This morning I rode from Doylestown, PA to the Philadelphia airport on a train. I sank into the rocking rhythm and stared out at the bright trees and would have been beautifully happy except I was sort of consumed by terror that I wouldn’t recognize my stop when I got there. I tried to soothe myself by pointing out to myself that probably the airport wasn’t well-hidden. Probably it was in the best interest of everyone to make it easily found.
On the other hand, the train to the airport didn’t show up at the time flashing on the LED display and didn’t have the number on the side of it that was promised on the LED display. The only reason I knew it was the train to the airport was that I overcame my fear of seeming like a fool and…asked.
What’s the worst thing that can happen? We say that to ourselves and each other all the time. What’s the worst thing that can happen if you ask and the woman behind the counter looks at you as if to say, you fool? Well, the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll have the old junior high sensation. You’ll be flooded with feelings that say you are an outsider and an object to be mocked and scorned and you will never, ever be an object of admiration in anyone’s eyes, ever until you die.
That’s the worst thing that can happen.
Now I’m sitting in the airport feeling a jolt of joy to be in an airport—even though I know the plane will be stuffed and the person in front of me will be the only person on the entire airplane who has decided he must recline his seat and I’ll sit with my laptop crammed into my belly button. I often get upgraded because of my many airline trips. I know the still often mostly male world of weekday first class and the joys of sometimes having my bag come off first after a long, tedious wait at the baggage claim. But my jolt of joy has nothing to do with the airport really.
It has to do with something planted deeply in my brain that I don’t understand.
Someone once said that writers say what other people only think. We love the writers who can name the humiliating, vulnerable things that make us weak with worry. That’s one good thing about having lived through eighth grade–we have those feelings inside of us that we can use in our writing.
When we’re creating characters, it’s important to remember they have those vulnerabilities, too. They often don’t know why they feel what they feel. They are groping around in this world trying to find the right train, trying not to lose their laptops in the process, trying to feel they have earned a spot on this earth.