Let us praise friends of writers. They answer strangely specific questions about their subject of expertise, and they never look at you oddly because they know why you ask. One of my very best friends on this planet is a perfect writer friend.
I moved to [city redacted] in part because of her. I wanted to live somewhere where I knew people (that and I got into grad school there; it was all very convenient). Those days I shared an apartment with a bunch of other people, and I often made my home in the city. I finished my reading in the library and tried to write poems in a coffeeshop near the music conservatory.
I practically held court in this coffeeshop. I wrote there two or three times a week in the few hours between my job and my classes, and at least once a week I met a roving cast of friends. It’s good to know a place where you can always get a seat when your friends live all over the metropolitan area. On this particular day, I was writing a new poem for workshop as I waited for my friend. Or more likely I arrived an hour early in order to write, and could reward myself with a long talk with my friend. I had ways of managing my distractibility even then.
“Hey, Indy,” she said as she slung her bicycle helmet on the table between us.
“Writer Friend!” I said without even saying hi properly. “What do you call the front of the church?”
“The front of the what?”
“The church! You know, behind the altar.” Friend grew up Presbyterian and has half of a Ph.D. in classical archeology. She knows how the Etruscans foretold futures with birds. You can’t pay money for friends like that (although we’ve had a joke for years that our mothers pay/paid each other to be our friends. Maternal Clause liked Writer’s Friend quite a lot. “My friends were sarcastic like that when I was in high school,” she said to me once.).
It took us a paper napkin and a freshly squeezed orange juice for Friend before she and I figured out the part of the church I meant. But she knew the answer, as I knew she would. I wrote down the word at the top of my notebook page to be put into a poem later, and our talk turned to other things.
This woman and I have been friends since we were fourteen years old, bored in algebra and Spanish. And yesterday I texted her, “Hey! I need an obscure Greek or Latin name for a remote fishing village.” I didn’t have to tell her it was for my new schlock novel. And she knew exactly what was going on and gave me two or three choices.
Who answers your questions?