by emily d stine of http://emmyappleseed.tumblr.com
Blank page, blinking cursor. I’m spread out like gravy on my desk chair waiting for the inspiration to come so I can trap it and morph it into words, paragraphs, pages. I am a poet turned fiction writer, a chapter virgin, a dialogue novice. I need some air.
The walk to Starbucks is brisk for an June night. I clutch my jacket around my shivering shoulders and trudge through the street anxious for the impending caffeine. I walk by the long rows of houses dark except for that spidery glow emanating from the curtained windows of family rooms. Its TV, I’m sure of it. They stare blankly into the twenty inch moving picture box. If you stop thinking that it’s a normal thing and look at TV for what it is, it becomes a little strange. We don’t even interact with it, we stare, hell we even listen, but I sure can’t lick my TV to understand what ice cream tastes like. There just seems to be so much beyond it. I’ll read, I’ll write, I’ll talk but to stare and let my brain go soft from lack of exercise is a waste. My brain is happiest with steady stimulation.
I continue to trek up the darkened street pausing for a moment to reflect in the soft warmth of a somber streetlight. I really do live my life inside my head. Even my best friends don’t know all that is stored beneath the hair. How can you ever really know another person, because like me, so much of what they are is kept unarticulated? A middle aged couple walks past me as I’m working through this in my head crunching at my fingernails. They eye me how we all secretly stare at strangers when we’re bored or curious. I look back at them but only for an instant, keeping my mannerisms in check with our society. But what I really wish to do is take that couple home with me and piece by piece go through their brains. How wonderful it would be to get together with complete strangers and bleed all the thoughts confined nonverbally in my head and theirs and piece together a fluid story. But life and cerebral cortexes are not designed in such a fashion that we can share our every thought with another person and play in them. Resigned, I give up on my idea and keep walking, the beautiful green mermaid/angel taunting me from a distance.
I take a deep breath before pulling open the door preparing to dance my part. My eyes down, my nose full of café au laits, and espresso, I immerse myself in the coffee shop culture. I smile at the college-age barista with the deep brown eyes as he steams milk and pours shots of writing stimulant into my drink. I wonder what stories he has to tell. I could ask him; listen as he tells me with a slight John Wayne-like twang that he has 80 pages of anthropology reading to do after he gets off at eleven. I dawdle at the register sipping my four dollar latte curious about him, curious about everyone. He brushes his hands through his hair as he tells me all the different types of people that come in and out of his life each day. “People tend to bring their moods with them wherever they go,” he says. “It’s interesting to see how people change after they get their daily dose as opposed to before. Coffee seems to get the conversation going. They’ll sit and chat for hours with one another and then come back the next day and do it all over again.”
This barista is beginning to intrigue me; I feel like he should be a writer too. I tell him that I am a writer and I’m working on writing a piece right now but am having trouble trying to actually throw the words down on the page so that they will be consistent and enjoyed by others. “I think your brain isn’t as structured as language is and that’s why it is problematic to write stories even when you do have a good idea,” I tell him as he steams more milk for other impatient customers.
“This is why I love anthropology,” he says topping a cappuccino with a thick layer of whip cream, “You learn about humans and our development of language and culture. Primitive species used extrasensory perception as a means to surviving, think about how hard that would be to help each other out without being able to talk about it.”
“I understand how useful language is so that we can work together and survive, but think about how hard it is to write a story for someone when words themselves are not just words,” I pause to sip, “but are weighed down with connotations and memories. Now you see what I’m going through trying to write something that everyone will like.”
“Well that wouldn’t be that hard,” says a man who has just ordered a grande almond soy latte with an extra shot of espresso. “Stick to cliché stories. Everyone has lost love, or a loved one. I work for the Daily Camera and people like to read about things they understand and relate to, it’s that simple.” The brown-eyed barista finishes pouring the steaming milk into his drink and hands it to him. I tell him that he’s got a good point but it’s more boring to write in boxes, in dichotomies. He smiles at me and says, “That’s life.” And then he tips his hat and walks out the door.
I chat with the barista a bit longer but I feel his interest in the topic waning so I thank him for the coffee and the chit-chat, slip a dollar in the tip jar for his two cents and prepare my body for the cold that awaits out the windowed walls and brown java chairs.
The walk home is colder than the one there but my mind is swimming with thoughts so I hardly notice. The guy at Starbucks has a valid point; cliché stories are often successful because they are easily relatable. They fit the good vs. evil, white vs. black polarization that our society stands on to function. One of Bush’s many aphorisms surfaces on my thoughts: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” The opposition is so clear, making room for interpretation impossible, but I think that it is the murky stuff in between that is so interesting. I’m either in favor of going to war with a bunch of people that I have never met before on the principles of democracy and “our duty as Americans” or I am a pacifist terrorist or a terrorizing pacifist. I am either a size 00 with eerie plastic facial features or I am everybody else. I’m engaged in a polar war of gay or straight, white or black and American or terrorist in my head. Me versus me. Who do I want to be today?
I arrive home uncomfortably conflicted and cold. The house is dark and no telltale glow of TV shines from out my family room window. I make my way up the stairs hoping that the caffeine will work its magic, stimulate the conversation between my head and paper, and teach my fingers to dance symphonies on the keyboard. I am, however, always a little too hopeful. I think back to my talk with the anthropologist/barista. Language may have been good to talk about making fire or gathering fruit, but I am trying to make something wonderful out of words that mean different things for each person. They become so full of emotion that meaning is lost; the word evolves into something new. Am I trying to animate dead corpses of words? This will be harder than I thought.
So here I have landed. I’m back at square one, slumped in my desk chair. As the soy latte drinker said, I’m only allotted certain boxes of clichés for story hour. I have the father-daughter relationship, where something happens, and someone is changed by it. Or I could use the boy meets girl cliché, something happens and someone is changed by it. It’s the mold of the story prepared for me and all I have to do is add ingredients. Blank page, blinking cursor.