It is easier to tell what’s wrong with someone else’s work than what’s wrong with your own. I have spent several years editing, first cookbooks, then engineering proposals for potato processing plants. This week I received a manuscript draft from one of my favorite writers, former newspaper reporter Sarah Wolfgang, who’s now teaching English at Barry University. She’s writing a book with the working title Freakin’ Streakin’, about spending two weeks in a long haul refer truck with her dad, and how she got there. Here’s an excerpt:
I spotted Dad organizing sugar packets at a window table.
“So what’s goin’ on with you?” I asked, dropping into the waiting, empty chair. He patted the last packet into the container and shook his head. “Man, I totally f—ed up.”
“Well …Y’know that Darth Vader email attachment I’ve sent you before?”
Darth Vader: Your powers are weak, old man.
Ben (Obi-wan) Kenobi: You can’t win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.
“Yeah. Well, I sent my résumé to about a half a dozen places and accidentally attached it.”
“’You serious?” I said, shaking my head. I glanced out the window but saw the hovering coffee pot approaching and flipped my mug. “Guess this means I’ll be buying us breakfast for a while then, huh?”
It did. Of course it was a shitty thing to have happened, but it was also a great f—ing story to tell. I think I was even a little jealous that it hadn’t happened to me.
And there you have it, the sign of a natural-born storyteller. You wish something bad had happened to you. Because every event is grist for the mill, chaff to be turned into wafers for the Eucharist.
Nora Ephron’s parents were both screenwriters, and she was raised thinking of everything that happened around her as material.
I am no Nora Ephron, and I was raised by a surgeon and a former operating room nurse. It was with eyes darting sideways that I surreptitiously took notes of whatever drama unfolded around me. Sometimes I still feel uncomfortable scribbling in a notebook. I am not in a war zone. I am not on the staff of The New York Times. But if broccoli can be cryovacked, move through space at 75 miles-per-hour, and achieve a tasty afterlife, then surely there is hope for the detritus of daily life.
It’s all in the packaging.
How do you transcend yourself?