The Human Show
Most days my real life begins about 5:00 in the evening. That’s when I stop whatever trivial nonsense related to survival has littered my day—job hunting, thinking about job hunting without actually doing anything, checking email for the 34th time, making the bed, going to the store. But at 5:00 mere survival stops and life begins.
That’s when I put aside the drudgery of the day and enter a world of creativity and imagination and thought. I pack up the computer, go to a coffee shop, buy a medium coffee, and lose myself in the world that exists in a short story or a novel that I’m working on. From then on, aside from dinner, the evening is devoted to writing.
As I write the first part of this blog entry I’m in a coffee shop on Tuesday, where I like to watch the people. Some of those people are women, which is especially interesting, but anyone can be notable from the right point of view. A family will walk by occasionally, and it’s remarkable how often little girls are leaping up and down as they pass. They seem to be on springs, or to contain some sort of spasmodic programming to leap. Occasionally you can see from the demeanor of the parents that they can’t even remember a time in their life when they had that sort of energy.
A baby in a carriage just smiled and waved at me. I didn’t make that up. This is a baby still at the Cheerios stage, and such social interaction was a little surprising. Two young women are talking, perhaps around twenty years old, and one grew so excited at some piece of news that she danced a few steps in place. I feel a bit like dancing myself, to see the bright orange dress another woman is wearing. That dress is short and tight and rightly so, and Jesus up in Heaven must be thinking “Ohhh, Daddy!”
In addition to watching people, I actually do concentrate and get some writing done in coffee shops. I understand that trying to write in such a place wouldn’t work for everyone, that the distractions would make it impossible, but my mind operates in such a way that I seem to like occasional distractions. Working in coffee shops, I’ve written stories, song lyrics, parts of novels, blog entries, newspaper columns, and maybe some useful things as well. Or maybe not.
It seems odd to me, but F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried in Rockville, Maryland, where I live. This afternoon I finally sought out his grave, after having lunch with a friend. I did this only eight months after I first intended to look for it. I thought the grave was at a small Catholic church nearby, so I went to the graveyard, which is really small, and at first I wondered if I was mistaken, as I saw nothing indicating Famous Writer’s Grave. And then there it was, and I had that slight shock you get from seeing the name of someone well known, who you’ve heard about so many times, carved onto that stone.
A slab lies across the grave, and on top of the slab I saw two long-stem yellow roses, three folded notes, and quite a few coins. The roses were lying on a letter with the inscription “To F. Scott Fitzgerald”. I wondered whether I would be violating some sort of privacy if I read it, but since he’s dead, I went ahead. The writer of the letter was very unhappy when writing it and was hoping through a connection with Fitzgerald to find some relief. I noted that the letter was truly written to Fitzgerald, as if he would read it.
As I was leaving the graveyard I saw tiny pink flowers growing among the graves, so I picked two, went back, and laid them on the letter for the writer.
Or Maybe a Korean Quilting Book
The worst thing I know, other than meals with no garlic, is to be completely without a book, like some kind of wild animal. Even though the world is filled with more books than grains of sand, I have always found it difficult to have enough books to read. When I’m close to finishing a book I think “Uh oh, what will I read next.”
I used to have a friend giving me books, which was helpful, but then I moved away. A few days ago I decided—don’t even ask why on this—that I want to read Thomas Aquinas, a medieval theologian who lived 1225 to 1274, thank you Wikipedia. I was thinking (clear proof that I’m a dopey ex-academic) that I would simply go and get such a book.
Sure. Sure I would. I went to the local public library, where I could find such things as a book on 30-minute recipes in Russian, or a book on investing in Spanish, or Danielle Steele translated into Chinese, but no medieval theologians. I’m sure you’re as surprised as I am.
So I guess I won’t know what Thomas Aquinas had to say. Instead I’ll go sit in coffee shops, speculate on the souls of women in tight dresses, and write short stories that will just break your heart with their sweet evocation of being human. That’s what I think I’ll do.