Some days you just know strange magic is at work.
Yesterday, as the sun was sinking in the sky, I walked down the alleyway at the end of Tasman Avenue, crossed the road and walked over the grass to the creek that slithered along the boundary of Rawalpindi Reserve in Mt. Albert. My intention was to walk in Evelyn’s footsteps in 1944—she’s a fictional character in my book—to see what she saw. Up ahead, her bare feet pounded a frantic rhythm. And then, a second set of footsteps, padding quietly beside mine. It was Linette, the real woman Evelyn was based on, a woman I would give anything to have met before she died.
Taking a walk with a character you wrote into being and a ghost might sound strange, but it couldn’t have felt more real. This is the power of imagination and words. And, I learned later that night, the power of characters in other genres, too. I had dinner at Coco’s Cantina (love you guys—thank you for supporting Girls Interrupted) with two incredible actresses: Outrageous Fortune’s Antonia Prebble and Nothing Trivial’s Nicole Whippy. Antonia had noticed a similar thing about acting: until you give a character your breath it does not exist. And that over the top of a particular place is draped two layers of gauze: those people, real and fictional, who have been there before.
I am reminder of Nabakov’s Speak, Memory where he talks of his son collecting pieces of pottery on a Mentone beach:
I do not doubt that . . . there was one whose border of scroll-work fitted exactly, and continued, the pattern of a fragment I had found in 1903 on the same shore, and that the two tallied with a third my mother had found on that Mentone beach in 1882, and with a fourth piece of the same potter that had been found by her mother a hundred years ago—and so on until this assortment of parts, if all had been preserved, might have been put together to make a the complete, the absolutely complete, bowl, broken by some Italian child, God knows where and when, and now mended by these rivets of bronze.
– Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited by Vladimir Nabokov
Late that afternoon, as if I needed another reminder that today was woven with strange magic, I received a package. It was an inscribed copy of Heart to Start from author, entrepreneur (and aspiring astronaut) Derek Handley. I’d met Derek years ago when he’d started Hyperfactory and, more recently, chatted with him about books and art when he was back from New York.
What a cool, unprovoked gift to receive. Thank you, Derek. And why is it doubly strange? At dinner at Coco’s later that night Antonia began a story about her good friend in New York…Derek Handley.
Oh what a strange and magical world we live in.