One of the pleasures of writing in public places is harvesting the fertile surroundings for new characters. When I am feeling sluggish or experiencing what some may define as writer’s block, I pull out my cheap notebook and begin a classic Natalie Goldberg writing prompt. ‘Before me I see’, ten minutes, go!
On a recent Friday, claustrophobic from being home all day, I wanted to tackle a third draft of a writing project and sought inspiration with a change of scenery. One of the busier Starbucks in my neighborhood seemed a suitable tonic with the added benefit of being surrounded by dining options, knowing that would be a later internal monologue.
Pen in hand, notebook open and without overthinking (very important, see earlier posts on writing practice), I looked up from my notebook and spotted a woman settling into a chair. In her late 40’s and at least for the moment she was alone. Individuals, couples, or small groups, all offer a completely different dynamic.
She sat against the south facing window. The low angled late afternoon sun reflected off the lightly colored walkways and the pale stone facing of the neighboring building provided a flattering diffused backlight. Through her crisp white linen blouse, a muslin outline of a slender athletic frame.
Her legs wound up beneath her on the small bistro chair, balancing in a lotus or Bodhisattva posture. She looked straight ahead, her shoulders pushed back as she slowly drew in and exhaled three deep calming breathes. I couldn’t actually hear it, but my mind added the low vibrating exhale that preceded a content smile.
I allowed the scene around her to dissolve, placing her as a halcyon on a rocky crag overlooking a restless ocean. Her coffee scented breath mixing with the salt tinged air. Then the visual shifted to a zafu in a meditation hall deep in a forest, my mind anticipating the sonorous single strike of the gong to end the practice.
Timed with a deeper inhale she gracefully extended her left arm up and in a variation of the Trikonasana yoga pose, she stretched to the right. She continued the vinyasa, the intentional combination of breath and movement on the opposite side and finished with a seated sun salutation.
To my aesthetic, the only thing out of place with her serene presence was that she proceeded to read a retail catalogue or flyer. Such a crass commercial document was out of place in the imaginary world that she now inhabited. Her long slender fingers plucked at the corners to change the pages. She split her attention between the document and looking straight forward absorbed into the emptiness in front of her. At no point did she seem aware of those around her or more importantly, of my writer’s voyeuristic gaze.
She was both somewhere else and very much in contact with the shiny newsprint that slipped dryly between her fingers. Her posture grounded her in the chair, even the geometric floor tiles seemed to support her in this moment.
As the light shifted, so did my impression of her age. At times much younger and less burdened by experience.
I thought about taking a photograph, wanting the smile and composure to be the essence of a future character in one of my stories. That would be cheating; a writer uses words and I promised that I would devote a journal entry to this discovery.
Confident, absorbed in her happiness, she cast a net and connected with everyone around her. Just looking at her I shifted to sit up straight in my chair, wanting to be more poised and purposeful. She posited without speaking the question, where would I rather be in this moment?
While I have only limited training in Yoga, I don’t believe there are ‘asanas’ (poses) that involve the hair. At least, not until now. Unfettered, her light brown hair, only a pantone decimal from blonde, hung just below the shoulder, pulled back as to not cover her face. It was thick and moved as would a frayed silk rope, as a whole. She drew it together, grasping the luxuriant thickness, pulling it to both the right and left in a yogic recognition of balance. Then with little more than a flick of her wrist, it was miraculously held aloft by the unseen elastic previously hidden in her palm.
I wanted to be in her space. Returning to my writing project, I became absorbed in a scene where my character makes fun of what other’s believed.
A later glance revealed that a computer now occupied her table top. Her eyes cast downward, her smile replaced with a neutral countenance. The memory of her earlier affection influenced my perception and I assigned continued tranquility to the scene.
My writing consumed me for a period of time then with a deep breath of my own; I resurfaced from the world of my writing project content with having completed a difficult sequence of dialogue. Her legs were now unfurled and out from underneath her. With feet resting on the ground, her left leg flexed slightly, bouncing on the tension of the tendon.
The scene was very different. The wash of her earlier serenity was gone, sucked up by the computer and the intruding glow of the words that now consumed her attention. Her lips were pursed, her shoulders slumped forward, the latitude of her narrowed eyes parallel to grim pursed lips. She pecked at the keyboard her chest rising in falling, searching for the
once calming breath.
I felt sadness for her as I packed up my computer. Happy with how my scene had been re-written, I was flush with reaching my goal, and grateful for the fuel she had provided. I
wouldn’t have thought that she could have been broken.
Now hungry, my plan was to take advantage of the early hour, be thrifty by seeking out a happy hour special – a margarita and half priced selection of deep fried heart clogging appetizers from some local restaurant.
As I walked I wasn’t ready to give up her gift of serenity and I found myself redirected toward ‘True Food’, a favorite restaurant with a menu that tips toward healthy eating. Their food selections are nutritious, flavorful and worth lingering over. Mushrooms, one
of my favorites, abound.
And to make sure that nothing intruded on my mood, I also began with three calming breathes and commitment not to check email or open my computer lest it pull me from this serenity. Only pen and paper were allowed. Very simply, my goal was to start a journal entry that captured this inspiring woman, and not just for one of my stories, but for me on this writing day.