comments on “live through this”

My friend Cyndi and I were chatting online while she was reading Live Through This, Chapter 8 of U-town. I saved the log, of course, and I was thinking of using it as my latest blog entry. However, it proved unwieldy to edit, and it would have been way too long, so I decided to summarize it instead (Cyndi’s idea, I confess).

Many of her comments were about the characters, so that’s how I’ll organize the first part of this.

Jennifer Owens

I commented that this is sort of the “All Jenny Owens all of the time” chapter, where you really get to know and (perhaps) appreciate her after she’s dead, which is sort of the situation Pete is in. Cyndi said that, when Jenny died, she was not that upset, and I thought that was partly because she didn’t really know Jenny that well yet.

Jenny is generally disgruntled about her life. As starling says to her, “You’re the girlfriend.” And she gets to sit in the “girlfriend seat” at the rehearsal. It doesn’t bother starling, when Henshaw tells her to sit there, because she knows she’s not the “girlfriend.” And besides, if it did bother her, she’d shoot him. She doesn’t let resentment build up.

And, as Cyndi pointed out, Jenny is hormonal and pregnant (and overheated in the rehearsal room) so that doesn’t help her mood at all.

Philip Henshaw

Cyndi had a couple of comments about Henshaw, one of which was that he seemed very controlling and orderly, and the other was that he sometimes didn’t seem to care very much about Jenny.

The former is definitely true, Henshaw wants to run things, and he always has a plan of where he wants to end up.

As for how he feels about Jenny, I think he enjoys the relationship (which isn’t the same thing as really caring about the other person), and he enjoys the fact that he “took her away from Tom.” And he does regard her as a valued possession (she’s attractive and tough and sexy and interesting), which is why he reacts as he does when someone touches her in a way he doesn’t appreciate.

He is complex, not really a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” There are reasons the Jinx like him, and, as Pete later points out, Henshaw wouldn’t have bailed out on Jenny as Pete did. Actually, he is, in many ways, a fairly typical guy, the sort of guy who’s good if you’re another guy, not so great if you’re a woman.

“After all, you don’t tell your woman what a beautiful body she has, make love to her, and then laugh when she can’t get into her pants. Especially not if you can accomplish the same thing with a glance.” (Cyndi said this made her laugh out loud, and it’s pretty telling about how Henshaw treats Jenny.)

starling and Pete

I revealed to Cyndi that one thing starling deals with all the time is that she has killed some people who weren’t strangers. This sticks in her mind as she meets new people, and as they maybe become important to her, that maybe they’d be better off if she went somewhere else. Cyndi pointed out that this has really isolated her, and that’s no way to live.

I had a friend once, on the BBSs, who was a therapist, and he said the most important thing he had to do in some therapeutic relationships was to re-teach the patient how to connect with other people, teaching them skills they could apply in general, using the therapeutic relationship as an example to the patient. And that’s what, unintentionally, Pete does with starling, because, for all his other weaknesses, he is incredible accepting and non-judgmental.

Cyndi said she liked Pete, and I said that you almost have to, you just root for him to be better in some ways, because there are things he needs to get fixed, too. He is, as Cyndi commented, good natured (especially compared to Henshaw), but ultimately he isn’t any better to Jenny than Henshaw is.

Secrets

This came up when I was watching Good Night and Good Luck (highly recommended, by the way). There are two characters in the movie who are married, which they are keeping secret since corporate policy at CBS was that no two employees could be married. At the end, it turns out that everybody who worked with them knew. This reminded me about Pete, who was sure he and Jenny were being crafty about their affair, but after the fact he finds out that most of the people around them knew all about it.

This came up in our chat because Cyndi asked if Jenny’s friend Cassie knew she was pregnant. I said I suspected she did, but that she wasn’t saying anything because Jenny hadn’t mentioned it to her. That’s often how it is. You think nobody knows your secret, whatever it is, but usually they do, and they aren’t mentioning it because you don’t.

Appropriate Behavior

Cyndi asked what the hell Jenny was doing drinking beer when she’s pregnant, and I pointed out that people do all kinds of things when they’re pregnant (drink, smoke, etc.). I wondered about adding a little disclaimer, “Please do not try this at home.”

As I’ve said before, I’m waiting for somebody to complain about all the smoking the characters do. Then I can say, “starling kills people over coffee creamers, and you’re worried about smoking?”

Method Acting

We also discussed the necessity of letting your characters do what they want from time to time (as much as possible, in fact). You can’t just push them around like chess pieces, or that’s how they will come across to the reader (who probably won’t be a reader for very long).

With the rehearsal scene in this chapter, I just set it up, decided when the guys were going to break in, and let it play out. It was a little bit of a risk, since if anybody (in or around the band) had died, it wouldn’t have worked, since this was a flashback and we know they all survived. But I had an idea they would survive, especially since starling was there.

I’ve done that with other parts as well, like the conversation at the end of the On Separate Stars chapter, which went in a direction I’d never have expected, but it was true to the characters. My thinking about this is influenced by Dave Sim, who said he used the same technique in the scenes where he entered Cerebus as a character and had conversations with the main character. He pre-planned what he wanted to talk about, but then just let Cerebus respond how he would. If you know your characters very well, if you can really put yourself in their shoes for a while, you can do this.

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