It happens to everyone in the writer’s game. There is a dread about it. We try to avoid it at all costs. Still, feeling that the well of ideas is dry is hard to confront. It might be harder to overcome. I sat in the Community Perks coffee shop with a great cup of French press and an indulgent pumpkin muffin with cream cheese filling and thought about the article I had just read.
It had been nearly three months since I had an idea. Oh, I did some book dictated exercise every day to sort of prime the pump, but all to no avail. I thought of trying my hand at poetry, but never found that very helpful. So here I was people watching at Community Perks, hoping for inspiration to strike like lightening. I was looking for a safe space for my imagination to take flight. Writing could give that to me. I confess, I was getting discouraged. I had a real fear that what I had hoped would fill my retirement, and my bank account might be over. Was it nothing more than a faded, wistful dream?
I took another bite of the rich pastry, and noticed the couple that was sitting on the sofa in the area with the open glass garage door. The breeze was lovely today, and the sun was warm, and inviting. They were reviewing a guide book of Chicago, probably planning the day’s adventure. She was wearing kaki slacks, and a crisp, white shirt. She had a blue sweater draped on her shoulders with the arms tied loosely. It was the color of the ocean. She laughed, and tossed her light brown hair, back from her face, with a wave. The man wore navy blue twill pants, and had a tailored, pressed, pinstripe shirt, with long sleeves. He had a light golf jacket laid on the back of the sofa. His watch was striking. The face was a rectangle and the band was a series of heavy wide links. I had never seen anything like it. He wore glasses that framed a face of tanned yet rough features. He took a sip of his coffee and touched her face. She was smiling at him. She clearly adored him. His touch was gentle, familiar, reassuring, and loving. Intimate.
I suddenly felt self-conscious. What about them had attracted my notice? I shifted around in my easy chair next to the big picture window. This was a great place to observe, but staring was rude. I looked at the two guys talking loudly on the sidewalk outside the window. They were debating something, The taller of the two was a dark haired, with olive complexion and used his hands to gesture when he talked. The shorter man was listening to the speaker and nodding, until a certain point, when he interrupted. This he did with a hand gesture and a quick shake of the head. Both men seemed to be dressed for work on a construction site. They had bib overalls, tool belts laden with necessities, and their boots had dried mud caked on the edges, around the soles. They both had that two day face shadow of hair that seemed so popular right now.
The debate was good-natured, that was clear from the body language of the men. Perhaps they were discussing a play from the ball game last night, or some other topic. The exact words were not discernible, only the idea that they were enjoying the back and forth. I watched for a couple more moments, then shifted my attention to the older woman who was walking with a small dog attached to a retracting leash.
The lady was a picture of relaxed elegance. A pantsuit and turtle neck top, all the color of woodland ferns. The contrast with her white hair, and the creamy coat of the dog was very pleasing. She wore a wide brimmed bush hat in light gray, and sun glasses. The dog happily bounced, slightly in front of her, while turning to be sure she was following, and approving every few steps.
I took the last bite of my muffin, and turned to my keyboard. The computerized image of a blank sheet of paper before me, waiting. Today had to be the day. I wished it, I wanted it, and I was willing to work for it. Still, the facsimile of the blank page stared back at me. I began to type.
And suddenly, it began to rain.
I reached for my cup and took a sip. When I pressed return, it began to rain outside the window I sat next to. How odd. It was sunny a moment ago, I thought, but the weather in Chicago is always so changeable. I didn’t like the sentence and back-spaced to delete the words. No sooner did I complete that, and press return, then the sun was blazing again, and the rain had stopped. I picked up my phone, and hit the weather ap. It predicted sunshine, and 84 degrees as the high for today.
I looked around the room at the people I had been observing. The young couple were closing the guide book, and gathering their things. I began to type.
He looked at her and smiled. “If you like it, I love it!” He said.
As soon as I pressed return, I could hear him say. “If you like it, I love it!” with a smile.
“If I like what, Charles?” The woman asked.
Charles looked a little confused. “Oh, just anything.” He took her arm and they exited the coffee shop.
I stared at the computer screen. I realized that Charles had said what I typed. What a coincidence. I didn’t like what I wrote. I deleted the sentence, and started again.
The car just stopped. I don’t know why, but with the rain, I was drenched before I made it to the door to call for help.
I pressed return. It began to pour outside that window again. A car had stopped, and was smoking. Other cars were honking to get by. The car was positioned in such a way, that no one could get past it. The driver ran into Community Perks. He was soaked to the skin. His shoes were leaving little puddles with every step.
“Does anyone have a phone I can borrow. Mine is dead and my car just stopped out there in the middle of the street. I don’t know what is wrong with it, it was fine this morning when I left. I just want to call the motor club for a tow.” Two people offered their phones. Everyone else found themselves very busy looking at anything but the man in trouble.
I swallowed hard and looked at my computer screen again as the rain beat on the pavement outside. I was beginning to feel sick. A prickle of fear made the hair on my neck stand up. I rubbed my eyes and my neck and looked at the screen again. There was no mistake. The words were there. The man in trouble was here. The smoking car was stuck outside.
I didn’t want to touch the keyboard. I didn’t want it to be true, that what I typed became real. I wanted to write fiction. I wanted to have a safe place to pretend. This was no longer safe, and my imagination seemed dangerous to me now. What should I do?
I drained my coffee mug and folded my laptop. I left as the rain continued to pour. My loft was only three buildings down the street. I was wet when I let myself in. I took the stairs, not the elevator to the third floor. I was grateful that I had not met any of my neighbors. I opened the door to the loft and went inside. I put the computer on the island in the kitchen and wiped it off with a kitchen towel. I went into the bathroom and stripped off the wet clothes and put on sweat pants and a tee shirt.
My daughter, Cari, came home then. She was visiting from California and had gone to the market. She had promised me a home-cooked dinner and needed supplies. She was surprised to see me.
“I didn’t think you’d be back so soon, Mom. How did it go?”
“It was so strange.” I said. “I think I work better at home.” Again, I felt a small prickle on the back of my neck. “You know, I think I do so much better when I write long-hand here. Taking the laptop to the coffee shop was interesting, but I think I prefer it the old-fashioned way. It’s safer.”
“Safer? What happened—did some handsome guy hit on you?” Cari asked with a giggle.
I laughed nervously, “No, nothing like that. I just feel free here to let my imagination do it’s own thing.” I took my yellow pad and a pen and sat down at the dining area table. I could see from my seat that there was still some rain coming down, but nothing like before. The sun was trying to reappear. “What do you think about a story where what you type on a computer comes to life? Cari, does that sound too nuts?” I asked.
She smiled broadly at me. It was a sly, almost wicket smile. “That sounds good. Creepy, but good. Go on, write it Mom—it’s different than anything else you’ve done.”
And so I did.