Published today on Life in 10 Minutes, my ten…here. Please enjoy and happy festivities and warm Winter Solstice.
Can they not understand? I said I wanted to bury myself in work. I meant it. What do they mean, leaking toxic waste into my air-tight, sealed cave? I thought they couldn’t see me, didn’t know I existed, like hiding under the blanket when you’re scared in bed as a child. If they can’t see me, I’m safe.
But no, they found an opening. And all those words, words upon words, upon which I built my impenetrable wall, well they were just too airy thin, too porous. The poison seeped in. The words I didn’t want to read, they were all there. I thought they had left me in peace for a while. Yes, they did. I remember the relief. Maybe I got too used to not seeing those oozing, infectious, pus-filled pockets of venomous ink.
And no wind, seagulls, rain, wave, or chimes will wash them away clear now. My fingers curl under their weight, and my arthritic knuckles ache. You’d think I’d be grateful that I have any words at all. But today’s not the day for patience, compassion, tolerance, or ease. Today’s the day they sullied my ocean’s ark along the curb, street side of nowhere else to go.
Saturday night, stool-side at my usual digs, the corner wine bar. I come here to write in the evening, when it’s time to switch from coffee to beer.
“I have Stone on tap. Interested?” The bar tender knows me. I’m past the initial flinching at that recognition.
“Looks like you have two.”
“Yep, this one has pineapple and tangerine with a…” Jason, I think I call him (I hope that’s his name).
“Whoa, no fruit in my beer,” interrupting his pitch.
That first sip…not sure which bliss compares aptly, not quite orgasm, but not far below. Not three steps, anyhow.
Uh oh, the guy next to me peers over at my screen and squints.
“How do you see that tiny print? I mean it’s so…”
“I manage.” Yeah, I’m a bitch. Pick a different intro.
My stinky fries arrive just then, anyhow. The sirracha-ketchup is the bomb.
Long day nerding over AI and healthcare. Auditioning a piece for a real journal. I’ve claimed expertise in the area, but it’s really just gushing sci-fi enthusiasm. Yes, I’ve written a few thousand words on it for my weekly health tech start-up gig, but this is big-time. My head’s a bit spinny.
“Ready for another?”
Shit, I washed down half the fries with an entire tall one already?
I still have a half plate of stinkies. It’s the melted cheese over them that lends them their title. Ah, I’m going to hell anyhow. As my father reminds me daily, “I’m going where it’s warm.”
I’ve got laryngitis. You know, when you lose your voice. I’ve lost my voice. Not my speaking voice but my writing voice. You see, after droning on all day in the land of copywriting, pounding keys to the sounds of an empty drum, plucking at mind-numbing formulas, headings, subheading, bullets, numbers, and (watch my Oxford comma there) italicized catchphrases til my brain seeps out of my left ear when I pause to blink, sigh, and rest my left cheek on my left hand knuckles, I can’t write a word. I haven’t. There’s nothing but echoes of a dry, raspy, husked wheeze when I try. Maybe I’m sick. A writing virus, but not the computer kind. The kind when you’re dry, wheezy, and bereft of words. No sentences form like the flu–with no appetite for food. Only it’s words, phrases, clauses, and sentences. No paragraphs either. I’ve no hunger or drive for text. A malaise. Burn-out. Fizzled out.
So this is what I have. Shredded sound. Squeaked out verbs in a tin can, clanking thin. Strange that a dream can disperse like dandelion seed in the wind. A longing turned to fright when the object of desire obtained. I always wanted to be a writer.
I’m tired of beginnings. They’re exhausting, and it’s awfully hard to get them right. There’s nothing worse than starting something with a “meh”. Like reading a listicle that starts with a question: Are you getting enough vitamin B in your diet? Well here are 7 sources of that … blah, blah, blah.
I’m guilty of that sort of thing. It’s trite and boring.
Opening lines, like handshakes, create an impression. In grand literature, they’re extraordinary, memorable, once in a life time handshake that keeps on gripping you. Even my little-read college students have heard the line, “It was the best of times…” But Dickens is not alone or even the top of the greatest hits of first liners.
I like intriguing first liners like Philip Roth’s one about awakening one day to find himself an enormous breast–“It began oddly.” Or short punchy ones, like “I am not a total idiot.” I actually don’t remember the author of that one, but the line has stuck with me. Maybe that’s just me, and what sticks is random.
It’s challenging to be unique, innovative, and first in language. After all, we have only 26 letters at our disposal. How different can we be? Haven’t all the possible letter combinations been tapped? Is there still some one-of-a-kind combination yet to be splayed linearly across a page? Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of making up words that seem intuitively and associatively clear.
Though I suspect you don’t have to go that far to pen something new. Memoirist Patricia Hampl claims describing what you see, what you know, from your eyes alone is unique enough. No one’s lived your life or sees things precisely the way you do. Perspective. Lens.
It may not be a new alphabet, but it’s vision–and all that we’ve got.
So it may seem that I drink a lot since I write in bars, but I actually don’t. I drink A beer and order some food, all nicely paced with my productivity. For instance, tonight, after writing copy for the male stripper websites, I wrote a little more for pay–my wellness gig–while I enjoyed the first few sips of my local Seal Beach Citrus IPA. As the glass’s golden elixir diminished, I moved on to other less demanding writing, like fixing up a few blog posts or articles I’m in mid-write. And when the glass reached below half full, about twenty minutes into my stay, I ordered food, and scanned my usual news outlets to look for digestible “news” bites.
Today, at half glass, I switched to the Chronicle of Higher Education and read a lively response to what should be taught in English composition courses and why. It was a rebuttal to some cynical writer’s estimation of college students’ abilities to write a correct sentence let alone a cogent argument. I didn’t read the article to which the writer responds, but I’ve read enough of them to know in my nearly two decades of teaching comp what that might have been. The comments here are among the very few places that I actually read and learn something–good comments.
At one third left, I ordered braised Brussels sprouts with red pepper and read Flipboard’s writer’s section. I perused some headlines but found nothing to land on. Trying to stay absorbed in my screen, an intrusion entered too close to my bar stool. I’ve seen him here before. He’s a regular. But so am I, I guess. I just don’t think of myself as one.
This guy always feels like he’s looking for a conversation. He ordered the meatball special. He scrawled on his phone plenty, but when he picked up his phone and made a call, he was out of my sphere of interest–even for compassion/boredom chat. He knows the young bartender well. The bartender doesn’t know my name or my beer preference, so I think I’m safe to say I’m not a regular. Whew.
At 1/8th of the glass, I started writing this ten minute write. And now, my attention span is thinning, so I figure I can hammer words on a screen rather than focus on content of someone else’s polished work or try and polish one of my own.
As the buzzer sounds, ten minutes are up, I swig the last of the glass, fork the last of the greasy, dripping sprouts and call out to the young man sporting an indecisive beard, “Check, please!”
They’ve sucked me dry, the health pro start-ups and the holistic healthy lifestyle entrepreneur and the real estate investor coach and the legal multi-media start-up and the beta reader. They’ve all got a piece of me. My brain throbs in its swollen state.
I think I’m averaging about $1.00 an hour at this new avenue to freelancing–an agency. And while I’m stroking myself with the story of paying my dues and getting better at my craft and investing in future pay-offs, today it’s not so convincing.
I’ve never been a quick learner. A die-hard learner, yes, but not fast. I will plod on til the death, determined to get to the bones of some task, job or career. But it’s never a smooth-sailing entrance into something new. I learn by burn. There’s no other way for me. But once it’s inscribed in my flesh, I’m fluent. I know it.
Until then, it’s turn and burn and yearn. I want to get past this mistake after mistake stage. I hate mistakes. And maybe that’s why I struggle. Resistance. It’s like trying to mellow out in a yoga practice–incense burning and Dr. Dre on Pandora–while some ear-splitting air show decides to come to town just as the tree trimmer revs up the buzz saw.