Sunday, March 25, 2007

Believable dialogue

I love great dialogue. It flows and leaps and sparkles when it's right, and it sounds just like a Lone Ranger Radio Hour announcer when it doesn't. In romances there's a common plot device, the "Big Mis" (the Big Misunderstanding) which is so great that it a) keeps the lovers apart for most of the book and b) is ultimately very silly because if the two characters would actually T-A-L-K to one another then the Big Mis could be cleared up in a matter of moments.

I have a dream that one day I'll write a scene of dialogue where each person is telling the absolute truth and trying not to deceive the other and both parties come away from the conversation with exactly the wrong impression of what just happened. I think this comes from having been in the situation over and over again. I find myself replaying various conversations in my head, trying to figure out where I should have asked for clarification, or what I was assuming, or why I was reluctant to repeat what someone said for fear of sounding like a fool.

Case in point.

I'm talking to Dear Butcher's Mom, a woman I like to be around much more than my own mother. She visits about twice a year and takes each one of our kids for a week in Manhattan over the summer. Nice lady. When she visits she stays in our "extra bedroom" (actually my shitpile room which also houses the computer. And my Captain Jack Sparrow action figures. And the majority of the broken pieces of electronic equipment I haven't yet thrown out. Have I mentioned that I now have Three vacuum cleaners--two of which are broken? Have I mentioned that vacuum cleaners as a rule do not fit in the average garbage container? Sigh.)

So anyway, Mother in Law (what bloggy nickname can we come up with here? Favorite Grandma? Dear Butcher's Mom? Grandma E? New York Grandma? Hmm.) has had knee surgery, so she hasn't visited us. She mentions in the conversation that she's finally feeling as if she can travel.


"I was thinking of coming out with Amy when she comes." (Amy is her daughter who travels a lot on business.)

"When's she coming?"

"The 31st. Are the kids in school?"

"Yeah, but it shouldn't matter. I think they have the next week off."

"Oh, really? I thought they were out that week."

"Nah. But you know, it's OK. Come visit anyway. We'll leave two in and take one out day by day--they'd like to spend some one on one time with you anyway. Amy's staying in Oakland?"

"Yes, at her friend's house. I'll be there a week. Dear Butcher says he'll do a Seder."



OK, class. What's your impression of this conversation? Maybe that daughter is flying out on business, staying the weekend and grandma is staying the week to visit with kids? Grandma stays here and Amy stays in Oakland? Kinda? Sketchy on details, but I think this means that cleaning the shitpile room is in order.

What I found out last week: Amy isn't staying the weekend, although she is staying with her friend in Oakland. She's staying for a week, which is fine. But what No One told me is that this is her family's vacation--that's right, husband and two boys are coming too. Yeah, NOW it's a problem that my kids are in school that week. Dear Butcher is only taking the days off he needs for the Seder, and I'm left with the fricking family descending upon the house for a week of "What shall we do today?" Ugh. How did I miss that important point? What the hell do I do with my son, who's only in school one hour a day and who is going to lose his mind when his two older male cousins start roaming through "his" house? Have I mentioned how much I love holidays?

Here's another weird conversation from this week:

Last Board Meeting we had a conversation that the School Board needed to have a joint meeting with the City Council on the evening of either the 27th or the 29th. (We want to force them into a joint meeting so that they'll sign an agreement they're stalling on. We publicly announced the proposed meeting to put pressure on them to Just Do It.) So I call the Superintendent the other day.

"Any word on whether the meeting is on the 27th or the 29th? I haven't seen anything which confirms it one way or another."

"Yeah. You have to get your child care set up, don't you?'

"Yep. I sorta need to know before tomorrow evening what's going on or I can't be sure I can be there. But I'm not so sure you need me there anyway."

"Oh NO! Not at all! You are really important to this process, and we have to make sure this works for you. I heard the 29th, but I have to call again to confirm."

"OK. I'm going to be out for the afternoon; just leave a message on my machine when you hear one way or the other."

Later that day I listen to my messages:

"Hi Suisan. I just spoke to the lead negotiator for the Teacher's Association. She's saying the 29th is best. I think we're starting at nine in the morning. But if you have to leave at any time to get your son to school, you can head out whenever you want. I think they'd like to see you at the start though, if you don't mind."


Negotiations with the union?

WHAT? That's an all day meeting! Wait a minute, what did I miss here?

If I were in a book I would have dutifully clarified: "When will the Joint Meeting between the City and the School Board take place?" "Amy is coming? Oh. I did not know that. How long is she staying? Is this for business?"

But no. In real life I keep bumping into this wall of "Oh THAT'S what you were talking about!"

Not only do I need a secretary, but I also need a communications director.

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