THINK IN PROPINQUITIES. It’s a phrase that makes me sound more prim librarian than not, I know, but I love that word “propinquity,” and its reminder that you think of your angle shots when the topic you want to write up is Thanksgiving, for instance. Don’t give us a Polaroid of the day, but rather some side view that illustrates how you learned a new way to give thanks. It happened to me when I brought a New York City cab driver to Thanksgiving dinner.
I was single, living in Manhattan, and that morning it was a particularly unglamorous life. With a snapped ankle, a cast and crutches, I thought that no holiday cheer was worth cantilevering the flights from my brownstone apartment. And then the phone rang.
My hostess was insistent. Her son would come into Manhattan and fetch me. I couldn’t let him. And I couldn’t say no. Through the decade it took to lose my mother to Alzheimer’s, these were only people who each year invited us to holiday dinners. And now, it would be my first holiday alone.
No, I’d get there, I promised. I’d take a cab.
The only thing in my fridge I thought worth bringing was a six-pack of imported beer. Into a bag, over my shoulder it went and, balanced on my crutches, facing uptown traffic I felt like little more than a grimace in a skirt. Especially as cab after cab sped away without me after finding out I was going to Queens—not a short trip. If I’d had a lonelier hour in New York I don’t remember it.
Finally, slumped into a back seat, I wept over the Triboro bridge. At Shea Stadium we got snarled in the molasses of holiday traffic.
After a while I looked at the photo on the cabby license and realized the driver was probably about my age. We were going nowhere and the silence was awkward. I offered him a beer and we sat in the traffic by Flushing Bay for more than an hour, having our holiday drink, talking. An actor, without family, far away from home, he had volunteered to work the holiday so other cabbies could be off. When we finally got to Queens, my friends swarmed out the door, fearing, I guess for what had happened to me.
“You have to come in,” said my host to the cab driver.
When he got out of the cab I caught sight of the unfortunately placed hole in the backside of his old sweat pants and hobbled close behind him as camouflage.
Inside were the sounds and smells of the day: Football, ice in glasses, the cacophony of a family gathering its wits for the big production number. My hostess noticed the hole in his pants and offered the cab driver the most comfortable chair in the house and then a seat at the table and later, one on the couch to watch the Giants. What I noticed were all the old friends from my community who kept streaming in to say something to the nice cab driver who had brought me home for the holidays. And who had stayed for dinner.
That night on the ride back I sat in the front seat and Manhattan never looked so much like a candleabra-ed banquet laid out from the Bronx to the Battery. The meter was off. In fact, the fare for the trip out was canceled. He helped me out of the cab and up my stairs. Didn’t give him my phone number; he didn’t ask.
Two weeks later, I was still laid up. Around dinnertime my buzzer rang. It was one of New York’s finest cab drivers delivering a hot meal for me. Nothing more, but more to the point, nothing less.
So think in propinquities. To do so, use the calendar. It’s every blogger and essayist’s best right-hand man, allowing you the time to plan, write and submit magazine and radio pieces six-months or a year in advance of high emotional holy days, or to stockpile them for publishing on your blog.
Get yourself a backlog of ideas and resolve this time to write them, and then send them out in a timely manner (weeks in advance) to your local public radio station for that daily essay they run, the magazine (six months to a year in advance) you read regularly.
The high emotional holy days of the year are many, and many are widely celebrated—Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving. Some are deeply personal—an anniversary, a birthday. And some are universal, as well as deeply personal, such as the summer camp season and the beginning each year of school.
But if you’ve been reading along in my memoir how-to posts you know better than to write a mere turkey and relish piece for Thanksgiving, unless you are simply conveying a recipe, though in my experience every recipe comes with a side-dish story. For Thanksgiving, think about gratitude or taking stock, and what they really mean; think of the background emotional stuff instead of Norman Rockwell’s steaming bird; think of the small ways in which we are taught to be grateful. Think about that universal idea of bringing something to the table.
Try it. And let us know how it goes.