I play Mah Jongg with a group of equally disturbed women. I seldom win my fair share of the games yet I’m compelled to play. We all are. We develop severe tics if we can’t play. None of these women write, and only one of my fellow Thursday Night Writers knows the game. Too bad. By observing friends (and others) on a regular basis much grist can be found for those new characters who clamor for creation.

My bedside table is loaded with reading material I’m either starting or in the middle of, and some that are galloping toward completion. There are books stacked up and waiting, and more that are going nowhere. Not bad books, mind you, just ones that didn’t hold my interest. One of the books in progress, and one that is steadily trotting along, is Marilynne Robinson’s ‘When I Was a Child I Read Books’. When she tells about her own writing in these essays she really grabs me by the throat. Here is what she says about characters in her essay on ‘Imagination and Community’:

I would say, for the moment, that community, at least community larger than the immediate family, consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know or whom we know very slightly. This thesis may be influenced by the fact that I have spent literal years of my life lovingly absorbed in the thoughts and perceptions of – who knows it better than I – people who do not exist.”

You have to love people who don’t exist, especially your own.

So, it has occurred to me, when I play Mah Jongg with this particular group, that certain idiosyncracies have developed week after week and year after year during the crush of the game. Quirks have become part and parcel of personalities and exist only in the process of playing. Mah Jongg has brought out certain traits not seen in any other of their walks in life. Characteristics, if I may say, very suitable for transposing into people who DO NOT EXIST. Into people of the page. When we leave for the day I think some part of our psyches detach from the whole that goes home to cook, or walk or write or read and stays behind to sort out tactical dilemmas and to greet us when we return.

These ladies are terrific and I thank them for their individual personas and those detachable psyches perfect for reassignment.

Marilynne Robinson says, a few pages further into the book, same essay:

“Sometimes, when I have spent days in my study dreaming a world while the world itself shines outside my windows, forgetting to call my mother because one of my nonbeings has come up with a thought that interests me, I think, this is a very odd way to spend a life.”

It is odd, but just think of some of the other ways people choose to spend their lives.

Creating people who hadn’t existed until after we imagined them into being, building and forming them with fabric lifted from those we know and observe and love, has to be a grand way to spend a life.

And besides, imitation is the finest form of flattery. We all know that.

About Eleanor Ingbretson

Native New Yorker. Transplanted to New Hampshire years ago, but still considered a flatlander by the neighbors. Writer of fantasy and mystery and whatever else takes my fancy.

Posted on April 28, 2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I suppose we can’t ask you to describe some of these fascinating tics — your fellow player probably read this blog. So we just have to keep an eye out for interesting characteristics in your stories, and ask, “Does s/he also play mah jongg?”


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