In a Christmas evening conversation with my dear friend Joe Wadlington, when we were deep in bourbon and eggnog and good cheer, he mentioned a concept to me that I haven’t been able to forget about since. He called it his “bingo card.”
The subject at hand was the Netflix adaptation of Julie Murphy’s fat opus, “Dumplin’,” which we had just watched and had a lot of feelings about that we wished to discuss in the warm and drunken bosom of smart and well-read friends. We quickly moved to a discussion on the difference between knowing that a thing is good and liking it.
There are lots of things that I like that I can’t really defend. Secret late-night runs to Taco Bell. My snuggly warm Ugg boots that help me write. Diet Coke stashed and hoarded around my house. Watching “The Office” for the 877th fucking time just for the comfort of familiarity. I’m not alone in this, I know. I have heard the cries of the aggrieved who just want to be left alone to like what they like without enduring anyone’s hot take on its worthiness. Joe helped put a neat label on what makes us like things without thinking that they are truly great, worthy and enduring works of art or craft.
“For me, “Dumplin'” is a bingo,” he explained, tossing his perfect curls away from his arresting face. “It’s got so many elements that I just love to see that I couldn’t have resisted it if I tried. Brave children. Parents doing their best in a difficult situation. Drag queens. The South.”
Since I know Joe to be a southerner with a soft heart, this made perfect sense to me. He had gotten something out of “Dumplin'” that I had not, showing up as I had for fat rep, feminism, and inter-fat relationships. I started thinking about the works I’ve connected with because of a bingo.
I love the book “Practical Magic” by Alice Hoffman because she’s a talented writer and the story is woven between some fascinating modes of perception. I love the (very different!) movie adaptation of that book because: witches, blood magic, a gathering of women in a time of crisis, escape from an abusive relationship, Stevie Nicks, and reanimating a corpse. Bingo.
I see people bingo all the time. I’ve seen people push the buy button on Twitter because someone said “lesbians in space!” (“The Stars are Legion,” by Kameron Hurley). I’ve seen folks say, “You had me at ‘sexually transmitted city'” (“Palimpsest” by Catherynne Valente). I’ve seen whatever the opposite of bingo is just as many times; folks who drop a book from their TBR pile when they find out it’s about a kid who loses his magic when he stays on his meds, or that the dog in the story dies.
But we’re all carrying around a bingo card. This is a good thing to remember, as a writer. You’re pulling these elements out of your subconscious like numbers on ping pong balls, trying to arrange them in a way that nobody has done before. It’s comforting to think that somewhere out there, someone is waiting to bingo on your story. It doesn’t even have to be good. It just has to be read out, loud and clear, so that someone can get their chits in a row.