When Charles is listening to particularly good music, he scrunches up his nose and closes his eyes and nods his head in time to the beat. He calls this his sick face, as in, "Man, this music is sick!" If I could have any talent of my choosing, it would be the ability to really sing (I'm tone-deaf in the extreme sense of the word - I could make your ears bleed), just to make him make his music sick face once in my life.
I was thinking about this last night. We had the extreme pleasure of sitting in the seventh row of a beautiful, sold-out Charleston music venue to listen to Gillian Welch and her partner Dave Rawlings perform two amazing sets of songs. Charles made his sick face a bunch of times, and I got to contemplate the two performers' sick faces.
Gillian's was more of a sick hunch - when she'd get into what she was playing on the guitar, she'd sort of fold in on herself. Eyes closed, she'd step back from the microphone and just play, and you could see how much she felt her music. It was a part of her, and it almost felt like I was intruding, just by watching. But by then the music was a part of me, too, so I tried not to feel too guilty.
Dave's sick face was more classic - his eyes would close, too, and his mouth would sometimes move like his fingers as they flew across his guitar or banjo. Same thing - it's that moment of shared intrusion, perhaps, that seems to happen to all really great performers.
So I started thinking...do writers have moments like that? I mean, we certainly don't have moments to actually share, since writing is such a solitary activity. But if we did, what would our sick faces look like?
When I thought about it, I realized I have two, and for both, I'm pretty glad you can't see me.
One occurs late at night. I'm always alone for it, working in silence either on the couch or in my bed. Typically by this time I'm in my comfy clothes or pajamas, contacts out, glasses on, hair in a messy bun. Looking terrible, in short. But sometimes I get so into what I'm writing, trying to construct a scene or a set of dialogue, that an hour passes before I know even a minute's passed, and when I stop and take stock of myself, I'm sitting curled into a pretzel with my legs all twisted and I'm staring intently at my tiny computer screen, squinting my eyes and scrunching the rest of my face. It's a pretty ill-looking sick face.
My other one is funnier, and if you live in my neighborhood you possibly have seen it. This one occurs when I'm out running. I've got my headphones on, my music up, and I'm running with the rhythm, thinking about a character or a plot point on which I've been stuck. Suddenly, the answer is there, right in front of me, so clear and obvious I can't believe I didn't see it before. That's when I bounce a little, smile hugely and clap my hands (this may only make sense if you know that I was once nicknamed Tigger). I assume this looks ridiculous if you happen to be driving past...a hot, sweaty mess of a runner, jumping around and clapping, smiling in a way that must look more like a grimace on my bright red face.
So there you go. Writers have sick faces, too. We're just less able to share them, unless you happen to catch us at just the right time. And when you do...it's not pretty.