April 14th, 2006

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Book excerpt ... Peacetalk 101

[Excerpt (lightly edited for space reasons) from Peacetalk 101, pp. 57-59]

Henry had been pretty sure that getting Ralph to come work on the car in the evening, after a long day at the shop, would be impossible; he only tried because he had so little time left. But because it was so important, he really put his back into it.

He paid very close attention to what Ralph said and to what he himself said back. He didn't leap to any conclusions about what Ralph would say; he rejected preconceptions right and left. He stayed in tune, speaking Ralph's language in every way he knew. When Ralph tried to provoke him, tried to get him going, he ignored it -- he took no bait, no matter how tempting. He was careful to set things up in such a way that if Ralph finally did give in he wouldn't feel like he'd lost face. He talked about how a good mechanic is like a good doctor, and can save lives, choosing that metaphor because he happened to know that what Ralph had really wanted to do was go to medical school. He trusted his inner grammar to get him through the conversation. And he was careful to remember that the goal he'd chosen was not to win, or to make Ralph lose. The goal was to convince Ralph to come fix his car. It took a while, and keeping track of it all wasn't easy. You'd have to practice all that stuff, he realized, if you wanted it to be easy. But it ended with Ralph saying, "Okay, buddy -- just this once! I'll be there about eight."

Far out, Henry thought.

Ralph was as good as his word; he showed up at five minutes before eight, toolbox in one hand, beer in the other.

"Where's Timmy?" Ralph asked him as they walked to the garage.

"Already asleep," said Henry.

"Shoot. I was looking forward to talking to him again."

"I don't see how you can talk to a three-year-old kid," Henry grumbled.

Ralph raised the hood of the car and peered under it. "Easy," he said. "You talk while the kid listens, the kid answers while you listen, you talk while the kid listens, and so on. Like that. It goes around and around." He made going-around-and-around motions with his free hand.


"Of course you've gotta speak the kid's language, you know! Three-year-old kids, they don't know anything about beer and poker and pretty women and stock markets. You use your common sense."

"Well, what do they know how to talk about?"

Ralph banged on something, hard, and reached for the flashlight on his hip. "You were three years old once, man," he said. "What did you talk about?"

Henry thought about it. "My mom, I guess. My dad. What my dad did at work. The kids I played with. Stuff like that."

"You see? You're not dumb, Henry, you just have to remember to use the brains God gave you."

There was a lot more thumping and banging, and Ralph added that thumping and banging was the language you needed for communicating with engines.

"Are you getting anywhere?" Henry asked him.

"Sure. Piece of cake!"

The sentence that popped into Henry's mind, all ready to go, was: Well, if it's such a piece of CAKE, Ralph, how come it's taking you so blasted long to FIX it? He looked that sentence over, where it was all written out in his head, and he considered it. Suppose he said that: He'd be putting Ralph on the spot, backing him up against a wall where he'd feel like he had to defend himself. It came out of the drawer labeled "For Picking Fights With People" or maybe "For Making People Feel Stupid and Lose Face." It was obviously not the way to get the car fixed.

"That's good news, Ralph," he said instead. "Let me know if I can do anything."

Suddenly Ralph was looking at him, hard, and he hadn't cracked his head on the car hood when he straightened up fast like that; it was one of the mysterious things about mechanics, the way they never cracked their heads on the hood.

"Listen, Henry," the man said, "I want to tell you something. You need to talk to Timmy more, man, you hear me? If he doesn't have talks with you, how's he gonna learn to do that? And Henry, let me tell you -- you need to cut out this 'I'll have conversations with him when he's older' stuff. The people we love, man -- they're just here on loan... You never know how long God's gonna let you keep them."

Peacetalk 101, Lethe Press 2003; ISBN 1-59021-030-1.
ozarque figure

Quick [primitive] tech question....

I tried all sorts of ways to set up the Peacetalk 101 excerpt post so that it would have indented paragraphs, and nothing worked. I tried uppercase Ps, I tried lowercase ps, I tried putting the tags both at the beginning and the end of the paragraph, I tried putting them only at the beginning.... I did remember the brackets. My computer was indeed plugged in at all times.

Result: I posted and deleted the excerpt four times, and then gave up and used white space between the paragraphs.

Ridiculous. I amaze myself. If someone would explain to me how to do this correctly in the LJ system, I'd be grateful.