Last week, the New York Times Magazine featured the French creative non fiction writer, Annie Ernaux, who at 82, garnered the Nobel Prize for Literature, last October. The article, by Rachel Cusk, was fascinating on so many levels – part discovery road trip, part examination of what merits literary distinction. It made me want to read her work, as well as Cusk’s partner on the road trip to meet Ernaux, Delphine de Vigan’s work. Hopefully they exist in translation; my middle and high school level french has a patina of age and disuse that would preclude my enjoyment. I’ve nevertheless loaded up my audible cart with some Ernaux titles. Reviewing the article again, this quote jumped out:

What Annie Ernaux understood was that as a female child of the regional laboring classes, her self was her only authentic possession in this world, and thus the sole basis for the legitimacy of her art.

Rachel Cusk- A shock of Recognition – Is there a living writer more brutally honest than Annie Ernaux? NYTimes Magazine, Sunday, May 7, 2023

I bought myself a self audit tool this week- a deck of cards which allows you to assess your core values. This blog will get uncomfortably far from the values I ended up with after going through the deck a few times. In this season of graduations, it is natural to welcome introspection and purpose seeking. Maybe others of you are searching, too, for other folks who share your common values. Maybe a partner on the road of life. That took me to Bumble recently. A digital naif, the whole thing is pretty unmooring as an experience.

On the Bumble front, last week my finger hovered over the red Block Contact type on the contact number I’d created to differentiate “Lonny” from any other unnamed number. We’d exchanged numbers after a brief but vulnerable exchange on Bumble. Then we’d played phone tag all week, he calling when I was not available at work; texts following which promised a phone call that night. Those didn’t materialize, until three calls at 10:37PM, followed by a needy text “I’ve tried to call you but you aren’t answering. Please call when you can.”

I called Saturday morning at 9:30AM to no answer. Nothing all day Saturday, and then he’d called Sunday morning while I was on the weekly zoom with my college pals. “Sorry I can’t talk right now” text followed by an explanation of why I couldn’t talk, my friends following the escapade in real time with me. I texted back “I’ll be available after 9:30. Could we FaceTime?” Several minutes later he let me know he would be grocery shopping but would call me when he got home.

For multiple reasons, I didn’t erase “Lonny’s” number from my phone. Perhaps it was the kind eyes in his original profile pix; perhaps it was the harness of my gender expectations preventing me from not being liked, or not wanting to be rude. I did send a text that we were having a lot of trouble finding a time to connect. Should we continue? Thoughts? For whatever reason, I left his number in my phone, and continued on with my morning.

He eventually called, and our conversation was stilted with lack of familiarity and a dash of paranoia on my part, my understanding catching frequently on his heavy accent requiring me to ask him to repeat himself. We meandered between topics, eventually leading to my asking what he liked to do when he wasn’t working. Movies, fishing. “Do you like to fish?” he asked, his deep languid voice cutting between our phones.

“I have fished. I know how to fish, but it isn’t something I do much.” He then told me that he had fished with his father, or more accurately, his father had taken him to watch him fish, so that he could learn.

We continued to chat for probably 15 minutes, ending with the agreement that we might meet, or at the very least, have a FaceTime chat the next time.

As we wrapped up our chat, “Lonny” encouraged me to send him a picture of myself. I went on to make a business call, so didn’t send one right away. He sent a nice one of himself (?) at work, matching the profile pictures that I could no longer see on the app. I felt content that all was well until I suddenly thought about the picture as a baited hook.

You can see why this whole thing is treacherous for someone prone to paranoia who is looking both for a way to meet someone she can trust, while balancing her desire to craft a story with a dramatic arc.

In subsequent days, “Lonny” has texted early in the morning and called late at night. This makes me think of my friend Susan’s time zone, which is similar – early morning is late afternoon, and late evening for her is morning for me.

However, his out reach at those times assumes an intimacy not yet merited, which I told him in a text after he wished me “Good morning, dear” and I responded with a laughing emoji. “What’s funny?” He asked. he called me shortly after, not on FT, and our conversation again, was stilted and awkward. In an effort to make conversation, I asked him what his favorite gem was (he’d told me he was gemologist). This after he had asked me what my favorite color was – blue – which coincidentally? was his favorite color.

“Sapphire,” he responded. What is yours?
“I have a necklace that is tourmaline that I love; I’m not a fancy-dancy person.”

To his credit, he laughed, but then proceeded to a comical conversation about what ring he would make me if we were together. When I laughed and said, “Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves, here, Lonny,” he launched into a line of “well I know what I want.” To that I could only say “one step at a time. When can we FaceTime?”

Oh lord this is good stuff. Sorry, “Lonny,” but you need to know this about me. I use my life as creative fodder.

As I stood in line today for our two commencements, I approached two of our playwriting faculty with an earnest question.

Is it cheating when material presents itself to you? Is it like using ChatGPT to write something? I think I’m getting cat fished and the material just keeps coming. What are the ethics here?

Just trying to stay solid here, but the temptations are great. I mean really great.

4 thoughts

  1. This is really terrific, Els! And isn’t all creative writing inspired to some degree by actual experience? (There’s a character named Harrison in John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire, and John Irving told my friend Garrison that HE inspired the fictional Harrison, although I’m sure Garrison would have figured that out by himself.

    Have you done any research on Lonny? Perhaps he is also writing something, but more likely he’s not…I know someone who had an afternoon coffee date with a man who had to leave within an hour for another meeting. My acquaintance surmised, based on this man’s extreme nervousness, that he was probably engaged and just taking a last dip into the online dating pool for fear of missing out.

Would love to hear what you are thinking!

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