This exercise comes from the James Scott Bell’s plot book, but it hit me so hard I decided to treat it as something separate. Basically, Mr Bell takes the old adage, “Write what you know,” and makes it, “Write who you are.” It sounds almost Julia Camerom-esque. When you invest yourself into your writing, you can’t help but focus. Like how we walk by a window, adjusting our hair or touching our face, in the reflection, even in passing.
When you put yourself on the page, you are galvanizing, charging, adding weigh for gravity, loading the piece. It makes sense.
But this doesn’t mean writing an autobiography every time. Rather, you insure any piece stays original, fresh, by writing from who you are.
We do this, on every page, we must keep in touch with ourselves. How we keep in touch with ourselves is by answering the following questions, or similar ones, often.
. . .
What do you care about most in the world?
I care about my wife, deeply. Her happiness is mine. Her pain is mine. I argue a lot with her, and I always want her to argue back, because I care about her thoughts, so want ours to merge. Plus, I’m always looking for ways to . . . ok ok, enough with the young husband talk.
How would you want your obituary to read?
I don’t think I have ever, ever read an obituary. When I hear the word obituary, I imagine a fuzzy black and white photo on yellow newspaper, small text, and some quotes from the family. Wasn’t there a novel where the character obsessed about obituaries? Anyway, what I have read are Paris Review memorial pieces, like, in commemoration. Those are fantastic, well written. So humbly, I would like one of those please, with extra ketchup on top. It would list all the places I have lived, would cite all the people I have loved, and would show a great photo of me that I myself have never seen — taken by someone I have never met.
What is your physical appearance? How do you feel about it? How does it affect you?
I remember praying in the closet of my childhood bedroom once. “Please let me be beautiful.” That word wasn’t in vogue back then, in the 90s, and I don’t know why I used it. A decade later a lady friend of mine asked me what I thought about being called “beautiful.” I was stunned, like when years and years rush back to your head. She explained, “Because you’re beautiful and I was just wondering how you would react to me telling you.” Life came full circle. I suppose about how being “beautiful” affects me is that it grants me privileges, in the current sense of the word. When I make a mistake, I get off the hook easily in life and at work. I find it easy to introduce myself in business meeting and at cocktail parties. Overall a plus, which I am grateful for, and which I would like to pass on to the next generation (winky face). Although, truth be told, I have pushed the line before, dated wildly, all to find the outer limit of my looks . . . and dare I say, I have found that limit . . . so now sit peacefully in my chair, happy with my cocked nose, small ears, many moles, and skinny arms!
What do you fear the most?
My first ever post on this blog was about my greatest fear, I believe. About wet grass. I still hate wet grass. Something about the itchiness, the squishiness. Blah! Not even with shoes on. Other than that, I don’t fear death, although it makes me sad. I don’t fear rejection, although it hurts. And I don’t fear losing my wife, if I am being perfectly honest! If she cheats on me, we’ll stay together. If she dies first, well, that’s what I get for marrying an older woman. What else . . . what I really fear is never “making it” as a writer. The simple kind of making it, too, like a major publication, world-wide tour, cushy job at a university. You know, the simple kind. If I don’t get that, then I will be deeply, tremendously, anatomically disappointed with myself . . . and a large motivator for this blogging and for my writing and for improving is just this: I do not want to end up a loser according to myself.
What are your major strengths of character?
I listen, adapt, care about people at large. And I believe in love. It’s a motivator and a purpose for me. I am optimistic and I don’t fear the unknown. Always persevere. Give people multiple chances. Like they say, once a teacher . . .
What are your major flaws of character?
I used to lie. This in turn fucked with my sense of self. (Am I being honest now?) I assume a lot about people, even as I listen to them. I don’t appreciate half as much as I should. And I forget to notice the positive in myself and others (this coming from a generally positive guy). I don’t care about money. My emotions come before other people’s arguments . . .
What are you good at? What do you wish you were good at?
For some reason, I always wished I had been better at basketball. Later I wished I had spent less time on video games so I could be good at piano . . . now I wish I were so good at writing, I could pen a single line ONCE and it come out brilliant. That’s what I call mastery. To be the old man with a long white beard at the front of a classroom, and to put white chalk to black board, and scribble some impact. That’s what I wish. And it would save me a lot of time rewriting if I could just pound out a beautiful novel in one go. Imagine that! Now, what am I good at? I am good at focusing. My brain synthesizes ideas easily. I have a pretty strong memory. And math comes easy. Above these mundane tricks, I have a way with strangers. They call me charming. It’s a skill I have held sacred, close to my chest, since I made my second grade teacher laugh the first week of school.
What would you be successful in if you could be successful in anything?
Writing DUH. I feel so unsuccessful in it. And it’s been seven years since my autumn revelation (of who I want to be). Well, if it isn’t that, I do harbor illusions of opening a bar. Of opening a bath house. And of running a club. So, I suppose, if I could be successful in anything other than letters, it would be businessing.
What are three events from childhood that shaped me?
So many, right? But I’ll pick three that come back to me, consciously, often enough. The first is my very first memory, of asking my mother what day it is. “¡Tu cumpleaños!” she shouted. I have always walked around as if it were my birthday, and lol, today it is! The second is being in the car with my father and him explaining death to us. “Morir es lo peor que hay.” Let’s just say I never want to end my life, so there goes that option. The third childhood event that shaped me is, in fact, a series of road trips we took as a family growing up. Always to west Texas. Those hours and hours on the road taught me patience, while nature taught me respect. You wouldn’t want a bear to maul you, no?
What are your annoying habits?
I was doing it as I was reading the question. I hate how I twist my beard. It sprinkles my shirt in twisted hairs, ruins the shape of the groom, and mollifies my anxiety like a wet towel over a roach. Blah. Also, I tend to take the opposite stance in any argument, even if it goes against what I believe, just for the thrill of the fight. Last (sike, nothing is last) is, because I share different interests from the general populace, when I am in a conversation I sometimes bring up a topic or make a comment that no one is remotely interested in, so they move on without replying. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes I feel I am annoying to them as a person, with ignorable ideas, boring stories . . . I wish I weren’t though ;/ wherefore my whole social existence hinges on my overcoming preconceptions. Is this a social status thing? If I were richer or more successful then would people listen more? Or are rich douches just as annoying? Slippery slope . . . when deep down who I really am is a jester of sorts, just trying to find my way back to the throne.
What secret in your life do you hope is never revealed?
Seriously . . . as if I’d write that here!
What is your philosophy of life?
This final question is so nice. Philosophy of life, as in the way we maneuver our day-to-day? I often remind myself that things are meant to happen, and that we make them happen, that I can create meaning, and discuss my thoughts with others. Everything can either teach us or distract us, on our way toward realizing our dreams. I believe in doing things for love, I believe in the inherent goodness of people and events. We should always assume the best in others, even though this is hard to do. Be generous with our time and money. Listen to a lot of Alan Watts. Question everything. And fulfill your purpose, for as long as you live, whatever it may be.