Brown Paper Packages

taco picSo, Sean and I started our Saturday morning by walking down to Jo’s Coffee shop on South Congress as we often do.  We ordered our coffees and as I was feeling pretty hungry I ordered two Pappas, Egg and Cheese tacos to match Sean’s order.  We said hello to our new friend Nichole who was once again sporting her red silk kimono and joined her at the large community table to eat our breakfast.  After finishing my first taco, I decided I’d been overzealous in my ordering and wrapped up the remaining taco in a brown paper bag and shoved it down in my backpack to bring home to Al.

I read a little and did some writing warm-ups while Sean sketched various people from around the shop.  Jo’s has a different vibe on Saturdays.  The regulars are there, but there are more families and small children and impolite dogs who bark, bark, bark.  At first the energy is inspirational but eventually we feel the itch to move on and today we have errands to run anyway. So, we packed up our stuff and continued up the hill.

I wanted to make Mexican Wedding Cakes and forgot the vanilla last time I was at the grocery store so we headed to the Farm to Market store which is too expensive to go to on a regular basis but I was willing to splurge to save the time of dragging Al’s big truck out of the garage to go to the HEB.  I spent ten dollars on a bottle of organic vanilla and even the cashier double checked the outrageous price but I was being lazy and I paid for it.  The cashier asked if I wanted a bag. I considered just throwing the bottle in my purse but worried it might leak so I said yes and she wrapped the bottle in small brown paper sack.  I shoved the sack down in my purse not realizing that brown paper sacks would cause problems in my near future.

Sean needed to go to the bank so we walked further up the hill than usual.  Beyond the bank there is a middle school and some barber shops but the shops become more spread out and less appealing so the bank was to be our last stop before heading back to the apartment down the hill.  On our way to the bank, we approached an elderly man with a bushy gray beard in a wheelchair.  He had a cardboard sign in his lap and the words written in Sharpie marker said something about needing any kind of help anyone could offer.  I remembered my leftover taco and said hello to the man and his friend standing next to him.  I told him I didn’t have any cash, which I didn’t, but that I had a taco in my purse and would he like to have it.  He said he would, so I opened my purse and took out the brown paper sack and handed it to him.  We exchanged God Bless You with Have a Nice Day and Sean and I crossed the street to the bank.

As we left the bank, I noticed the man and his friend were gone.  I mentioned to Sean that this was the first time I had ever uttered the phrase, “I have a taco in my purse,” to anyone.  We laughed.

At home, I tidied up the kitchen and started chopping pecans for my cookie dough.  I followed the recipe until I got to the line that read, “Whip butter and sugar together and add vanilla.”  I went to my purse to retrieve the vanilla and dug around past the sunglasses and Kleenex and various pens and pencils. There was no brown bag.  A realization started to dawn and so I checked my backpack and there it was, wrapped in brown paper… the taco I thought I had given to the wheelchair bound man.  “Oh no!” I shouted to Sean with wide eyes while slapping both palms to my cheeks.  “I gave the vanilla to the homeless man!”  “What is he going to do with ten dollars’ worth of pure organic vanilla?” Then, I mimed tipping back a bottle and taking a drink and planted my face in my palm while Sean laughed.

Back Here Again

15 Bean Soup at Strange Brew Coffee House

The tension is there but it’s obscured by menial tasks and busyness.  I finally sit down after months and months of avoiding it and making excuses.  Months ago, I shut the door to my creative mind, the part that strings words together for no one but me.  I stacked boxes in front of that door, boxes full of dusty phrases like, “I can’t,”  “I need to focus elsewhere,” and “first I need to take care of these things…then I will write.”  It seems noble to deny what makes me happy to take care of everything else first.  In fact, I start to believe that I don’t even want to write, that it’s too much work and I don’t have time to get into my own head right now.

I can press a 25 pound kettle bell over my head with one hand but sometimes the weight of a pen seems like too much trouble.

I got past it today, for today.  I had to leave my house and go to my favorite coffee shop and let Toni make me soup, but I got past it.  After about 300 words I felt something crack in my chest.  Something opened up that had been locked for a very long time.  I struggled not to let tears flow because I was in a public place and I would look crazy sitting there with my laptop crying in my soup.  But that’s how it felt to write again after all this time.

Silk from Sow’s Ear?

My Purse

I love writing at Strange Brew Coffee House.  There are distractions here but sometimes the distractions and conversations overheard are fuel for the writing.  A young woman sat down across from me and we talked about her purse.  We agreed that women who carry a clutch make no sense.  Why would you carry a purse that ties up one hand all the time?  What if you need to answer your cell while holding your coffee?  What do you do with a clutch?  I guess a purse can tell a lot about a woman.

I carry a small rectangular purse with a zip down outside flap.  I keep all my crucial I.D., credit card, and money in that flap for easy access.  All the junk goes in the zip top on the inside.  I recently put a little bag in the glove compartment of my car for extras like dental floss and Tylenol so I could free up space in my purse.  My purse says, “I like to keep it simple.”

My sister-in-law carries a huge bag.  It is stylish, floppy and spacious.  She usually has a full-sized can of hairspray, a hairbrush, a bag of nuts, large bottled water, an apple, an orange or banana, her camera, a book and an entire make-up kit in there.  When we are out having lunch, she will periodically dig through her bag and come up with various gems.  Her purse says, “I am prepared for anything.”

I met a woman in Vegas who carried a bag like that and she had a habit of digging through hers every few minutes for something.  She was a smoker so most of the searching was for her lighter but I kind of felt like it was a nervous thing.  She took comfort in digging through that big purse.  What does your purse (or wallet, guys) say about you?

Barista Envy

Last night was the monthly meeting of my south side writers group.  We meet at The Strange Brew, my favorite local coffee shop.  Because Al and I are small business owners, I try to support our local mom and pop shops as much as I can.  Truthfully, though, I just love hanging out at Strange Brew.  The walls are painted warm organic colors and art from local artists is featured there.  The owners are fun, friendly, creative people and the coffee is way better than the burnt flavors at that other well-known chain coffee shop.

We had a really great critique’ session.  Throughout the evening, the group discussed the mental state of prisoners held in concentration camps, zombie existentialism while dealing with revenge, if it’s worth changing the reality of the world to make your story work, and whether villains have to be bad guys or just guys with issues.  I didn’t actually submit anything this time but the group walked me though a brainstorming session about my antagonist in The Barn and it really got me thinking.  I plan to get to work on it this week.  But that wasn’t even the highlight of my night.

Toni, who owns the coffee shop along with her husband Daniel, brought my iced tea to the table before our meeting got started and she had a story to tell.  It’s her story http://joanofdarkknits.blogspot.com/2010/04/meeting-neil-gaiman.html, but the gist of it is she had tickets to see her favorite author speak and ended up not only a V.I.P. with back-stage passes, but also went to dinner with him…swoon.  I wasn’t familiar with the author so I came home and looked him up.  Neil Gaimon is the author of Mirror Mask among many other best sellers (I haven’t read it but I loved the movie)… double swoon!  Now, as I said, I’m not familiar with his work so I went to his website to check him out, and there on the most recent entry in his journal is a picture of Toni as her alter ego, Joan of Dark of the Naptown Roller Girls, dressed in all her roller derby gear. http://journal.neilgaiman.com/  His headline reads:   Vonnegut and Rollergirls.  Holy crap, I say.  I wonder if Toni feels like I would if I saw myself featured in Stephen King’s journal?  “Bargersville chicken farmer – King’s biggest fan.”  Ok, Kurt Vonnegut and Roller Derby are much more exciting than my chickens and Toni is way cooler than me but you get the idea.  This was an event of a lifetime.

Now this was all so very cool for Toni, but what made my day was that she took the time to share it with me.  I don’t think we became BFF’s on the spot or anything but it’s nice to know that the lady with the pink hair who smiles when she brings me my coffee sees me and knows I would appreciate her story.  That’s what it’s all about, making connections with people.  Never forget that. 

Now, I’ve got to make a trip to the book store.  I think some Neil Gaimon will be included in my summer reading.  I’ll have to ask Toni where to start.

Please check your humility at the door.

The pleasant surroundings disguise why we are here.  Walls covered in sand colored, cloud textured wallpaper meet the floor of tan, sculpted Berber carpet.   Lobby chairs with soft, muted geometric patterns line the walls trimmed in warm wood grain.  Quiet, upbeat Jazz plays over the ceiling speakers and the aroma of brewing coffee is a screen for what waits beyond the tall, curved wooden wall.

Men sit alone in the upholstered chairs wringing their hands and staring at the floor.  Women come and go through the art-glass windowed door: middle-aged women in suits and heels, teenage girls in brand name t-shirts accompanied by mothers, elderly women in pastel colored velour track suits with matching purses.  Some smile at the woman holding the door and some mumble to the floor as they pass through.

Beyond the door are dimly lit rooms filled with electronics and machines of plexiglass and steel.  The women on this side of the door are resolved.  This is humiliating and uncomfortable but it must be done.  Each woman disappears into her own closet-sized room.  The directions are simple.  Strip to the waist and put on the shoulder cape as a parody to modesty.  Step forward and while keeping feet flat on the floor stretch your spine so a stranger can stretch and manipulate one naked breast on a cold steel plate at the height of which your collarbone usually resides.  The stranger, who does this job many times a day, lowers a plexiglass plate trapping your body in an impossible pose.  “Hold your breath,” she commands and you comply though your instinct is hyperventilation.  The exercise is repeated with a different pose and then on the other side.  The stranger makes light conversation in an effort to mask the intimacy you are sharing. 

You dress and are released back to the world.  The men waiting in the lobby look up hopefully as you come through the door.  You’re not theirs and disappointed, they look back to the floor.  Relief at having the task complete makes you feel light.  A treat is in order so you drop by your favorite coffee shop to log on to the free Wi-Fi and remind your friends to schedule their annual routine mammograms today.

Fact of the matter

Get the facts, mind your p’s and q’s and get it straight.  Don’t forget to cross your T’s and dot your I’s.  Today Fred talks about fact checking, making sure your writing is accurate by backing it up with research.  Since I publish my own blog, I don’t have the luxury of an on staff fact checker.  I do it myself and frankly, sometimes I blow it off.  Fred and I agree it’s important but it shouldn’t get in the way of the creative process.

Fred suggests keeping a fact checking notebook as you write or assigning yourself a “fact to be checked” symbol to write in the margins to remind you to check into it later so in the midst of writing you can continue to go with the flow.

My friend Amy and I spent quite a few weeks last year in a local coffee shop working on writing a collaborative script from scratch.  It still sits unfinished on our respective laptops but the experience was a blast and we both discovered a love for research.  In fact, we would often get carried away reading each other snippets of history about our story’s location or obituaries of people with names the same as our characters.  It was so much fun and the hours passed too quickly.  We would often finish the day with only a page of dialogue but a plethora of information about lingo used by short order cooks in greasy spoons of the 1940’s.  I miss those days.

Eventually, we made a pact to note items to be researched later so we could plow ahead with the dialogue and the plot.  Of course, we found other distractions but we did make a little headway after that.

My plan of action is to continue noting my ‘to be checked facts’ in the margins.  The idea of maintaining another notebook seems like too much trouble to me and that’s a fact.