Sunday, April 26, 2009

wanting to go after my subconscious with a knife

From: Barbara (in a comment to this post)

So where did Julia's name come from? She's hardly a secondary character. And Victoria Kuiper? Not a secondary character either. They both start out as chance encounters and end up being loved fiercely by Aud the Deep-minded.

Between the ages of 8 and 11 my best friend was Juliette Lyons. I burned for her (in a don't-know-what-sex-is-yet way). I wrote about it in And Now We Are Going to Have a Party:

As I was learning poetry, I found out I needed glasses. My best friend Juliette told me, "You look much nicer without them." And so at recess I ran outside without them. It was the first time I did something foolish because I wanted to look nice for a girl. Playing rounders (a bit like softball) is tricky when you can't see the ball. After one or two games Juliette suggested that for team games it might be permissible to sacrifice vanity for school spirit.

Playing rounders was where I first noticed the gender divisions that were beginning to crop up all over the place. The boys' football team got all the resources: they had a football field, while the rounders team had to use the ordinary playground; the boys had uniforms; eventually we got our uniforms, and they marked out the playground for us, but it was clear where the priorities lay. Girls and boys were worth different amounts in the world.

This gender strangeness began to pervade my life. Juliette, and my other best friend, Catherine, began doing unfathomable things. Instead of riding bikes and running around, Juliette wanted to listen to music, and wear fashionable clothes, and go hang out in town. I went along with it. I liked music. I'd always liked clothes, and found the new hotpants particularly fetching. Why not? I thought. I even got into the habit of pulling my hotpants snugly over my ten-year-old prepubescent bum, going into Anne and Carolyn's bedroom (Anne was away at college, Carolyn had mostly vanished from home), putting a Rolling Stones 45 on Carolyn's turntable, picking up a hairbrush, and lipsynching to "Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown" or "(Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

The hanging out in town was puzzling, though. The first time we did it, Juliette produced cigarettes. We were to smoke them, stand around and look cool. Catherine coughed and choked, Juliette and I did not. I soon got bored. I didn't see the point of this ritual display.

Juliette and Catherine started doing things together. One day when I wasn't there, Catherine told me that she and Juliette had gone to Juliette's house, taken off all their clothes, put on perfume and an Elvis Presley record, and danced around alternately naked or draped in a fake bearskin rug. Then they had practised kissing.

I felt funny in my tummy: a great loss--it should have been me kissing Juliette!--but also as though I'd dodged a bullet. I knew even then that kissing girls didn't mean the same thing to Juliette and Catherine that it meant to me, and I wasn't ready to deal with that. Unconsciously, I wanted to be a child as long as I could. I dreamt about the kissing, though, and on my next Christmas list I put Elvis's "Heartbreak Hotel."

Elvis, of course, makes another appearance in my memoir, again connected to a girlfriend. (Oh, just go read the book.)

Victoria 'Kick' Kuiper is a bit more complicated. I'm not sure--

Oh. Well, huh. I've just realised something. Victoria, Vicky, was the name of my very first best friend, Vicky Brazier, from age 4 to 8 (when I moved schools and met Juliette). Now I feel sorta sheepish--why didn't I know this? The subconscious is a tricky thing.

I'm also seeing that I have a thing for Dutch last names. I have no clue why (no conscious clue). At some point I imagine some reader will ask me a question and I'll slap my forehead in sudden (and probably embarrassed) understanding. But right now: no idea.

As for changing Victoria to Kick, that's easy. I like short, hard-ending names, and she was a stuntie, so it just made sense.

Anyway, clearly Aud loved these two women because on some level I did too, long ago.

This is something I struggle against in my fiction. When I finished The Blue Place, I thought about Julia, and about Thenike (from Ammonite), and saw that many of their physical characteristics, particularly their hands, were Kelley's. I berated myself for a paucity of imagination and decided Aud's new love would look nothing--nothing--like Kelley. So I made her a bit more stocky and strong, with small hands, wide shoulders...and realised she was beginning to look like me. (And let me tell you, that felt really creepy.) And then of course she got MS. At which point I felt like going after my subconscious with a knife.

Writing is a strange business. Sometimes I think I know exactly what I'm doing; other times it becomes quite clear that I'm not the one steering the ship. Mostly, though, I just don't worry about it too much. Right now I'm looking forward to the day when I figure out how my subconscious has shaped all these gob-stopping Anglo-Saxon names...

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