No one is more bored at a baseball game than this girl, so it’s interesting I’ve experienced epiphanies at two.
Baseball Game #1 – Cleveland Indians, and I was 6. I finished my Amelia Bedelia in the bottom of the first inning, and by the second I was facing death by boredom. I vowed never to be caught without enough to read ever again. “It’s true,” my husband, Matt, will tell you. “She takes two suitcases on vacation: one for clothes, one for books.”
Baseball Game #2 – Cincinnati Reds, and I was 21. I hoped that the baseball game 15 years ago would be my last, but I married a baseball nut who thinks the Reds on the Radio makes for the perfect three-season soundtrack. Mercifully, Matt requests my presence at only one game a year, and it was at this, our first as newlyweds, that I noticed MLB had livened it up for the bored, bored, bored with gimmicks almost interesting enough to make me look up from my book (See Baseball Game #1), like a kiss cam. I thought, “Wouldn’t a kiss cam make for a cute start to a love story?” (See Lu, Chapter 4, pages 27-28).
I’m a romantic, though my love of love doesn’t manifest in the usual ways. I don’t like heart-shaped stuff. I hear lyrics like, “I’d catch a grenade for ya,” and change the radio station. If someone laid a trail of rose petals, I’d wonder about who would clean them up, and the day after I returned from my honeymoon, I stuffed my wedding dress in a black garbage bag and took it to Goodwill (not a commentary on the honeymoon, just my lack of romantic nostalgia).
And yet (and yet!) – I’m a total sucker for a kiss cam. A love story. Romance novels were all I read in junior high. Dozens and dozens. This isn’t your missed opportunity because I’m going to tell you all you need to know about them in five sentences. There’s a man: a handsome rake, who’s not to be tied down to any one girl until he meets the girl, a beautiful woman who is in unfortunate circumstances (perhaps a greedy uncle stole all her wealth or maybe it’s the rigid class structure limiting her to two choices: governess or prostitute). How will she ever save herself? She won’t. She can’t. But he can and will, usually with some combination of his vast wealth, superior strength, keen intelligence, and lasso skilz.
I’m not here to discuss the problems with this model, but its impact on my perceptions of:
- How I looked. A girl can begin as an ugly duckling, but she can’t end there if she hopes to find love.
- How I viewed men. They would always have the edge – be that much smarter, that much more capable, that much more powerful. I would be lucky to have one, really.
- How I viewed myself. Lesser. Of little worth. And consigned to roam until a man’s love rescued me.
- How I viewed love. Tumultuous. Passionate. How the story must end if it’s a good one.
Oh my poor, poor high school and college boyfriends. This was a bit much to put on them, eh? Such expectations can only end in failure, and we failed without fail. But this post also isn’t about my relationship past, either.
It’s about love stories. I’ve never been that interested in reading a story without one, so I couldn’t write Lu without one, either. But how?
Well, as with anything else about me, I started with what I would not do:
- Linger on physical descriptions. Physical attraction plays a key role in escaping the friend zone, but it isn’t narrowed to the coloring and size preferences of the moment. I kept my descriptions nonexistent when I could and spare when they served another purpose or were unavoidable. For example, we tend to look into the eyes of the people we like. It would be strange if Lu didn’t notice Jackson’s were green. But I let the reader fill in the rest of the blanks.
- Hoist the man on a white horse. Men and women are different and equal. Put the right two together and each will go farther than he or she ever could have gone solo. It’s not one-sided, and it’s not to be confused with rescue or completion of the other.
- Blur the lines of love and romance. It’s not a love story without the thoughtful gesture – in Lu’s case, the plate of expired donuts or bag of hot dogs. And it’s not a love story where someone doesn’t mess up.
- Force the Hallmark ending that I – yes I’m claiming this one – wanted more than anyone.
Once I set those boundaries – that no one in my book would land the cover of Vogue, play it perfect and play it right until The End – well, shoot! They started to operate more like real people and less like stereotypes, even though their story started with a kiss cam. They weren’t tidy. Real people aren’t. Their decisions weren’t always above reproach. Real people’s aren’t. But for me, the writer, they were always interesting.
And more than that. Anytime you put something out there – a comment, a post, a song, a picture, a story – it’s consumed. By who and how many, who’s to say? So it’s best to know what you’re about and take care. I assumed my friends would read Lu, but I never presumed they’d give the book to their college and high school daughters. The first time I heard about this, I did the fastest mental rewind of the story I’d ever done, remembering the effect of my reading choices on my adolescent life choices. Would a 14-year-old girl come away from Lu comparing herself to my protagonist and thinking she was lesser? Would she think the answers to her deeper search for love end with a man instead of God? Would she think love stories must look like a kiss cam from start to finish? No. Not perfectly and not above critique, but I’d written a love story – multiple, actually – as I understand them to be.
Matt and I were at the annual baseball game this past weekend. The kiss cam didn’t come for us – it never does. It’s still the only part of the game I pay attention to, but my uncle had arranged and paid for this year’s outing, and it felt rude to read through it. By the bottom of the second, the bases were loaded with no outs, and I was trying not to fall asleep (see above concern about being rude). Matt had everything he needed to be in his zone, but he stepped out of it with a commentary about a background on each of the players on base. That one is from Venezuela and this one is from Texas. Did I know lots of MLB players come from Texas? I did not, and nor did I know about left-handed pitchers and right-handed batters. Or maybe it’s the other way around. On and on Matt went, not offering the baseball stats and theory that geek him out, but the backgrounds and profiles that would catch my attention. Keep me awake. No one could hear us. And no one who could see us would think a thing, but it was a little love story unfolding anyway.