Thursday, October 13, 2011

Essay or Not to Essay?



I recently attended my thirtieth high school reunion. Let’s get past that number for a second and focus on something entirely different. I caught a ride to the event with a friend. On the way home, she looks at me and asks, “Do you think there’s an essay in any of that?”

This is how it works. I never know what will strike a thought and what will not. I was certain, for example, that a blog post would follow that night. Lord knows there was enough material—the grown man showing his ass for the camera (YOU know who you are), the goody two-shoes downing her first shot (later to be plastered, no pun intended, all over Facebook), the guy who came all the way from Norway just to hang out with his former high school buddies (he came to see his family, too, of course, but, you know) But, no. Nothing. That’s how it goes. I immerse myself in all this rich material, then absolutely not a thought on the subject. Sometimes what I think will strike up an essay fizzes out like the flames of a Fourth of July bonfire.

I passed a little girl on my walk the other day. Her grandmother had her tricycle, the little girl’s not the grandmother’s, on a leash. My curiosity got the best of me. What in heaven’s name would a pink princess tricycle be doing on a dog lead?! There must certainly be an essay somewhere in THAT. Seems the two-year-old’s mother had just had a baby. He turned two weeks today. Grandma had come from out of town for a few days to help with the house and the new big sister. Seems the little cutie couldn’t make the entire ride the day before and Grandma’s arms got tired of carrying said tricycle. Hence, the lead. Hmm. Maybe Grandma should add a few full side planks to her yoga routine. Beyond that, I got nothing.

In the same light, I was certain the girl coming out of my local bookstore would strike a creative thought. She wore absolutely the most flamboyant purple pajama bottoms I have ever seen, complete with red and yellow circles all around. Nothing. But I’m holding onto her. She may come in handy later. These little bits of life don’t always inspire writing on the spot, you know. Heck, I’m still writing about things that happened nearly forty-five years ago. That’s just how it works.

Writing is simply processing life. You keep your eyes open and soak in your surroundings. Like this—Right now I am sitting at a window seat, my favorite, in that same bookstore as the girl with the purple pajamas. Only she isn’t here at the moment. Who is here is a guy who has the nastiest, loosest, grossest cough I have ever heard. I am throwing up my venti chai just a bit in my mouth. I hate that phrase and pull it out only when necessary, but believe me, if you could hear this guy you would know what I mean. He should leave. He should really leave. A Jets fan is passing the window. I know he’s a fan because of the t-shirt he wears. He’s all buff and such so I’m guessing it’s not just a case of I got this shirt at a garage sale for a quarter, but I really don’t like the Jets. Still, I’m wondering why he’s in Michigan if he’s such a Jets fan. The barista is new by a couple of weeks. He’s doing a great job, remembering names and drinks, and wanting to impress. His former employment was in fast food and while he is definitely fast, he needs to work a bit on the image that is that green apron and black t-shirt. I’m describing. I’m putting you where I am. This is all that writing is. Mostly.

The actual processing part of writing is what happens after you mash up all those descriptive pictures in your head and come up with meaning. What does this mean to me? How does this impact my life?

It’s not always what we are directly looking at, either, that stirs the thought, what we are focusing our energy on, that causes us to reflect.

I’ve written an entire essay on my butt, or one’s butt, rather. I just happened to write it from my perspective, but as always, intended the message to be more global. I’m amazed at and fascinated by attitudes on physical beauty and related struggles women endure throughout their years. I’ve penned a few posts on underwear. I think there are a lot of life lessons in the lingerie drawer. That’s a rich, rich source of material and reader reaction. And don’t even start me on breasts! That would just lead me down the path of total digression--fun, fru fru, and fabulous--but digression nonetheless.

I haven’t written, yet, on a friend’s heart attack, but I have reflected. Because now, in my world, heart attacks happen to real people not just my daughter’s classmate’s mother’s husband’s co-worker’s friend, but MY friend. A friend who eats like me, works like me, and moves like me, maybe even moves more than I do. That’s a bit too close.

We spend so much of our time organizing our days, planning our years, studying for that prime job, working toward retirement. We think that all of that big stuff is “where it’s at.” And to return to my friend’s question, “Do you think there’s an essay in any of that?” Yes, I do, but the words never come from where I might think. It’s never that thing I’m directly looking at that sparks the idea. It’s never the big stuff. Life and writing don’t happen on the sidewalk itself. They happen in the cracks.

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