Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is one of my favorite plays from the theatre of the absurd. I seem to spend so much of my waking life in that pleasant pursuit. Waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more.
I did some grocery shopping for my mother on Friday. Not a favorite pastime but a necessary one. Her idea of grocery shopping is to zig and zag in no particular order like a predator that has lost the scent of its prey. She arrives with a disorganized list or no list at all to wander up and down aisles, sometimes retracing her steps, sometimes stopping to let her gaze linger on glistening produce while the ice cream melts, occasionally relinquishing her place in line to go back to get something she forgot on the first, second and third trip past the display.
So I’m happier doing her grocery shopping for her than accompanying her on her unscheduled rounds. Left to her own devices, she could take three hours browsing through a thirty thousand square foot store, clueless, planless, list-less.
Me? Different story. I want that list ORGANIZED! I want items on it grouped by category. In sequence by department! And, of course, common sense dictates that perishables and frozen foods should appear last on the list.
I don’t want to spend a second more than absolutely necessary in the store. It should take 45 minutes tops to get a week’s worth of groceries. To shave even more time from the task, I push the shopping cart along with alacrity. Sometimes I skateboard. I sprint, hop on the bottom rung of the cart and careen down the aisles in search of whatever is next on the list. One way, no turning back, no impulse purchases. Everything must be done with dispatch.
Until, that is, I get to checkout. That’s where everything comes to a screeching halt. I can never seem to get it right. Never manage to choose the quicker checker outer. Always wind up in the slow lane, the lane with PROBLEMS.
Like Friday. There were only two checkouts to choose from, and I picked the one proceeding at a glacial pace. The person at the head of the queue obviously had issues, hunting through her zillion coupons, misspelling the store’s name on her check which, of course, was written johnny on the spot. Never do early what you can do while 10 people are waiting in line behind you!
The woman just ahead of me rolled her eyes. I rolled mine in response. We sighed in synch. Our angst became a dance, and we two-stepped in time to our shared impatience. Conversation was struck. Bets made. We bonded. Then the powers that be, in this case management, opened a third checkout.
Glory days! My new sister and I swung our carts toward the promised lane, eventual freedom and release from harsh fluorescent lighting. When we finally made our separate ways through the doors and out into the mist and the mud, we nodded our adieus and looked about in wonder. We’d shared a moment and, while we had, winter’s fist had unclenched briefly, turning the world outside into a soggy mess.
I checked the time on my iphone. What should have taken me 45 minutes or less had taken an hour.
And now I’m waiting for, not a “God-get-me-out-of-here” release exactly, but for someone to get back to me with news. Promises were made. Dates were given. Pleasantries exchanged…
And still I wait! That’s one of the frustrations of writing. You find yourself waiting for inspiration, waiting for feedback, waiting for someone, anyone, to come and kick you in the keister and remind you that deadlines delay for no one, not even your muse.
Guess it’s time to stop blogging and get back to business.
I am relieved to report that, with my writing buddies’ help, I have pushed passed the self-doubt, the anxiety and fear that had me wondering whether I would ever be able to finish, let alone finish by a self-imposed deadline. Gladiola and her small band of Borderland heroes have come through the rabbit hole. A little worse for wear. A little dazed. Some stumbled through run-on sentences and continuity issues, but they’ve had a good run, a big-bang finish, and even a final card game at The End.
Tomorrow, I’ll worry about the next step: Revision. But for now
And I thought I had crazy relatives. One of my friends says he has to hide the knives before the relatives come to visit. I think I understand where that ripping sense of humor of his comes from. It’s an essential survival skill in the family circus.
Logged 1,565 words Saturday; another 2,394 today. It’s weird. The story has rounded the corner and entered the climactic homestretch where a lot is happening, but now each scene takes three times as long to write through.
Meanwhile, the weather could get interesting. We’ve had snow a couple times, but of the kind that turns into a soggy, muddy mess. The forecast is looking colder and snowier. Tomorrow will be a good day to stay chained to the chair pounding on the laptop.
Just back from my roundtable at Barnes & Noble. And now, free at last, am looking forward to two and a half days at home to write.
Got a fire going and the kettle on for a strong cup of tea. That and a dollop of honey should keep the furnace stoked till dinner time!
So now I must repair to the trusty laptop to await the muse and trust that the war will not start without me and that those doughty allies will hold to their positions until reinforcements arrive.
Back down the labyrinthine rabbit hole we go…
Kinda says it all, doesn’t it? And, interestingly, it captures the trials of my protag nicely, too… She drinks. She smokes. She turns pumpkins into Volkswagens. Will her character deficits derail her or save the day?
I stand on the brink. The war is about to begin… and I sprained my leg! The garage floor rose with unseemly haste, and I got a good look at a cobweb under my work bench before the dogs came to see why I had decided to dust the floor with my sweatpants. Sometimes this writing business has my pantaloons in knots!
Now I’m sitting here at my desk sideways, foot propped up with ice packs, trying to type. Not as limber as I used to be but have managed to squeak past the 1k word count, 1,096 to be exact.
Making up for lost time — 4,158 words as I fold up my laptop after a day of writing.
Now, let’s talk a little about the “F” word…
Fear, it’s one of my biggest obstacles. Last spring when I answered the retreat workshop survey, I put it at the top of my list of writing weaknesses. There are times, those low-pressure fronts that pass over the soul, when I am afraid I won’t finish, won’t be up to the challenge, that what I’ve got so far is in fact a fluke. I’ve tried to nix the fear by chunking down this project into smaller steps. The step I’m working on now is simply to tell the story, from start to finish, no matter how skeletal, no matter how awful the prose.
I started with a soft Dec. 31st deadline, all the while my inner editor was telling me I’d have to extend it to mid-January, and my screaming monkey mind telling me that Jan. 31st was the absolute, drop-dead deadliine. And now an anxiety bordering on superstition is telling me to finish by that deadline or else!
There are 21 days left, three more weekends, three more writing Wednesdays. Deep breath, out slow. Yes, I can do this.
Well, the good news is Nog solved the riddle to his rhyme and has been humming a little ‘Pirates of Penzance’ tune all afternoon. The not-so-good news is I managed to squeak out 808 words after dinner (and a day at the office) but have to quit now and prepare for my day job.
Better than zip, but I hated to leave so close to Cindy’s big birthday bash. She’s got a gun and a raging case of PMS. Will the Fairy God Squad get there in time? And what will they be driving?
Slammed down 1,900 words today. A bit above daily goal, and the story has pushed past the flabby middle to the midpoint reversal. Nog, the Green Fairy, though, is stuck on his insult poem to our hero, Gladiola Bindweed, a class II fairy godmother. He’s having trouble finding a word to rhyme with “urinal.” I’ve suggested several possibilities, but there’s no pleasing him.
Meanwhile, Gladiola has learned that the Fantasy Football Elves plan to gate-crash Cinderella’s birthday party.
But we’ll worry about that tomorrow…
An enchanting evening to all,
I’ve been thinking about a comment a fellow writer made about not being able to relate to the writings and teachings of Natalie Goldberg because “that’s not her process.”
That got me thinking about MY process. I found Nat tremendously inspiring as I was trying to kick my way back to the surface as a writer. I had gone so deep into denial, I didn’t write for 30 years, except a dabble here and there.
Restarting the creative engine was painful and slow. The wheels and cogs in my right brain were sludgy and rusted. The oil that greased the wheel was first, Natalie, then my writing practice group. As a result, my creaky engine cranked into gear while I was still poring through the owners manual and work books, reading all that I could on craft, trends, new writing.
I found myself in middle age to be a nascent writer again. First, because lack of practice had made me as wobbly as a newborn. Second, years of negative internal dialog had to be deprogrammed and excised from my thought process, so that what had been frozen could melt and germinate again. And third, writing over the last 30 years has evolved, and I had a lot of catching up to do. And, of course, trying to take those first baby steps after years of inactivity. So what is my process?
I find my process changing with each new project, sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly. But it changes nonetheless.
When I wrote my first short story after years of silence, my heart sang with the poetry of place. My inspiration was the red desert of Northern Arizona and a terrifying but liberating experience I had while there. Trying to capture all of this on paper was a bit like trying to stake down fog. I was suffering sensory overload and drafts of writer’s block by turns. It nearly overwhelmed me. On the plane back from AZ, I quickly sketched out the basic outline of what had happened. When I got home, I generated a list of symbols and meanings. What did it all mean, for gods sake! How could I massage actual details of the experience into scenes, dialog, and story in such a way that my words would carry plot lines, through lines, character development, theme and message to a plausible conclusion — was there a conclusion — and leave the reader feeling satisfied?
Next I got started on novel, a fantasy. Here, I thought, the struggle I’d had with theme and message could be glossed over. Fairytales themselves would provide all that. I could just adapt and corrupt the storehoue of stories to suit my own mood and metabolism at any given moment. Wrong again!
The story I thought I would write turned into a parody, a farce, a satirical fantasy piece that constantly feels as though it is running away with me, on the verge of leaping out of control. It is a big, sprawling paramecium, and I feel myself constantly plumping it like a big, shapeless pillow as I try to force form and structure onto this mindless chaos, this free-for-all of indulgent but fun writing.
So that’s my writing process. I chase story ideas and suffer through restless nights while characters whisper plot points in my ear — one actually insisted the other night that I would have to “get rid of” another character. Herding the story through its various iterations is a big part of the process, even while the story contorts, twists and shifts to escape. Again, I am attempting to stake fog!
Were you one of the many who held their heads in their hands New Year’s Day moaning never again, never ever again? Did you hobble out to the kitchen to grope for the aspirin bottle and a glass of something wet, wondering all the while whether you would ever be able to silence that bowling ball you were sure was rolling around in the area once reserved for gray matter?
Ah, such is the stuff that resolutions are made of.
Perhaps you decided to crack open a beer or mix a Bloody Mary in a desperate ploy to postpone the inevitable for another few hours.
Procrastination. That’s what New Year’s resolutions are really all about. The worst day of the year is the first and for good reason. That’s the day you’re supposed to deny yourself all the bad habits that have followed you faithfully through the years and embrace detestable good habits that will make you a model citizen.
Previously, no doubt, you have made list of all the things you enjoy doing and have promised yourself you’ll quit doing them at the beginning of a fresh, unsullied year. It’s only a matter of days, you say, until I quit smoking or drinking. I’ll start exercising every morning. I’ll staple my stomach shut. I’ll floss my teeth, drink green tea and carrot juice, forego sour mash and take up stamp collecting.
I will count to ten before losing my temper. I’ll quit nagging my spouse. I’ll be nice to my in-laws. I’ll take a self-improvement course. And I’ll be wholesome, healthful and about as much fun to be around as Aunt Madge’s asthmatic fox terrier.
You tuck the list away in a remove corner of your mind where it waits to be disinterred at the fateful hour when the clock strikes midnight.
Then you wake up feeling like a bear slept in your mouth, your eyes are the color of boiled beets, your stomach acts like someone was in there with a Roto-Rooter, and you’re ready to read the rites over that moldering list. It’s a brand new day in a brave new world, and you’re spending it on the bathroom tile. Your life is on the skids.
It may not be terribly encouraging news now, but you can take another shot at keeping resolutions in February when Chinese New Year’s rolls around on the 18th. Probably by then you will have recovered your dignity. You may even be full of good cheer again.
Personally, I think New Year’s resolutions are a waste of time and about as inspiring as the surface of my thumbnail. All they do is make you feel lousy at being unable to keep them. And the ghosts of New Year’s Resolutions Past have a nasty way of coming back to haunt you in the guise of friends and family who have excellent memories but poor timing and no tact.
So why give up now something you can enjoy for whole more year? If you must make a list of New Years’s resolutions, keep them hidden. The top shelf of the closet in the spare bedroom is my favorite hiding place. That’s where I stash unsightly stuff when unexpected company appears. I’m afraid to open the door now. I would start an avalanche of coat hangers, empty shoe boxes, dated magazines and magazines I haven’t had time to read.
Of course, there are some individuals who manage to keep their resolutions. But they get invited to few holiday parties because they’re insufferable bores who have no friends. The rest of us muck through life holding our bad habits in a “vice” grip. It is only when New Year’s arrives that we treat them like unpleasant relatives.
Here’s a sampling of some of the resolutions that were floating around my office water cooler: F.A. said he wanted to stop biting his fingernails. This is the fifteenth year in a row that F.A. has attempted to do this, and we anticipate his success with guarded optimism. J.K. said she would like to find a rich, single movie star. Now I don’t know much about celebrities of any kind, but I understand a number of them hang out in rehab these days. S.N. would like to lose weight, five pounds to be exact. S.N. is disgustingly thin and willowy, so it taxes the imagination wondering where those five pounds are going to come from. C.B. said he would like to quit smoking, which is interesting when you consider he doesn’t smoke in the first place.
As for me, I’m holding out till Chinese New Year’s which, by the way, is the beginning of the Year of the Pig. By then, perhaps, I will disinter an old list of good intentions. I might also by then have dug my way out from under the avalanche of coat hangers, empty shoe boxes and unread magazines.
First conceived in early 1980s.