I’ve been pulling my hair out with work problems as well as trying to come up with ideas for my composition class homework, which is due this Sunday.  The first 250 words needs to describe the scene after a Thanksgiving dinner — dirty dishes, etc.  The second 250 words needs to be either the beginning, or a full story somehow involving that scene.  Every single free second I’ve had, I’ve been dwelling on this story and what I’m going to write.

Last night after my shower I sat down to do some stream-of-consciousness writing on the first part, the scene.  I wrote about the smells of food, how the sun had just gone down and the lights were just getting turned on in the house, how the house was cold, and food and dirty dishes everywhere, including some gravy running down the cabinet onto the floor where a dog is lapping it up.  I wrote about the mixture of food, candles, and mulled wine in the air, the sounds of a football game and chatter in the next room.  I wrote about the window above the sink with small, fist-sized glass figurines on top of peeling white paint on the sill.  I wrote about the dull yellow linoleum, curled up in the corner, with years of caked food etched into the surface.

I wrote about a young doe, unseen, passing in front of the window, stepping lightly in the snow and pausing to reflect on the middle-aged brunette standing in front of the sink, her hair tied up in a ponytail with a runaway strand dangling down the middle of her forehead into her eyes.  She picks up each dish and spends a good minute or two, cleaning the top and then turning it over and cleaning the bottom, and then holding it under hot water, moving it back and forth so as not to leave even a hint of detergent.

I went on and on like this, and I’m still left with nothing really — no story, no real substance or texture.

Dunno….  this is where the rubber meets the pavement.  After all, if I can’t get through 500 words of creative thought, is this really where I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life?

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What Joy in Boredom

February 27, 2008

My morning writing exercises (a.k.a. Morning Pages) really suck this week.  I find myself spending three pages saying over and over “I don’t have anything to say.”  They feel like a complete waste of time.

I think the main problem is that I feel overworked and stressed out.  I’m in desperate need of time without responsibilities, homework, social committments, bills, etc.  I crave a morning that I can wake up and think “Hey, I don’t have any burning this-is-due-yesterday issues on my plate today!  What to do….  what to do…..”  What pure joy that would be — to twiddle my thumbs, open the door to my house, look out on the world, throw my arms out and say “Here I am, serendipity, come get me!  Tickle my senses, carve new and wonderful thoughts into my brain, make me a creative being!”

I remember the days as a child when a box of candy was enough to thrill me and boredom sucked.  Now candy just stresses me out and what turns me on are: (1) getting a good nights sleep and (2) enough time with absolutely nothing to do.

Paying Attention

February 21, 2008

Okay, so I’m at Trader Joes last night.  The clerk is an older man, maybe in his late 60’s, early 70’s.  He has this inordinate interest in the things that I’m buying, and has no compuction about making comments like:

“Half-sour pickles, looks good, I’m going to have to try this”

“I love these!”  He taps on my bag of frozen tamales.  “We get employee discounts on all store items.  I get to buy all this good food.  Heh, but I have to pay the bills too, ya know, I can’t be spending everything on Trader Joes stuff, so I have to watch what I buy.  Unless I’m lucky enough to get an electricity employee that shops at Trader Joes.  Oh, you have the noodles from today’s sampler.  You have the artichoke things, good.  You’re going to make it I see.  I liked it, it was delicious.  I got to taste it the other day.  Very good.”

“Oh, you noticed these came back?”  He points to my package of frozen edamame.

I decide to play along.  “Did you run out of them?” I ask.

“No, we took them off the shelf.  That’s the thing about this company, they listen to their customers.”  Now he drops everything he’s doing regarding getting me checked out and tells me how Trader Joes decided, based upon customer fears, to ban all China food imports.  “Trader Joe’s cares about its customers” he finishes.

I look at his badge expecting it to say Store Manager, he’s giving me such a rah-rah Trader Joes story.  He’s Joe-something-or-other, store employee.

He finally finishes checking me out, and he starts leisurely putting my things into paper bags as he continues to talk.  “And Trader Joes has the best prices.”

The next in line, an older woman, about 70, moves up to the cash register since I’m now standing at my cart waiting for the cashier to get done with bagging everything.  “I agree, Trader Joes has excellent prices,” she says.  She has this wild white hair and her eyes are wide with enthusiasm on the topic of Trader Joes.

“Oh Trader Joes is cheap all right.  Very good prices, the best you’ll get anywhere.  And good quality.”  The cashier has packed a paper bag and fiddles with the handle on it.  “This bag is too full, the handle is starting to tear.”

I look at the line, and there is another person who is standing and waiting and watching.  A man, probably in his 30’s.  He doesn’t seem annoyed, just watching everything with quasi-interested patience.  I take my cart and reposition it so that it’s pointing towards the door.

“Hmm.”  The cashier is staring at the bag he just filled and scratching his chin.  He gets another bag, unfolds it and hands it to me.  “Can you hold this?  Just hold it like that.  Right like that, right there.  Yes, ok.”  He helps me position it on another part of the counter and hold it so that the opening is wide.  Then he guides the bulging first bag over the empty one as I jimmy it in.  I resist the urge to grab the first bag from his hands and dump half of it into the empty bag.

The old lady, who had been standing in front of the cash register, now moves to my cart so she can participate more actively in the conversation.  “Have you ever been to Donelan’s?  I went there the other day, and I can’t believe how much more I paid for my groceries.  I paid a dollar more for soymilk than I pay at Trader Joes.”

The cashier packs the last bag and loads it into my cart.  He shows no urgency whatsoever.  I notice he’s never once looked at the line.  I move my cart towards the door an inch.  Inside I’m bouncing up and down impatiently.  He continues.  “Oh Trader Joes definitely has the cheapest prices.  Did you know they actually go to other stores and fill up carts?  They take every item and price them, and compare them to their own things.  Trader Joes is a very good store.  Very good company.”  He taps my cart, “Enjoy, thanks for coming.”

“Thank you, I will.  Bye.”  I wave to him and the old lady, and smile at them, grateful that a smile can mean many things.

I’m driving home, grumbling to myself about this cashier’s complete lack of urgency.  Then I start dwelling on where I’m going to go to get fodder for my next homework assignment — a story with action and dialog.  I realize, many minutes after the fact, that this cashier was placed right there in my life as an opportunity that I could have taken for a story.  But I was so freakin’ busy worrying about the people in line and worrying about his attitude and getting on with my evening, that I didn’t even notice.  I need to start paying more attention to the world around me.

I had to laugh at myself last night.  Our homework was to write 100 words about three people (using the various incantations of pronouns that we’d learned in the lesson).  They had an example story.  I read the story and the very first reaction I had was “goddammit, they took the only idea left on earth, now what am I supposed to use!”.

I thought about it and came up with an idea or two, and then woke up this morning with two more ideas, and then finally settled in on a story about two students fussing about doing this very assignment and their teacher.

Serendipity is the writer’s friend 🙂