rough draft. So intent was I on constructing the whole that I’d overlooked the necessity of knowing each particular piece – the unknown that will carry me from 28 to 43. Is it merely that I feared to lose sight of the whole? In each of my characters – as in every one of us – there’s an empty place, a yearning of trembling hunger.
After school, sprawled on the dim staircase while the kids practiced basketball, I wrote my own variation of strategies for those missing pieces – about the teenage boy who lost the lucky rabbit’s foot he had stolen from a corner store years before, while his uncle argued with the cashier about a lottery ticket. As stolen contraband (and girly pink), the boy had kept the rabbit’s foot hidden. Through coincidence, a woman finds the broken thing ground into an icy road….
In the handful of those classroom moments, I realized these pieces might form the schematic of this novel yet-in-the-writing, and while amorphous destiny hides from us, the coincidences winding us unwittingly together are a misplaced rabbit’s foot or a sweater left on someone’s chair.
… over time, we stop perceiving familiar things – words, friends, apartments – as they truly are. To eat a banana for the thousandth time is nothing like eating a banana for the first time. To have sex with somebody for the thousandth time is nothing like having sex with that person for the first time. The easier an experience, or the more entrenched, or the more familiar, the fainter our sensation of it becomes. This is true of chocolate and marriages and hometowns and narrative structures. Complexities wane, miracles become unremarkable, and if we’re not careful, pretty soon we’re gazing out at our lives as if through a burlap sack.
— Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome