I’ve a little tale to recount. A true one. From a couple of months back.
Starts early one Saturday morning in the kitchen. In the quiet before the rest of the house wakes.
Me making coffee. Eyes still a tad crusty.
Hardly the time for an epiphany.
An even worse time for a hard lesson, leading to it.
Especially one I’ve been tripping over since I was a kid. One that has breathed life into a faceless malevolence that lurks in the universe.
Well, at least a mischievous one.
The same presence I first realized existed years before. The time I had tried to open a porch door with my elbow. On the cusp of being a teen.
My hands had been full. One hand carrying a bucket filled with tools I needed to ask permission to use. The other hand held my ‘walking stick’.
In reality, it was a magical staff. One I’d used to fight off all stripes of gremlins and other baddies stupid enough to cross my path. The same staff that would charge my tower with powerful magical protections. The weapon with which I would blast all malefactors from the ramparts of my magical tower. The tower I was now building high in a tree in my grandparent’s backyard, far from the mundane house the rest of my family lived in. Using the very tools in the bucket I carried.
I could use most of my grandfather’s tools. But had to take care of them, put them back, and most importantly, ask first.
That afternoon, I had been in a rush. The idea of building a treehouse (really—magical tower) had just burst, fully formed in my mind. I had a clear picture of what it would look like and knew where all the boards were kept.
I couldn’t let this inspiration slip away.
So, hands full, I climbed the two squat concrete steps leading to the door of my grandparent’s back porch.
The door wasn’t closed all the way. I could even see a sliver of the inside through the crack.
And I needed to get in.
The magic of the staff refused to do mundane things like open doors. Nor could I risk its enchantments by using it as a crowbar.
But my elbow would do.
I caught the edge of the door with the tip of the bone.
Gave a nudge.
The door parted slightly.
But not enough.
My elbow had gained better purchase but not quite good enough to pull the door aside.
Slightly more pressure, a change in angle, and—YES—the pointed end of my elbow caught the edge of the door firmly.
I shoved to the right.
The crack opened yet more.
My elbow slipped entirely in.
I push the door out, full of self-satisfaction.
The door swings open wide. Too wide for the way I stand. It raps my kneecap, hard and sharp.
My leg jerks back.
The body veers hard to the left, sending the bucket swinging.
It slams into the corner of the porch.
The heavy tools rebound.
Balance now lost, I fell flat on my scrawny butt.
At least I missed the concrete cistern and landed on the grass I’d mowed earlier in the day.
Sitting on the ground, I glared at the door.
“What? You want me to put things down. And then open the door. And then pick them back up. And THEN go in?”
Sullenly, I picked myself up.
“The right way? Oh, sure. Fine.”
The door had, of course, swung back, the latch catching, sealing up tight.
After collecting all the tools and putting them back into the bucket, I’d left it on the ground to open the door the so-called ‘right’ way. First, I leaned my staff on the wall. And then, using my hand on the knob, I opened the door. And then, lifting the bucket, I used it to wedge the door wide open. Finally, I retrieved my staff. And only then did I step inside to ask permission.
“Just stupid. Waste my time.”
“Come on,” I had growled at the universe. “Why make me do that? It’s slow. My way is faster.”
Since that spill, I’ve borne a grudge against the sinister presence that created “right” ways. That enforced its rules whimsically, letting me do it my way much of the time. Tricking me other times. Sometimes even punishing me with a broken glass or painful scrape.
Whatever that thing was.
Oh, it’s still out there. Pushing me around with its “right” ways.
Like it did, yet again, this early Saturday morning.
I had writing to do. Needed to get my butt into the seat and start typing.
The sun was just peeking over the buildings to the east, the kitchen still in twilight—I prefer easing myself into the light come morning.
A tall, slender steel flask sat open on the counter—it would keep my coffee warm for hours.
The timer rang, announcing the steeping done.
I pushed down on the screen of the French Press, thinking about the scene I had been working on and how it was unfolding. Something was not quite working when I left it yesterday. I ran the scene over in my mind. What the hero Menno was doing. How the scene needed to fit into his story and into the plot.
Lifting the French Press, I started pouring the steaming coffee into the flask, listening to the sound of it filling, its tone rising as the space shrank.
Then, I realized why the scene wasn’t working: a problem with timing. One of the main characters couldn’t be in the Tavern for the reason I’d given. Not without forcing it. I had to rethink his purpose. Give him an organic cause for being there when I needed him.
The sound of liquid pouring cut off.
I looked down.
Coffee was spilling down the sides of the flask.
I jerked the press upright.
A pool of darkness spread across the counter a few inches from the base of the flask.
“Oh, come on,” I said to that universal malevolence. The enforcer of “right ways” to do things.
“What? I have to turn on the light? Stare at the coffee when it pours? That’s… stupid.”
I poured some of the coffee into my cup. Angrily screwed the cap onto the flask. Grabbed a sponge.
This mischievous force I’d first seen as a youth was now making me clean up a mess. Slowing me down. Wasting time. Trying to make me do things the way it wants. The “right” way. Treating me like a child.
The same way it slows my computer down when I keep all the emails I need to respond to open in my dock. In the order I need to answer them. Along with an Excel sheet and a Word document or three. All conspiring to make me forget what I was working on. Then, lose the email that had the notes I needed to use.
Why does this faceless malevolence want me to do everything the “right” way?
My way makes more sense. Lets me get more things done. And faster, too. Almost like magic.
Instead, this nameless thing has me clean up. Back then, tools, and now coffee. Other times, making me force quit frozen programs or hover my mouse over each email in my dock, looking for the right subject line.
Just whose rules are we playing by?
I mean, come off it!
Enter the epiphany, which has no business butting into my righteous fury that dark Saturday morning as I mopped up coffee.
It slunk into my thoughts by way of a mindfulness course I’d watched months ago on MasterClass. That damned class still slipped me insights when I wasn’t paying attention.
That sneaked in revelation—I’m only ever where I am at any moment.
Trying to work on a story in a world that only exists on a computer in the next room means I wasn’t paying attention to where I was nor what I was doing—pouring coffee.
So, I spilled coffee. I lost time writing. And still didn’t know how to fix the scene.
But it’s my mind, I argue to myself. I can put my attention wherever the hell I want!
Well, Lance, that is the point after all.
Put your mind into the future. Put it in the past. Or in an imaginary world. You miss the present.
Put it into the present and get your coffee. Move to the next moment and write. No spilled coffee to wipe up. More time to write. To get the scene fixed.
That ticked me off. That presence being right.
All I wanted was my first cup of coffee. And to get my protagonist through a scene.
Which he could easily do if he paid attention to what he was doing. Only used things for what they are meant for. Only did the best and the wisest thing every time.
But who wants to read a story like that? All happy and perfect and no troubles at all.
In stories, characters have to suffer to be interesting.
For real people, living life—not so much.
So, I’ll start doing the “right” thing more often.
Then, I hope to have more time to get characters in and out of trouble on the page. Where suffering is meant to be entertaining.