Thursday, October 14, 2010

When You Visit New York City

When you visit New York City, you try your hardest to not look like a tourist. In the morning of your first day in this new(york)city, you pick your clothing piece by piece from your knock off Louis Vuitton suitcase, and whisper inside your head that no one can tell that it isn’t real. You search for an outfit that says “I live in Chelsea.” You return some items to the brown and brown bag, deciding that the sweater or shoes are too Midwestern. Too comfortable for a Manhattanite.

Once you are on the street, starting your big day, you aren’t sure that you are walking toward Times Square. You can’t remember if it was left or right. You refuse to pull out your map. You hope that the direction you are walking, even if it is wrong, is not dangerous. You have seen your fare share of CSI episodes. As your heart begins to beat faster, you wish that you had looked up which neighborhoods in New York aren’t safe to walk alone. Scolding yourself, you think how typical this behavior is for you. To be so concerned about an outfit that you didn’t care to find out where you are most likely to be killed.

You begin to make a plan to turn around, to walk back the 6 or 8 or 10 blocks to the shineless doors of your budget hotel. You want to return to your room and double check your directions, to maybe ask someone at the hotel to help. You want to call your best friend and admit your stupidity. To admit you’ve been walking at least 15 minutes in what you think is the wrong direction. To be wrist slapped through the phone for almost getting yourself killed by wondering into a gang-infested neighborhood. For being too proud, or cool, or stubborn to pull out your map. You recognize that even being told that ignoring your helpful, colorful, fold-out map is stupid, you would rather be lost than look like a tourist. You might rather be mugged, too.

As you cross the street, the first step in your perfectly calculated plan to check your watch, check your phone, dig through your bag, look frustrated, and turn around in a huff (hopefully signifying the fault of someone else in your need to backtrack), you look up and into the visual cacophony of the Times Square billboards. You smile to yourself, silently congratulate yourself, and continue walking on in the direction that you knew was right all along.

Question to writers: How does the "you" form (2nd person?) benefit a story? What do we gain from using it? What do we lose?

1 comment:

Erin said...

How did it feel to write this way? Have you been enjoying Lorrie Moore?

Here's why I think this is a successful voice:
Because the "you" is imposing action on me (the reader), the writing makes me an active participant in the narrative. Not only do I read a bit closer, but I am constantly evaluating the action the author assigns to me and thinking, "would I really do that?" When I realize that, yes, I really would fret about my clothes being too "midwestern," I chuckle a little.

At the end of the piece, I reflect again about how the narrative mirrors my own experience. I realize that, while I don't actually know a thing about New York, I've felt this way about other cities: the desire to fit in, the desire to ditch the map, etc. I am comforted by the fact that the author understands me. There's a connection.

If the narrative had been in first person, the author's account wouldn't help me feel as understood and connected. As I read, I might think, "I've been too stubborn to get out a map a few times," but I wouldn't feel "boy, that author really gets me."

I love the last sentence of this piece! I also like when you write, "you think how typical this behavior is for you." It makes us aware of how often we narrate our own selves and our own movements.

A question: How many times does Lorrie Moore write the word "you" per paragraph? I wonder if another piece of her success is the way that she uses "you" just enough to remind us of the voice ...but not too much. Weren't we talking about how she threw in the imperative sometimes in a way that the "you" was implied but never written? : "Search for an outfit that says, "I live in Chelsea." Return some items to the brown and brown bag, deciding that the sweater or shoes are too Midwestern..."

How would your piece change if you went through each paragraph and took out some "you"s?