But what I want to focus on was the moment I stepped into the door. I walked in, smiling and strong. I walked in with all this HEALTH surrounding me. My pinked cheeks, my sturdy body, my clean-and-free-from-cancer insides. I walked into her house and she sat in her chair with cancer eating at her, what was left of her hair and her partially bald scalp showing through a little from her scarf, her pallid complexion.
Before she said a word, the look in her eyes said, “I want to be healthy again. I want to be strong again. I want to have on my cute clothes again. I want my hair back! I want this fucking cancer out of my body RIGHT NOW! I want to be ME again.” And maybe even, “I’m glad my friend is here, but . . .” But, she’s making me feel sicker. But, she’s making me feel ugly. But, she’s making me feel hairless and sick and pale and pukey and weak.
For that moment before we chatted and were just the friends we were, I’d put myself in her place (and maybe she in mine)—what I thought I would feel if I were sitting in that chair and she had come breezing in with all that gawdamm Health I used to feel and wanted to feel again—whether I’d hit it on the nail isn’t important for the purposes of things from a “writer’s perspective.” What matters is—
Empathy. Perception. Projection.
I could sit down and remember that moment of clarity. That “look” I saw in my friend’s eyes. The feeling I suddenly had that made me feel as if we could so easily trade places. The feeling that somehow I made her just a little sad or uncomfortable or maybe even a bit envious of my good health—for why should she be sick and I be healthy? Who or what decides these things?
I could sit down and write something from HER point of view—easy to write it from mine, how I perceived that day, but in “writing what I know” I can also use that moment of recognition to write something from my friend’s perspective. Will I get it exactly right, will I know everything she thought or felt? No way, but that one moment of that one flash in her eyes, the wistful sound of her voice, the energy charged in the room, the sickness and the health, all of it I can recall. And from that could come a story written from “what I know.” Empathy. Paying attention. A knowing. A guessing. A projection. A perception. A learning. A reaching into and out of. I could take what I’d think I’d be feeling and pass it onto her (on to my character).
Sometimes that’s what Writing What You Know means.
By the way, my friend is fine now. Healthy and feeling wonderful. Pinked cheeks and shiny hair. No one would ever have to know, except her.
Have you had an empathetic/projecting/perceptive moment that has stayed with you? Perhaps spurred on a story, or, maybe just changed the way you thought about things/a person/a situation?