Prejudice Hodge

by jkatejohnston

29 May 2014

Dear Max,

Duncan is lying on my book—the one I’m writing, the page with all the hand-written corrections that I’m supposed to be working on. So instead of writing my book, I’ll write what’s wrong with it.

The characters keep announcing what they’re about to do, saying exactly what they’re feeling, and making little jokes. Must remember there’s nothing more tiresome than non-stop wit, and that super-articulate people are even worse in books than they are in real life. And that dialogue that sounds like everyone has been in really good therapy is not that interesting. Maybe I have to write all that to know what the people are going to do next and what everyone’s thinking and feeling, but—strike it out.

Interuptions and Interludes. In Trollope, when he stops telling the story and just chats for a while, it’s great. But he’s writing a big old triple-decker with room for everything, and I’m just writing a little tiny book. So my discussion of how to render your own vegan lard may have to go. This is sad. If my food book is still on Amazon, which it’s not supposed to be, you can read about the lard project here:

Made-up people. I have one made-up character who simply exists. As with people you know well in real life, she’s always surprising, always herself. She does a lot of things that I disapprove of, like pray and take on other people’s problems. I also have a made-up character who is still kind of a place-holder. I keep remembering—oh, I decided he’s a blankety-blank type of guy so shouldn’t I make him say a blanketly-blank type of thing? He’s got my sticky fingers all over him. Oh dear.

I’m using Enzo for the kid-character’s dialog. In the story, the kid has to go into foster care, and he’s being brave and says to the other kids something to the effect of, “I’ll be back soon, don’t worry.” So I asked Enzo, “How would you say, ‘I’ll be back soon’?”

“Um, ‘I’ll be right back’?”

“But, like an expression. Like ‘I’ll be back in a jiffy’ or ‘I’ll be back in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.’ ”

“ ‘I’ll be back in three shakes of a lamb’s tail. Make that milkshakes’ ”

I didn’t end up using it. I had the kid say, “I’ll be back in five shakes of a lamb’s tail. Possibly seven.” All of which seems too cute for the occasion.

Names. The me-character is Maggie, which I like, but it’s popular for girls now, not for girls born in the late sixties. I need something that’s the right age and that goes with the last name Hodge. I’m sure of the last name because it’s my grandma’s maiden name and Johnson’s cat and I just like it. Teresa and I came up with a few contenders for the first name: Barb, Jennifer, Michelle, Joan, Mary, Getchen, Jane. Then Jane got us started on a Jane Austen streak: Elizabeth, Emma, Anne, Harriet, Fanny, Charlotte. And Charlotte got us going on to Sex in the City names: Carrie, Samantha, and we couldn’t remember the other one but the actress is Cynthia, which might work if I didn’t hate it. We also came up with Jeanette, Holly, Caroline, Sarah, Annette, and Ellen.

Joan, Jeanette and Janie all sound right to me, but the other character is Jill so that’s too matchie-match. I like Mary. It’s simple, not over-used in life or books but still has good associations: Mary Thorne, Mary McCarthy, Mary Proenza. You do have to overlook the one big Mary, yeah her, which I’m totally prepared to do. I’d love to use Fanny, but the narrator has a big butt that closely resembles my own, and it might all be too much. I have a short scene about that, which I think is stand-alone enough to include here. This is after an unpleasant jail visit with a guy who’s obviously guilty but keeps saying he’s innocent.

I changed into bike shorts at the office and then rode home. On my way, a guy in a truck yelled out his window: “IT’S NOT WORKING!” The truck even had a bumper sticker: NO FAT CHICKS. How retro. He stopped at the light, and I pedaled up beside him. Mature, mature, eyes front. Oh fuck it. I tapped on his window, which was now closed and motioned for him to roll it down. This, I knew, was how murders started, people being stupid, escalating things. And anyway, what was I going to say? “Hey dickwad! You have no idea how fat I could be!” But he didn’t roll the window down. He gave me the finger, and I gave him the finger back. Why hadn’t I thought of that natural and obvious gesture? It felt so lame merely to reply in kind. The light turned green, and he drove off.

After the big name-brainstorm—later that night—Teresa said, “You know how you can repeat a word over and over, and it doesn’t mean anything anymore, it’s just sounds?”


“I have a word that would make a good name, just don’t think about what it means: Prejudice.”

“Hmmm. Sounds sort of old-fashioned.”

Prejudice Johnston.”

Prejudice Hodge.”

Names are so important. They’re you. If anyone who reads this happens to named Cynthia, I am totally sorry. And if anyone who reads this has any suggestions or votes on the top contenders, comment away.