"So, what is it about writing?" I said.
"About writing?" said Annie.
"I mean, you can just go around and keep your ears open and go hunting for dialogue and use the best stuff you hear. Or you can write stuff that's not quite what you heard, but kind of what you heard, but different somehow. Or you can make stuff up entirely."
"So?" she said.
"So, what do you think of all that?" I said.
"You mean what is the way?" she said.
"Yeah, what is the way?" I said.
"Well, I guess I've always thought that true writers were the last kind. Writers like Tolstoy and Dickens and even Tolkien. They kind of create whole worlds out of nothing, or almost out of nothing, and you get the sense they know every twig and leaf in them. So they're kind of like Gods in that way, creating these worlds, and then as Gods they walk us through these worlds like men, and they show us the way. I guess I always thought they were the true writers."
"I see what you mean," I said.
"But then there are other writers who are more like portrait makers. They're more interested in getting at the essence of a place or a person or of the world at a particular moment in time. They're always searching for little moments of truth — chasing time, trying to catch the fading light."
The light in the park was going away.
"But then I also know that — wait, I think it was you who told me — that some artists say you sometimes have to lie to tell the truth," she said.
"Not exactly," I said.
"I mean, some things can only be gotten at by making stuff up," she said.
"Sometimes real life doesn't give you all the right material," I said. "So you have to invent something that's true to the feeling you had, the feeling you're trying to get across, even if the thing you invent didn't actually happen. It's an idea from Werner Herzog. He calls it the Ecstatic Truth."
"I think you told me," she said.
"A lot of people don't understand that," I said. "They get all hung up on details. Did this happen, did that happen. But it's not always about what happened. Sometimes it's more about how you felt when you were in it, what it made you think of, what it could've been, or what it almost was. It's less about what happened, and more about how it really was, which is something else and something more."
The park was getting dark and the lights were coming on. The ground was hard, because of the drought, and you could hear mosquitos. At a certain point the sky didn't get any darker, because in New York the sky at night is orange.
"You know, I met a guy in New Orleans," she said, "and we had a little fling. We were covering the oil spill and reporting 12 hours a day. We'd eat red beans and rice in bayou bars at 2 in the morning and watch the oil wash up on the shore with the blues on the radio. It was amazing."
She shifted on the hard ground.
"But then I came back to New York and we tried to keep it going. We'd talk on the phone and I'd be like, 'Well, I just worked 10 hours, grabbed something to eat at Trader Joe's, and I think I can maybe see one star in the sky.'"
"No more magic," I said.
"You know, workaday life," she said, "it's just not that glamorous."
"When you're on the road, out there moving around, things are very loose and free and you're just constantly swallowing down new experiences, and new people too."
"No, I didn't mean it like that," I said. "I mean swallowing down in a good way. Like, you're up for anything, and if someone wants to join you for it, all the better."
"Yeah, like that," she said.
"But then it's hard to keep it going when you get back to your normal life, with your work, your rhythms and routines," I said.
"It is," she said.
"It seems like anytime I go on a trip with someone, we end up breaking up right afterwards," I said. "But for me, I don't think it's because the excitement is gone. For me I think it's something different. It's like, there are these gaps between everyone. Every couple, every set of siblings, every parent and child, every group of friends, and you don't really know how big or small the gap is, because there's all this fog in the gap so you can't see into it. You start to imagine a bridge in the gap, hiding in the fog, and you're pretty sure it's there and if you ever really needed to you could go across the bridge. But when you take a trip with someone, and spend so much time together, all that fog blows away, and you can finally see the gap for what it is. Sometimes the gap is much smaller than you thought it was, and you grow a lot closer. Sometimes it's much bigger than you thought, and then you grow apart or break up."
"What about the bridge?" she said.
"Well, I think that most of the time there's not really a bridge," I said. "If you want to get across one of those gaps, I think you really have to jump it — and that takes a lot of faith in who is on the other side."