Once in some fiction writing text or another, I remember an exercise where the student was supposed to read a story and actually type the story with his or her own hands, feeling the movement of idea and thought that the writer might have had. The hope was to have the inspiration move through and into the student, giving the student the ability to sense pause and action and thought and voice. A kinesthetic exercise, I suppose.
I never assigned that exercise, though I have assigned modeling type exercises, giving students a story or poem to emulate. In my essay writing class at UCLA, this week's assignment was to model an essay on Natalia Ginzburg's essay He and I.
The truth is, I can't emulate this essay enough. I love it because while we see the differences between the He and the I, we see the strength of their long connection. But I thought I would share my results, and as I was cruising the internet, I see that this must be a popular assignment, one that even gets published.
List of He and I
(after Natalia Ginzburg and with apologies)
I used to be a morning person, waking before the sun rose, sitting down to work to the reflection of myself in the window, darkness surrounding me save the desk light hovering over my computer.
Compared to him, I might as well be retired, nothing to do, no where to go until 12 noon. As far as I’m concerned, it’s still night when he gets up, going back and forth between the bed, the bathroom, the kitchen, the bathroom. His head is already in the office, typing out bits of code, worrying about his “team” and all the data they must master.
I’m in bed, wondering about sleep and how it used to feel to sleep.
He’s in the kitchen, mixing soy and bran and vitamin potions, slurping down flax seed oil and tomato juice.
I’m in bed, plotting my revenge.
He leaves for work before 6, and I sit here, right now, writing about him.
I used to be the obsessive neatnik, keeping everything but my desk and the laundry closet in perfect order. I hate folding towels and bedding, the monotony and rigid requirements of cloth corners.
He goes in and refolds the bedding, his cotton sheet packages origami- like miracles.
He has lists of what to buy and when to buy it, but they aren’t just lists. They are lists on a computer program he wrote and posted to his web site. He can read these lists from any store we are in because he’s made the lists based on the stores: Trader Joe’s, Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl.
Wherever we go, we know what we want. He pulls out his iPhone and tells us, clicking into his list in the middle of the produce section, carts banging all around us.
“God damn asshole,” a woman mutters, her cart full of organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables.
I still think I’m in a family, my food clock set to nightly sitting down with people in a group, eating together and talking.
He doesn’t want to eat too much at night sometimes, preferring to sit down on his chair with a class of wine, putting his feet up, and watching Iron Chef.
The show makes me hungry and mad. I want lobster bisque. I want pan seared scallops and steamed pile of green beans. I want a piece of salmon, sautéed with a caper sauce. I will eat all the weird fish, especially if it’s pan fried. Or at least a salad.
I like to work out early, getting the weights and the cardio out of the way so I can live into the rest of the day. I want to shower once, blow my hair dry once, put on an outfit to go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond once. I do not want to shower, dress, work out, shower, dress. My hair will turn into straw. I will form scales. I will swim away.
If he had his wish, he’d work out at 5 in the afternoon, the day a long slow lazy progression to the work out. Then he wants to come home and have a glass of wine, put his feet up, and watch Iron Chef.
I want to read; he wants to work on a program. I want to talk; he wants to work on a program. (I want to write; he wants to sit on the office couch and talk). I want to go on a walk; he wants to work on a program. I want to clean a house; he doesn’t even want to hire a house cleaner. Or he wants to write a program to tell us what to clean and when.
I order theater tickets, and he buys me lunch before the show. We sit in the tiny velvet seats and he falls asleep during the parts that are boring. He wakes up for the climax and weeps at the end. We hold hands as we walk down Powell Street.
We fly to New York City, and he doesn’t stop moving, pulling me along everywhere. He finds the jazz, the art exhibits, the food. We stay in the Guggenheim until my feet hurt. I find the play; he picks the restaurant. I pay for the hotel; he pays for the airfare. We stay up late and wake up early. We drink coffee and stand on Madison Avenue, interrupting a movie shoot. We climb up on a rock in Central park and look up at the buildings, knowing that we are in the park and knowing we are here together.
Sometimes, we both want to cook. Finally, he’s hungry. We begin to prepare our meal, the music on, the door to the deck open, the breeze from the bay blowing in, which is good news because our range hood doesn’t work so well.
I open a bottle of wine.
He sautés the fish because I don’t know how to cook fish, especially the weird kind. He can cook anything.
I prepare the green beans. He makes the salad. I make the rice. We talk and we laugh. Maybe he will make me a margarita. Maybe we will have a slice of Camembert or Brie.
When the meal is ready, we sit at the maple table we bought together, the one with enough chairs for all our children and family on the holidays. Outside, the sun is setting, the sky a blast of barely blue.
We have a movie we picked out together, and we will sit, both our feet up, and watch. At night, he will hold me and it’s the hold I want, even if the morning comes too early.
Causes Jessica Inclán Supports
Women for Women International Goodwill Industries Lindsey Wildlife Museum Freecycle.org