There’s a dangerous thing in my neighborhood. A great independent bookstore. A great independent bookstore on the way home from my kid’s school. So there I am, driving up the road in the glow of the first moments of Time to Myself, when I see it: the bookstore. And a parking spot. My foot’s on the brake, my hand’s on the wheel, an apology to the dog, who thought we were going directly to the park and staying there indefinitely, and there I am, walking in. Again. Because I totally need more books that I didn’t buy last week.
Anyhow, three bookstore visits ago, about mid-October, I was there to buy a book of poetry I’d been reading about that had been making splashes. So I browsed through the new fiction and new nonfiction tables, examined all the 2022 wall calendars, and went directly back to the poetry section. I couldn’t find my poet, Diane Frank wasn’t it, the book title a man’s name, short and blunt. I asked the person at the register, who kindly looked her up. We’d have to special order, those small presses, we don’t always keep it in stock. They read titles aloud, but nothing jogged my memory. I’ll have to look it up and come back, I said, not at all regretfully, and off I went to West Seattle, to see a friend who used to live very close to me until there wasn’t a bridge connecting us.
Three blocks away, I realized that I hadn’t been looking for Diane Frank’s work, but a book called Frank: Sonnets, by Diane Seuss. Which just goes to show I guess that the world is lousy with poets. So much to read! So many people to discover! Maybe there’s a poet named Frank Seuss too, or even Seuss Frank. I wouldn’t put it past someone to be a poet named Seuss Frank.
But I kept driving — I could always drop by the bookstore another day — and driving and driving because I was going to West Seattle, and the whole time I was talking to the bookstore clerk in my head. It was Diane Seuss and the BOOK was called Frank! I repeated this revelation to the clerk-in-my-head until I was almost embarrassed, though nobody could hear me. Which brings me, as circuitously as the drive to West Seattle, to my main point: the weird satisfaction of talking to people in our imaginations when we can’t talk to them in real life.
Imaginary conversations, real satisfaction. Seriously:
I tried this idea out on my students yesterday. We’d been practicing writing dialogue and using quotes, and I wanted to give them a free-write/journaling project they could do outside. I wasn’t sure it would go over well, especially given the distractingly beautiful weather, but it was a hit!
Imagine you get to talk to someone you can’t talk to in real life. Maybe they moved away, or died, or haven’t been born yet. Maybe they’re famous and you only know who they are. Maybe they are imaginary. Maybe they are another species, or an alien. Maybe it’s your past or future self. You can write them a letter, or have a conversation with them where they get to talk back, saying whatever you imagine they might say.
Right Eye’s Conversation with Left Eye and Nose
My students had some questions. Can my right eye talk to my left eye? Yes! Can there be a third member of the conversation? Yes! Can I talk to myself? Yes! My answer, when kids have an inventive twist or want to take a prompt in a new direction, is almost always yes. Unless it’s a totally slackerly direction. But sometimes that’s a yes too. Like yesterday, one kid just went off and lay under a tree without even a pretext of a notebook. After checking in to make sure he was OK (I’m thinking, he said), I left him to it, because maybe when a twelve-year-old screen-loving kid goes and lies down under a tree something important is happening.
And the rest of the kids? They wrote so happily, I couldn’t bear to stop them, so we wrote and wrote, and when they shared afterwards, it was wonderful. Beautiful, wacky, profound, mysterious, edgy — everything I love in kids’ writing. Right Eye and Left Eye worked things out despite how Nose was between them, and one kid discovered they’d grow up to marry Bob Bobbington, which seems like such an efficient thing to know ahead of time.
And speaking of impossible conversations, I just have to imagine Bob Bobbington and Seuss Frank sitting down somewhere, maybe in the cafe of their local bookstore….