Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Show Don’t Tell: Brought to you by another new housemate

On Saturday, a new twenty-something male housemate moved in.

Lest you think I’m building a sizeable harem of strapping young men, I should clarify that the 20-year-old moved out at the end of the college term, leaving me with only the 27-year-old who moved in right before my Pure Romance party.

The newest housemate is 26, and yes, I’ll admit it – adorable.

Notice I said “adorable” and not “hot.” It’s one reason I’m fond of living with boys in their twenties. They’re good at opening jars and staying out of my way, but way too young for me to think of them as anything other than puppy-dog cute.

The unique thing about the new guy is that we’d never met before he showed up and dragged his dresser into my house. We exchanged countless email messages after he responded to my craigslist ad, and a thorough background check assured me he wasn’t an escaped inmate intent on stealing my underwear and fornicating with my household pets.

But since he was moving from out of state, an in-person meeting wasn’t an option.

Based on what he’d told me about himself – and on what others told me in reference checks – I knew he’d be a good fit.

But email messages and conversations with someone’s references – well, those all involve “telling,” don’t they? It’s not the best method to reveal character in a novel, and it certainly doesn’t provide the whole picture when scoping out a new housemate.

So after he arrived, I was on the lookout for “showing.”

My first clue came as he unloaded boxes from his ’78 Landcruiser. He’d told me via email that he’d restored the vehicle himself, but until I saw it up close, I didn’t appreciate the significance.

It’s hardly a sportscar. Douchebag adjectives like “sweet ride” or “souped up” would never apply to this automobile. It’s functional and well-maintained, but it’s not a penis extension on wheels. During the week it took him to drive from his home state to Oregon, he camped out of the back of it.

All of that told me something about him. Handy. Down-to-earth. Refreshingly ego-free.

The other housemate meandered out while I was pretending not to inspect the Landcruiser. Apparently, he had the same idea I did.

We both spent a few minutes trying to look like we weren’t studying the bumper stickers on the Landcruiser as we studiously washed our own cars.

Feeling stealthy and covert, I sidled up to him with my soapy sponge still dripping.

“Did you notice the sticker that says—”


“So, um…socially and politically speaking—”

“On the same wavelength.”

Not that housemates are required to share politics, but just knowing our value systems are similar assured us we won’t feel compelled to duel in the driveway when the next election rolls around.

Further clues about his personality came a few hours later when he returned from grocery shopping and began unloading his purchases. I was making lunch at the time, so I watched in curiosity to see if he’d stock his cupboard with Oreos and Top Ramen.

He pulled out the ingredients to make brownies. From scratch.

While those baked, he got to work shaping giant, meaty hamburgers that he proceeded to cook on a grill that he built himself.

Then he washed his dishes and put everything neatly away.

Throughout the afternoon, I heard him upstairs unpacking his things and singing in a deep, cheerful Southern drawl. My dog went upstairs and adoringly parked herself on his floor. A few minutes later, I heard him carrying on a conversation with her about her preferred technique for belly scratching.

When I talked to my parents that evening, they were eager to hear about the new guy.

“Did he call his family to let them know he arrived safely?” my mom wanted to know.

“Within five minutes of getting here,” I assured her.

Apparently, that showed my mom what she needed to know about his level of thoughtfulness and courtesy. I suppose if you’re planning chop up your new housemates with an ax and eat their eyeballs, you don’t first phone your father to let him know how the roads were.

When it comes to meeting new people, do you watch for subtle clues about their personalities? When it comes to writing, how do you “show” someone’s character through small actions, mannerisms, and personality clues? Please share!

Speaking of which, I sincerely hope the new guy is planning to share those brownies. They smell delicious.


linda said...

Your new housemate sounds amazing! What a great reminder that the little things matter. I inspired to be a better person. :)

And brownies from scratch, yum! :D

Lynnanne said...

Only makes me wish I was 20-something again, and in need of a roomie! ;)

Matthew MacNish said...

It took him a whole week to drive to Oregon? Where's he from, Argentina?

Also, basing on what we know of this guy, I'm guessing the bumper sticker said "Free Tibet." Which is awesome.

Jennifer X said...

Is he single? :)

Sarah W said...

Jenifer X beat me to it, even though I'm taken and, apparently, a latent cougar.

And that's a telling statement, right there . . .

Linda G. said...

If he shared the brownies, I'm going to be so jealous!

Also, start taking notes. There's a book in there somewhere. :)

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

You have totally lucked out. And good for you! Sounds like a conscientious, well-rounded, down-to-earth kind of guy.

Thanks for showing!

Patty Blount said...

I'm with Linda; there's a book in here somewhere.

I think the best way to judge someone's character is to watch how they treat service staff like waiters, baristas, bag clerks at the grocery store. Look for rudeness, the absence of 'magic words' like "thank you".

My sister held a christening party at a catering facility and the staff set up the room 'wrong' (according to my sister). She arrived late and when she saw this, LOUDLY announced "I am NOT happy." Six pairs of eyebrows shot up at her attitude. She grabbed the head waiter and then spoke to him like he was six years old about the 'right' way to set up the room. I could hear the man's teeth grinding while I tried to melt into the floor.

All she really needed to do was say, "I have a problem. I have a newborn and our table is too close to the DJ's speakers. Could we reposition the tables?"

I also think how people interact with the elderly or small children is telling. I thought I'd explode with pride when my son offered his seat to an elderly woman.

Melissa Alexander said...

Absolutely fantastic examples of telling and showing. And an even more fantastic roommate. Dang, I wish I was a 20-something again.

Unknown said...

Uhm... can I borrow your housemate, please? Preferably with brownies?


arsenio ball said...

Geez, Tawna, if you're not going to ogle them at least stealthily take pictures so the rest of us *can*.

Nicole Zoltack said...

I'm so hungry for brownies right now...

Kiersten said...

Definitely romance hero material. Also, Jennifer X and Sarah W called it. Love those small clues we rely on to understand/read people at first meetings.

Hey - 26 isn't too young. what's (counts fingers, adds toes) 13 years these days anyways?

Kimberly Sabatini said...

I hate to say it...but you're making a strong argument for turning in 41 year old husband for two 20+ year olds. Can we get some vlogging please???

Your Agent said...

Don't you know younger me love older women?? At least that's what my husband tells me. All the cool kids are doing it.

Still me said...

Oops. That was younger MEN love older women. Too bad I don't know how to proof read.

Brooklyn Ann said...

Damn, you are way lucky with room mates. The 1st one I had murdered someone, and the next few were always late or nonexistent with rent money and it took Machiavellian schemes to get rid of them.

therese patrick, author said...

I agree with all of the above that these puppies are hero material. And they will bring friends (antics, talents, dramas) into your sphere and we will all benefit from the stories that will develop.
You, Tawna, are my hero. I want your lifestyle. :D

Lindsay said...

So far, I'm pretty sure I want to take your new roommate as a second husband. Would that be like Brother Husbands?

Chris said...

Seeing his age did you see all the ingrediants he put in the brownies?

Laura Fenske said...

So, I'm thinking about scheduling a visit, but it may have to be a weekend that Adam is unavailable. :)

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

You don't have to go far to find a hero for your next book. They're moving IN with you!

Debra Lynn Shelton said...

Send your leftovers my way. (That's what friends are for, right?)

Patrick Alan said...

And after reading all that, I can't seem to come up with an alternative term for a vagina extension on wheels.

I also do not understand this expression. "ego-free"

What does that mean?

Beverly Diehl said...

When I last had young men crashing at my place, they were locking themselves in the ONLY bathroom to puke and pass out. Plus eating all the food in the refrigerator, and once one of them actually drank the last Mountain Dew.

Your new roomie sounds... well, if he needs anybody to lick the spoon...

Somehow I think he'll have plenty of offers.

Steph Schmidt said...

Holy crap, can you fed-ex the new guy to California?

Cooks from scratch and loves animals? I'm sold.

Karin said...

A somewhat awkward question from a small country way up north (where we actually enjoy midnight light at this time of the year): if brownies are not made from scratch, then how on earth are they made? I mean: you buy them or you make them, right? What's the third alternative?

The bumper sticker probably said Marocko out of West Sahara! Which is a damned good idea.

Jason said...

I'm guessing the other alternative would be the hybrid - making them from a box mix.

And WHO would think you were building a harem?! :) Oh, wait...that was me. :)