“Where do you GET this stuff?” a reader recently wrote me, after reading that post I did about contraceptive methods at the time of the Titanic, and all I could tell him was the truth: The universe delivers it fresh to me every day, the same way milk once was once delivered, the bottles clinking together in their metal crates.
The idea for that particular post came from the National Geographic Society, whose electronic eyes and ears had ‘noticed’ I’d been wandering the decks of that long-submerged craft on YouTube and decided to forge a bond with me.
I got an email in other words, with a video clip showing a couple of archivists talking about those difficult days when a doctor they cited as having given birth control advice was banned from practicing medicine for having done so.
Other ideas cross my radar in other ways, just as they do with all of us: We overhear a bit of conversation. We open our eyes just as a Canada Goose zooms past our bedroom window, showing the intricate weave of feather and sinew that lets him soar. One fall morning we look at our accustomed across-the-street view to see trees so fiery in color they look like a gathering of redheads.
I can hold onto sights such as these if I go right to my keyboard and set them down, and in such a way that a reader can almost see what I saw, or feel something like what I felt. Then I try to write the way people talk. I try to write the way a teacher talks when he or she is trying to make you feel happy you came to class. Happy and safe and undaunted by the fact that today you’ll be starting that four-week unit on Macbeth.
Undaunted because the teacher will be with you the whole way, as will your pals in the seats around you.
Undaunted because you trust by now that this teacher won’t single you out or send you to the board to drill you with hard questions.
I mean yes, it’s Shakespeare and yes, the language takes some getting used to with ‘an’ sometimes meaning ‘if’ and ‘marry’ meaning ‘By Mary!’ or in our parlance ‘By God!’ but if you hear it read out loud or see it acted, the meaning breaks upon you.
Anyway, no one will blame you if you don’t quite catch it the first time. Certainly there’s no shame there. Think of the child who thought The Star Spangled Banner had a line in about ‘bums bursting in air.’ Or that poor soul who got the words to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds wrong, really belting it out when he reached the part where ‘the girl with colitis goes by” – and apparently never even wondering what an affliction like that was doing in a Beatles song.
But hey, some of the best fun you can have in life comes out of how wrong you get things. I think of the time I mistakenly poured cat kibble instead of laundry detergent into the washing machine. And the time my little daughter wondered aloud about that old Daryll Hall song. You know the one surely: Where he’s saying “every time you go away you take a piece of meat with you“?
So where do I get this stuff? The world just delivers it up, like those milkmen of yore with their clinking bottles. All I have to do is be there to receive it.