There’s writing and then there’s writing.
I was captured by the latter. Waylaid by tumbling, swirling thoughts bringing Time-tinged memories with them like 11-year-old kids dragging new friends in to meet you.
I wasn’t stymied. I was momentarily awed by the sheer numbers of flowing memories. Think Walmart with every checkout lane wide open. I can dream, can’t I?
Some were pleasant reminiscences, as a friend waves each time she comes around while riding an antique carousel on an easy late-Spring afternoon. Others were obnoxious and abrupt, pushing, crowding into the head of the line like–well, you know the type. Those are rarely movies you want to see, anyway–right?
Emo memories harsh, garish and unwelcome; brazen, blunt and ugly in their rude insistence. They catch you unaware, bringing unplanned-for jagged emotional lightning reflected and expanded by the passing of years, and further life experience, since those original events.
I was patient. Strong emotional reactions need time to regress into powerful, controlled responses. My unblinking monitor accusingly stared at me. Seems these days everyone’s a critic. Sitting at my desk staring at nothing in particular seemed counterproductive; I’d swung my chair around so I could look out the window, staring at nothing in particular. Change is good.
I knew it wasn’t a good idea to force the creative flow. I knew it wasn’t smart for my fingers to be anywhere near the keyboard. I knew I should have bought two Boston Cremes. I gave consideration to doing something proactive, like heading west across town to West to the nearest Dunkin Donuts. Twenty minutes there, 10 more to secure said Boston Cremes, and another twenty back. I asked myself what, after all, was an hour spent in pursuit of pastry excellence? Myself was cordial in agreement.
“You know you got mouse poop over here?”
Had to be Dickerson. Sparks and I had long carried on a contest: he’d try to sneak up the stairs and into my office without me hearing him until inside the door. I, of course, was equally resolute in my quest to deny him that satisfaction. Usually I caught him; this time I’d been in such reverie that an elephant wearing taps and experiencing a persistent sneeze could have arrived unnoticed.
The, ah, uniquely random greeting yanked me back to reality. More or less.
“What?” I kicked my chair leg to swivel myself around; my crinkled eyes and slightly-cocked head brought a puzzled half-grin from the young sheriff’s deputy. His eyes, reddened from a long night of patrolling the county’s highways, held amused confusion in tandem with mine. He gestured to a place beside my venerable coffeemaker where a glass-enclosed candle shared space. 18-ounce Spicy Cinnamon Stick from Better Homes. I’m a candle kind of guy, liking my surroundings smelling decent.
Because of who I am and what—whatever it is I do, I never know when I’ll have a visitor here. I’m not fond of gamy, stale air. Pretty sure no one else is, either. Hence, candles. They keep the atmosphere smelling nice, even if the conversation drifts into foul territory.
Inscentivized. Scentual. Conscentric.
Sparks was looking at me funny. I think he was expecting a reasoned response.
“Ah.” Laying openly displayed on the counter was the result of my having trimmed the wick on that candle before lighting it. Normally those results go straight in the garbage. In this instance I’d been so needful this morning of some fresh, hot pinon coffee I got in a hurry and was interrupted in my performance of wickicide.
I explained. He stared.
“Un. Perspective. Right?”
“Quite. We do see with eyes of experience: ours. I’d instantly identify it as what it is because mice and my office do not coexist. Considering that which you most often see, you’d just as quickly mislabel it as one of the little rodents’ conspicuous residue.”
Sparks stood silently, shrewd young-old eyes scanning me.
“You okay? When you start sounding like a professor it often means your real mind is somewhere else.”
“Oh, sur–” I checked my defensive, deflective answer. I shook my head. “I think not. No.” I met his gaze for a moment, gauging how I wanted to respond. 30-somethings who’ve experienced war first-hand grow up suddenly in ways no one should. I’d forgotten for the moment this young man had part of his leg blown off by the roadside bomb of an enemy he never saw. Things like that make young eyes old. Fast.
Tired though he was, the veteran, the lawman in Sparks caused his eyes to sharpen. Refilling his “BEAN ME UP” coffee mug, he sat it down on the lamp table, then flumped into the chair beside it. Moving slightly from side to side until comfortably seated, he spoke as he reached for his coffee.
“I’m off the clock and listening. What’s going on?”
I sat for a moment as I sought to organize the thoughts swirling inside my spirit to at least fly in the same formation. I felt the frown forming. Ah, alliteration, you sly dog.
“I’m wrestling with doubt of my own effectiveness in–” here I motioned vaguely with my right hand, indicating the office, my desk and side tables full of this or that evidence of a writer – and the Cycloptic monitor of my computer that, lately, seemed mute, even defiant– “all of this.”
To say Sparks was stunned would be the equivalent of using a Shire stallion to pull a little kid’s Step2 plastic wagon.
The imitation wood clock on the fireplace mantle ticked. Then tocked. Tick. Tock. Repeat. Not much of a playlist.
“You’re questioning yourself? Your–what? Your worth, your meaning?”
I sat, unsure of how to answer him. Why do I keep so many magazines laying over there? Nobody reads them – certainly not me. Time to thin them out again. I realized I was absentmindedly tapping the eraser of a pencil on my desk blotter. Office rimshots. Point’s dull. I automatically glanced around at the sharpener, then realized Sparks was eyeing me, awaiting a reply.
“Any or all the above.” Now I squirmed in my seat to get more comfortable. Something told me I wasn’t going to find a more comfortable position. Something told me I needed to get this off my chest because leaving it in there would only make things worse. Something told me I had on mismatched socks. Okay, this just got serious . . . Bad enough to be addled. But the socks? Nunh-UH.
Refilling my coffee cup, I wandered over to the window before which I’d just been spacing out. Looking down, I idly took note of the little old man who, often as not, would sit on the bench across the street, reading his morning paper and drinking coffee. Where’d he get the coff– oh. Right. Panera Bread was just down the street. Wonder why he doesn’t do that at home? Snuffing and dropping my eyes, I thought, maybe for the same reason I don’t do this at home . . .k
Standing and leaning against the fireplace, I tried to fill in the bare spaces between what I wasn’t saying.
I spoke of my sense of aloneness, of feeling inadequate – and of knowing better than to pay serious attention to either sense or feeling. I said it:
“I feel like quitting.”
“YOU CAN’T QU—“
“Relax. I’m not. I said I feel like it.” I went on to tell how, if I were to gauge my effectiveness by the number of people who’d come through my door or called or somehow messaged me in the past month, I’d conclude that I’d seriously misunderstood God’s plan for this part of my life.
I spoke of the writing that had become my salvation, allowing me to explore the human experience in general and upon occasion my own experience in particular. Told of the incredible frustration of writer’s block – roughly equivalent to a psychic cramp that, like any other cramp, could not be ignored until overcome.
I admitted that during such times I fight a sense of unimportance; that since I spend so much time alone, and since comparably few readers comment, it is sometimes dogged persistence and a personal sense of responsibility that keeps my keyboard clacking.
To soften the blow of such revelation, I shared a Baltasar Gracian quotation on which I’d been leaning for several weeks. He said,
“Read that again?”
It is a great piece of skill to know how to guide your luck even while waiting for it.
“Okay, Granger. That in itself indicates to me you’re far more useful and necessary for all of us than even we know. I need you to email that to me so I can think on it. Getting my mind around what you just read is like chewing flavored wax.”
I quirked my right eyebrow. Were they still making those huge red, cherry-flavored wax lips when he was a kid? I used to walk up to Buck’s Corner and—
“. . . your influence goes.” Oops. Cardinal sin. Not paying attention when a friend is trying to talk to you. It’s right up there with playing Candy Crush or Facebooking. Might as well just say it: you’re boring me and what you’re saying isn’t important.
And wasn’t that my complaint? I’d just treated him the same way. I shook my head.
He’d tumbled to it as well. After a couple seconds, he tried again.
“You’ve no idea how far-reaching your influence through your writing – which amounts to your ability to counsel and mentor – goes. Sure, there’s people you personally know. They’ve been on board from the get-go, ‘Liking’ your FB posts and all that good stuff. But there are others you don’t know, may never know in this life who read after you.”
My doubtful expression must’ve been a little too evident.
“Look, Granger, there are a bunch more people who follow what you say when you’re writing than you could dream. Okay, so they rarely let you know. You figure because of that you’re not reaching out and touching people like you believe you’re supposed to be doing. Couldn’t be more wrong!
“Listen–every time I run into somebody who asks about you, I tell ’em: ‘Gettin’ anything out of what you’re reading? Tell the man! He ain’t a mind-reader.’ ‘Course, I never tell them you got this freaky way of getting into others’ minds. That is kind of scary, right there. Anyway, I know for a fact that people are waiting on your books. They tell me, and ask about them.”
An old mentor used to tell me, “It’s a pretty poor preacher who can’t preach himself under conviction.” I sat thinking about how my normal role with this young man had been reversed for the last hour, and was absorbing his kind yet firm gouppance when he again spoke.
“Hey–you know I’m friends with one of the county ADA’s, right?”
Carefully, I nodded.
“Well, I got a weird question from him yesterday. He wanted to know if I knew anybody NOT an attorney who would be a good mediator.”
Better. Safer territory. “Interesting. I’ve some good attorney friends, yet I still believe there are too many of them. Tell your ADA friend I’m sure there are some quality non-litigious people out there who would serve the court well in mediation.”
“SaaaWEET! Glad to hear you say that; I gave him your name.”
“Can you help me understand why? That’s not something I’ve ever considered.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
And as he headed out toward the stairs, he said over his shoulder, “. . . and clean up the mousie poop. It looks disgusting!”
© D. Dean Boone, May 2015