With our impending house-merge and move to Charleston, Barry and I have been listing furniture on Craigslist. We own doubles of everything—couches, cookware, tables and rugs. Choosing what to take and what to leave behind is a dizzying project.
On Saturday, two twenty-something fathers arrived to haul away a pine wall unit gathering dust in my basement. The men were new to Ohio, having come by way of Kentucky and West Virginia. The twang in their voices was “hill country” with an undertone of weary acceptance. Their job digging sewers for municipalities meant they never stayed in a city longer than a year, and I marveled at the logistics of moving two wives and seven children from state-to-state. I took their cash with misgiving then loaded them up with children’s books and toys, including the huge neon blue “bouncy ball” my own children enjoyed from the toddler years through high school After-Prom.
An elderly black couple appeared to buy my bar stools. She was lean and elegant, her tight curls glossed a modern, metallic gold. Her husband? He stood silently, the front pocket of his shirt half torn off as if he’d donned the clothing on a pass through Goodwill. Which immediately brought to mind a depressing statistic: more men than women have lost jobs in the Great Recession.
A gay couple arrived with chatty effervescence to purchase my living room couch. A nurse with a limp loaded my end tables into the back of her rust-bitten Chevy. A young man from a local church, his teeth bad but his smile wide, picked through the freebies stacked in the foyer.
A landscaper covered in dirt and frantic with worry hauled away the refrigerator in my garage. He was twenty-six years old, a single dad with four kids, and his girlfriend was back at their apartment trying to salvage the contents of their dying freezer.
Why should you care about the people I’ve met on Craigslist? If you’re a writer, you know that good prose evokes an emotional response in the reader. The characters we dream up carry shadings of fact. Those “facts” deliver the most impact if they cause the reader discomfort or allow her to view aspects of the human condition that are unfamiliar. Leave the fluff to the neophytes. Gritty is good.
The people we meet shape the books we write. This last week has taught me a great deal about endurance, about how everyday people lead heroic lives. No doubt most, if not all, of what I’ve learned will soon find its way into my fiction.