Posted in Life, Writing

Finding the Plot

As a writer whose work is regularly interrupted by piddly things like my job, I leave a lot of books and stories unfinished, sometimes for months or even years at a time. When I come back to a piece to start working on it again, it’s often hard to remember where I left off. But it’s not just the cobwebs that have grown over the words that obscure my vision. Sometimes even brushing away the dust and rereading the beginning aren’t enough to remind me where I was headed. I’ve simply lost the plot. Other times, I do remember where I was going, but the destination no longer makes sense.

When this happens, I have to sit back and ask myself, “Well, where do I want to go from here?”

The question is both freeing and terrifying. Is it really up to me? I can decide?  Well, of course! It was up to me all along. I’m the writer. The story is mine to tell. But that doesn’t change the fact that deviating from a set path—even if I’m the one who mapped it in the first place—feels wrong.

Living in the spring of 2021 feels a little like coming back to an unfinished story long after putting it in a drawer. After more than a year of staying home and distancing from others, of not traveling and not eating in restaurants, my loved ones and I are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and ready to resume a somewhat normal life. But that’s proving to be harder than I anticipated.

I think of the things we used to do: tasting each other’s drinks at happy hour, blowing the candles out on birthday cakes, letting 130 teenagers flow in and out of my classroom every day without once sanitizing hands or wiping off desks. Can I really go back to doing these things? Do I want to? I’m having trouble finding the plot, and when I do, I’m not sure I want to keep going in the direction I was headed before.

The coronavirus has already been a horror story and a love story, a story of sacrifice and of survival. The tale is not over yet, and I worry there may yet be unexpected twists on the way. As we venture back into our lives—safely, carefully—let us rewrite the future and create a new, happier ending.

There is merit in the willingness to revise.

Posted in Life

“Sometimes” / A Holiday Memory

This year, like most people, I did the bulk of my holiday shopping online (and am still waiting for a few gifts to arrive from wherever they are currently lost under a pile of packages at the post office). But usually, I prefer to do my shopping in person. I like wandering the aisles with a list but also allowing for things to jump off the shelves and grab my attention—that perfect something for someone that I never would have thought of if I hadn’t seen it. One year (I think it was around 2007) I set a goal for my holiday shopping: only buy local. I had such fun running around the city, shopping at Kerbey Lane and BookPeople and Waterloo Records and the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar.

One Saturday just before Christmas, I had a few things left on my list, and I set out to get them. I was on a timeline (I can’t remember why—it’s hard to remember the days when I had places to go and people to see) and doing my errands fast. I zipped into Uppercrust Bakery for some unique holiday treats and scurried into Trudy’s for a gift card. I was making good time.

My last stop was Spiderhouse, one of my favorite coffee shops in Austin. All I needed there was a t-shirt. I had a tradition of buying my cousin t-shirts from cool Austin places, and this year I’d decided he’d get one from Spiderhouse. This sprawling indoor-outdoor, old-house-turned-into-an-all-night-coffee-shop was often hopping. No empty spots in the parking lot, long line at the counter. But on this day, I lucked out. I got a premier parking spot and stepped inside to see only one customer ahead of me. What luck! I would make it to my (whatever I was going to) on time.

The barista behind the counter was a twenty-something guy in a poncho with long blond dreadlocks, a friendly smile, and big stoned eyes. (That’s cool. You be you. I don’t judge.) He finished the transaction with the girl ordering coffee, then turned his large pupils on me. “Hey,” he said.

“Hey!” I said. “Do you sell t-shirts?”

Barista Dude stared deep into my eyes and said, “Sometimes.”

I nodded.

He nodded.

I realized this errand was not going to be as quick as I had hoped.

“Cool, cool,” I said slowly, placing my palms on the counter. “Do you have any t-shirts right now?”

Barista Dude crinkled his brow in thought, then said, “Yeah, I think we have some in the basement.”

He smiled.

I smiled.

He nodded.

I nodded.

“Awesome,” I said, choosing my next words carefully. “Do you think I might be able to see one?” I raised my eyebrows and shrugged at him as if we were co-conspirators in some great game.

“Yeah!” Barista Dude said. And then realizing that the ball was still in his court, he pointed a thumb over his shoulder and said, “I’ll go get one.”

I nodded encouragingly, and as he trotted off, I yelled, “Extra large if you have it!”

Barista Dude emerged a couple of minutes later with a single t-shirt, size extra large, and it was perfect. Black with a motorcycle on it and the Spiderhouse logo. I sighed in relief and said, “I’ll take it.”

It ended up being more than I’d wanted to pay for a t-shirt, but I didn’t argue. I honestly didn’t have time for that conversation, but also, I knew at this point that I wasn’t just buying a t-shirt anymore; I was buying a story. I paid for my prize and hurried off to (wherever I was going).

When I gave my cousin his t-shirt at Christmas, I told him about my experience buying it. Everyone laughed, and some of my Dallas relatives said, “That’s so Austin,” which I guess it is. It’s become a running joke between my hubby and I to answer a direct question with, “Sometimes…”

This year, I ordered all my gifts, and I’m glad I did. But I don’t want online shopping to become a habit. I look forward to going back out into the world, interacting with people, discovering unexpected surprises, and getting the bonus of a good story along with my gifts.

***

Happy Holidays!
May your packages arrive on time or with a good story to tell.

Posted in Life, Reading

Simple Pleasures

It’s been a while since I traveled.

The last time I flew somewhere was in October of 2019 when I took myself on a writing retreat to The Highlights Foundation in Pennsylvania. I spent a long weekend writing, reading, watching the wildlife, and taking long walks through the woods by myself.

The last time the hubby and I took a vacation was in June of 2019 when we spent a few days in the San Juan Islands in Washington. We spent our time hiking the shoreline, watching the wildlife, and taking long walks in the woods together. One of the reasons why I chose the house we rented was because it had so many comfy spots to read.

For me, traveling isn’t often about the go, go, go and do, do do.* I like to sit and stay and experience. It’s about doing the things I love somewhere new. Some of my favorite things to do are reading good books and taking long walks through nature, and I like doing these things wherever I am. Planning for vacation, for someone like me, means the paperbacks I choose to put in my carry on bag are just as important as the shoes I pack in my suitcase. (And those shoes better be made for walking.)

I’m sure there are some people out there who squirm at this idea of traveling. Why go somewhere just to read? You could have covered so much more ground and seen so many more attractions! You’re missing out! I get that, and I concede that there are some destinations where reading would be a dangerous waste of time. (You probably shouldn’t take a book on a safari.**)

Despite opinions to the contrary, this is the kind of travel I love, and it’s served me well. For one thing, books are sponges; they carry the memories of the places they go better than any souvenir. (Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man holds my trip to Peru between its pages, and all I have to do is look at my copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary to be back on the plane to England in 2001.) But a bigger benefit of being a creature of habit is that the things I love to do can be enjoyed anywhere. Even at home.

The hubby and I made the difficult choice not to visit our families for Thanksgiving this year. If we could have popped in for a quick, outdoor gathering, that would have been great, but it’s a four-hour car ride to see my side of the family and a four-hour plane ride to see his. Due to COVID-19, it just wasn’t worth the risk. So I spent my week off work walking the trails near home, reading and listening to good books, and hanging out with the wildlife, both inside and outside of the house. I even turned my front yard into a coffee shop for a day.

Uno and I enjoy a latte at our cool new hangout.

I’m grateful for simple pleasures that I can enjoy anywhere. I’m grateful for my health and for the ability to stay in touch with my loved ones even when I can’t visit them. I’m grateful for the stories that keep me entertained while I wait for the world to heal.

I’m looking forward to traveling again. Hawaii, Greece, and Chattanooga*** are all on the bucket list, but the first trip I take when things are safe again will be to visit the families I’ve been missing for too long.

Wherever I go, though, I’ll be taking my books and my walking shoes.

* Aaaaaaaand, now I have “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” by The Police stuck in my head.
** I changed my mind. ALWAYS bring a book. Question: What’s the best book to take on a safari?
*** What? It’s nicknamed “The Scenic City” and is supposed to be a lovely place.