Thursday, May 13, 2010

13. On Feeling Sorry for Celia

Last night I dreamed that a friend said to me: ‘Do you realise there’s a spotlight shining straight into your bedroom? We can see you from way across the river here!’
I was so embarrassed. But then I remembered I’d only been reading The Moorchild last night – a quality children’s book with a Newbery Honor sticker on the front – and wearing my best blue pyjamas, not the ones that fall off my shoulders. So, at least that was something.

Chill in the air today, but warm in the sun. At the Avenue Road Café, two English women sat down at the table beside me. They were dressed in parkas and scarves, and one said, ‘Back home, we’d be wearing t-shirts on a day like this,’ and they looked at one another and laughed. They laughed a lot, those two, in sudden, loud bursts, about small things. They were good company.

I wrote Feeling Sorry for Celia when I was living in Cambridge, England. I lived there for three years, working on a PhD, and I remember walking home one day, and thinking: what is this, what is this strange feeling? Then I realised it was happiness. Not that I’d never been happy before — I had a very cheerful childhood — but I couldn’t remember ever feeling such sustained, persistent happiness.

Feeling Sorry for Celia is a book about two girls who make friends through a letter-writing exchange — one goes to an exclusive, private school called Ashbury; the other to a poor, rough school. The main character, Elizabeth, also gets letters from imaginary organisations such as The Association of Teenagers.

When I was in high school, a friend of mine transferred to another school. Even though we still lived nearby, we decided to write letters to each other. She wrote hilarious letters. And she wanted to be an artist, so she decorated the envelopes, and sent me little paintings. So, that was the inspiration for the letter-writing in the book.

Also, when I was in high school, there was a voice in my head all the time that said things like, ‘Well, don’t you look gorgeous today,’ and ‘Huh, that was very clever, what you said to that boy, he is definitely going to ask you out’. Only the voice was being sarcastic.

At first, I was going to just refer to the fact that Elizabeth had this jeering, sneering voice in her head. But what was funny about that. Nothing. So I took the voice out of her head and distributed it amongst various clubs and societies. To lighten the mood.

Two things I just now realised: the letters I got from my friend when I was in high school — they were the exact opposite of the voice in my head. Also, when I was living in Cambridge — in an attic room with sloping ceilings, an owl in the tree outside my window, cycling through streets with shopping bags tied to the handlebars, writing a novel at night in the computer room while undergraduates played computer games around me (‘I’ve got the gold key’, ‘I’ve got the silver key!’ ‘I will eviscerate you!’) – the voice was just about gone.