Over the river and through the woods to Grandmothers house we go. Simple, right? We’ve been there before. We know where to go and we tell ourselves (especially us guys) we don’t need any help. We know how to get there.
But happens when the river is above flood stage? For better or worse, my first instincts (i.e. learned response) are usually to plunge on ahead, holly or high water.
It’s Saturday morning and finally my time to put pen to paper. Initially, I had planned on writing about, well, initials.
As is often the case, it wasn’t me that had selected the idea of initials. It selected me. Granted, I’ve been fascinated with initials since I was a little kid, but try as I might, I had not been able to shake loose from the ‘I’ word all week. As a writer, I’ve been doing this long enough to know when a word or image won’t leave me alone, it usually means I’m supposed to write about it. So I simply say ‘Thank You’ and let the idea bubble and perk all week, bouncing around in the jiggly gray matter occupying the space between my ears. By the time the work week is over, the cake is baked and it’s time to let it out to play on the page. Mixed metaphor or not, that’s where I was. Fresh pot of coffee brewed. Errands done. Pen in hand. Now it’s my time. Time to get busy.
Working the hours I do, pen time is precious. It’s supply and demand incarnate. It’s true. The less of something there is, the more valuable it becomes. As such, it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve gotten very efficient when it comes to the creative process.
I don’t know how the process works for you, but once I’ve situated myself at the end of the week, I begin filling a blank piece of typing paper with a free association mind dump picture of every stray thought I’ve been having about my topic. A sentence here, some word or phrase there and I begin to build a cloud. As the cloud takes shape, I’ll add some shorthand or a symbol, even a crude picture to remind me of the thought that had occurred to me.
Once dumped out all over the typing paper that is my canvas, then I begin the process of sorting and rearranging all the bits around the central idea or premise, working them into something resembling the text of the essay I’m going to press with.
But I digress. As fascinating as my process must be for you [ha!], I just realized what I’m telling you has nothing to do with initials. But you’ll have to pardon me. I’m distracted as I try to make the word ‘initials’ readable…the pen has stopped working. I go over the letters again and again in an effort to get the pen jumpstarted, but nothing is happening.
“Excuse me for a minute while I get up to go get another pen from the desk. I’ll be right back.”
There, that’s better. Resettled, I can begin again. No way! Not even one new word forward, this pen isn’t working either! So I get up again and go back to the desk and pull out another one. Since I rarely ever throw one of them away, I’ve gotten dozens to pick from. Pens from the insurance agent, the bank, even the pizza place. They’ve all made sure I’ve got their logo and telephone number in easy reach.
I return to the recliner and push the seat back. “There, that’s better” and I return to my cloud page exercise knowing that at the moment, the only thing any of the randomly scattered jots across the page have in common is they’ve all spent the week together at Camp Dan’s School of Free Association…
“You’ve got to be kidding…”
The latest ballpoint, this one from my mechanic, has just decided to quit like other ones. So back to the desk and now, I’m back again. Sorry about that. This never happens to me. But then again, it just occurred to me. Have you noticed that anytime anyone ever utters the sentence ‘This never happens to me…’ you know exactly ‘that’ is happening. So maybe ‘never’ is just shorthand for ‘except right now’.
Back on track…the pen is working so let me get this down.
Initials aren’t just for names. Doctors use all kinds of them in the emergency room. Contracts can’t seem to get enough spaces on them for you to scrawl your initials.
And here’s another thought. Initials do more than represent the proper noun that is us. I wonder if they are one of the ways our ancient ancestors figured out to index all that they were learning without having to go through the whole thing of it? We don’t need to know all of it…initials will suffice. They’ll remind us of all the rest. It’s efficient.
But here’s another random one for the wall…what if we sometimes use initials to emotionally insulate ourselves from people or events that are pain…
’Not again. Sorry. I don’t believe this. Got to get another pen. This one’s dying fast. Be right back.’
I know what little of ‘the talk’ I got from my folks about sex was overly populated with clinical terms and not much that had to do with the feelings revving through me like a stock car. I could see my dad’s mouth forming the words ‘sexually trans…’ but they were never delivered. STD. Initials were much better. They put some distance between my emerging puberty and the ‘heads—up’ he was trying to offer.
But this was sort of the way of it in our house. Desperate to know I wasn’t weird, I’d look for validation from either my mom or my dad, but most times (the few times it was said), I had to start. “I love you mom.”
Really? That’s all you’ve got for me?
Or worse yet and long before GHOST, “ditto”.
Damn ditto. I’m in new and very deep water here and you’re giving me ‘ditto’? Shorthand. Code. None of it capable of carrying the emotional connection the sentiment deserved. Sad. And so what did I learn?
Be aloof. Disconnect.
In an odd parallel, don’t we grown-ups do it all the time? Who wants to scare the children by saying ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ all the time? WMD is so much easier. Or how about this weeks’ entry into the initial Hall of Fame, EIT. We don’t want to talk about being the people who have decided to torture other people. That’s what ‘they’ do.
So what do we do? ‘They’ are transformed from ‘other people’ and become ‘the enemy’ or a terrorist.
But that’s still scary so let’s not even talk about the person on the wrong end of our interest. Let’s refer to the process and it’s not torture. Sure, they do it to our people, but we’re better.
Why? Why because we don’t torture people?
That’s right. We don’t. We employ ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’, but I see what you’re saying…there’s still that word, ‘interrogation’…it’s so, oh I don’t know, uncomfortable.
I know. Here’s an idea. Let’s call the whole tragic mess by what it really is…EIT. There. That’s so much better
‘OK. I give up. No lie. My pen just quit.’
Now I’m mad at all the interruptions. I’ve got to publish tomorrow. Would you all just…about then, I realized I was the only one in the room and I was talking to a growing pile of pen carcass like they were carbon-based life forms…I’ve got to stop for a while. Time for another cup of coffee. And so I get up and as I do, I gather up the dead writing tubes and make my way towards the kitchen.
Now hold on, because this is where it gets stupid.
You know what I do as I walk past the desk? You got it. I catch myself reaching for the desk drawer to put the pens back where I got them! Normally a good habit and a sign of being well trained, but really? They don’t work! Why am I putting them back!?!
Time is precious and there’s a lot I want to do before I leave my chapter on this planet. And since getting my essay done doesn’t seem to be in the cards this morning, I spy our calendar as I round the corner into the kitchen where the coffee pot is waiting.
‘Today is December 12th. Cool. That’s 12/13/14. How excellent.’ My inner geek is already climbing up on the metaphoric roof of the car to do its’ Dance of Joy.
I call out to Rick in the other room: “Hey, did you know today is 12/13/14?”
“Yep. Heard it on the news this morning. You know this kind of thing isn’t going to happen again till January 2nd, in 2034.”
January 2nd, 2034…why that’s1/2/34! Now I’m in geek nirvana! ‘Wow, 2034. We won’t see this kind of day for another twenty years!”
“Yep, gotta make this one count”
As I return to the recliner and look at my page, I realize it isn’t that my ‘initial’ idea wasn’t good. Nor was it that the Cosmos was trying to get my attention by making sure every single pen I picked up worked against my effort to write the essay I had planned and go where I thought it was supposed to go. Nope. It was the phrase that popped so loudly in my head as I sat down that I flipped over the piece of typing paper and wrote:
“Unlike the words we speak, ink only gets used once and then the pen is no good. If you keep the useless ones around, you’re invariably going to pick them up again at some point and guess what? They won’t work then either. Why are you putting yourself through this – over and over? Throw them out!”
I was right. And forget about pens. Who of us gets do-overs when we miss opportunities to do right by ourselves through the course of the day? No one.
And how will we ever notice kindness or the beauty that is around us every single day when all we’re doing is fussing over the Da*# pens not working? Pens, I might add, we ourselves had taken the time to put back in the desk drawer the last time we realized they weren’t working. Sorry to break it to you Pilgrim, but there are no dumb pens.
Nope. There are however, guys like me who forget to pay attention and don’t look up in time to see the bridge is out. We might know the old way to Grandmothers’ house, but sometimes the Cosmos is trying to tell us something when obstacles keep blocking our path.
Hel-low. Listen up. Take a different route. Next time, don’t keep banging your head up against the same old path you’ve always picked before. That bridge is out. You are not going to get across the river or through the woods. Pay attention.
With the rapidly approaching New Year, my quiet wish for myself is I’ll do a better job of recognizing when the pens in my life don’t work anymore. Just as importantly, I’ll be paying better attention at keeping the pens that do close to me and in easy reach.
Same thing goes for the people I love and those that love me. Time to quit acting like I know where I’m going and what to do all the time. Time to say ‘I love you’ by letting the people around me, help me to do the work.
Writing you has helped, but I was so stubborn this morning I think I’m going to have a bumper sticker made for my forehead.
“Won’t write, Not right”
…and wear it forever. Or maybe, just initially.
Peace from my House to Yours.
Join Tim, Mary and Tim’s dad for an excellent take on love, life and….time travel. I know, it sounds goofy, but it’s a good flick for those of you who are looking for a good story. Great film.
Over the River and Through the Woods by by Joseph Holodook: http://www.porterfieldsfineart.com/josephholodook/overtheriver.htm; Dead Pens: http://blog.tigerpens.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Used-pens.jpg; Winter Bridge Out: http://rlv.zcache.com/winter_bridge_photosculpture-r6e9c2643cec540f9a191efc4909f6696_x7saw_8byvr_324.jpg; 121314: http://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/e5c627275363454a91c268d7e0aab20a2cfe81b0/c=6-0-4794-3600&r=x404&c=534×401/local/-/media/2014/12/13/USATODAY/USATODAY/635540543426188018-12-13-14.jpg
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