For Christmas last year, my twenty-something kids gave me a hand-painted coffee cup. It was lovely and colorful—purple with a red heart. On the bottom when you tilt the cup up to finish your last dregs of espresso, “I’m a writer” is scrawled in bold red. Sweet or sarcastic?
I’ve worked as a medical, eLearning and erotica editor, a marketing/ad writer, a copywriter, a tech writer, a creative writing teacher, an admin, a substitute teacher, a waitress, a sales-clerk, an actress, a model, a tour guide through Betty Crocker kitchens, ad infinitum. The list is as long as the many excuses I have to not write a book. When I swear bitterly about wasting time on the very-necessary day jobs, my kids tell me sit and write something, then.
It’s becoming an integral ingredient of my personality to threaten to write and never do it. My hands, my feet, my anxiety disorder, my love of idleness are part and parcel of who I am. And so too is my not-writing-but-wish-I-could disorder. And I will do nothing to change it. It’s dreadful, really. I sleep too long on the weekends when I could get up at 6:00 AM and write a paragraph, even. But it’s been a hard, cruel winter up here in the north.
When I do get up around 10 AM on Sunday and crawl to the espresso maker, I think about writing. But I should read the news first, because what is the point of writing if you are not informed? I pull the NY Times from its protective plastic bag lying sideways on a snow bank and start the coffee. I’ll read for a half hour—I don’t need to read every section: focus on the front page and the book review. I get the waffle iron going, beat the batter, slice the berries, and heat the ‘real’ syrup and, ahhhh. This is my moment. My Sunday morning. I deserve it after working all week for the Good Ole’ Boys Club. If the half hour drifts into an hour and a half? It’s okay.
I take out my notebook to write. But wait. Maybe I should start the draft on the computer because I can check spelling and look up words in the thesaurus. But let me clean up the kitchen first. Okay. Laundry? That will only be a short task and then …
I descend to the rank underground of moldy concrete walls and floor spiced with the tang of cat urine. I never let our clothes touch the floor for fear of soaking up smells and possibly snagging an insect corpse. A load of whites into the washing machine and I am suddenly overcome by guilt. Oh god, oh god, oh god. This basement needs a good cleaning—throw out boxes of odds and ends saved when there was no time to sort. Dust off Mom’s Danish China and that ancient clock and bring upstairs. Toss the prom gown; tax returns from the 1980’s. I promised myself on New Year’s that I would chip away at this job a little every week.
As long as I’m down here, I could go through those two smelly boxes over there. It won’t take ten minutes. I grab a couple Hefty bags and a snippet of Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy” plays through my head, “ … But I’m as stubborn as those garbage bags That time cannot decay. …” I ponder my incredible disregard for the next seven generations. I tried plastic eco bags, though, and they ripped when I touched them. I gag as I reach into the first box with ancient and rancid old sweaters, plastic toy parts, empty notebooks, chipped cups, dry pens, paraphernalia of a kitchen drawer a long time ago.
Several hours, two loads of laundry, and two boxes later I have completed the clothes-washing-partial-basement clean-up task. Don’t my co-workers talk about their housecleaning on weekends? It’s a thankless job but someone has to do it. I wonder how those people live. Grinding away the hours of their precious lives under fluorescent lights engaged in meaningless actions. (Like me.) Weekends cleaning or gambling or playing Bingo. It’s enough to make me want to write. And that’s what I will do.
My desktop Mac whirs to life while I peer out at the twilight dusk. It’s January 19, and the temperature is twenty below. A cold wind rattles the windowpanes. It’s a scene from Dr. Zhivago without Omar Sharif.
I log on and decide to check my emails—very quickly—I am getting hungry and should stick the organic chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese and mint into the oven. There are about thirty messages, but they’re mostly promotions from job sites: Comcastity, Job Upon, Monster. However, there are a few posts from Facebook. I send the unwanted items to Trash—my son has instructed me how to avoid Spam, but I haven’t had time to go through my settings yet—and check into Facebook. In my spare time, I have become a Facebook spy. With tenacity and clarity of mind that is rare for me, I follow an ex-boyfriend who was untrue during our brief encounter and log on to his home page, as well as his girlfriend’s page. It’s a click-through from his profile to her profile—as his ‘friend’—and voila! I can see what she’s up to with him. I knew when she visited him in California just after I visited. It didn’t take long, with my substantial technical cleverness, to discover that he was cheating. He turned out to be the original Wizard of Oz—all flash and glossy photos and smoke and cranks of the wheel. A superficially big, handsome man with many plagiarized ideas, even plagiarized photos! Except the photos of the two of them sitting on the beach, which turned out to be real.
Thankfully that obsession is over. I turn to my desktop folder, “2013 – 2014 Novel.” There are several Word docs containing outlines of my story, but they are forced and the characters as dry as the polar air. My writer friends’ voices echo in my brain, “just write. It doesn’t have to be good. Get it on the page.”
It’s 5:00 and my stomach growls. My son will be here at 6:00 for dinner, and I do want to eat and have the dishes put away in time to watch “Downton Abbey” at eight. Why can’t I write like Julian Fellowes and create those memorable characters that keep an audience enthralled? I can; I will.
If I could find the time.
I leave the computer on, its milky light glowing, in the unlikely event that I will return when the evening routine is over. But tomorrow is Monday and recycling day and there are wind-chill warnings and I think about bed and Rascal, my cross-eyed cat, purring contentedly next to me. Tomorrow is another day.
I’m a writer …